Your Trade Show Booth: Give it real stopping power

116 million people. That’s how many attended trade shows in North America last year. According to the Center for Exhibition Industry research, trade show spending was a staggering $53 billion, which represents 18 percent of North America’s marketing budgets.

It’s no wonder companies are focusing on the ROI of tradeshows.

Trade shows remain a great investment — whether you’re a product or service-oriented organization. An effective trade show booth can help you draw people in and give them a greater understanding of your product or service. But don’t expect your logo and some catchy phrases to do the trick.

Start with a plan

Don’t think of your trade show presence as merely a “booth.” Think of it as a component of your organization’s overall marketing strategy. Make sure your theme and overall design are considered in the context of your strategic marketing plan. Establish specific goals for your booth or exhibit. Find out what competitors will be exhibiting and plan accordingly. Get as much information as you can about the customers and prospects who will attend so you can tailor your message and greet them personally.

Build excitement

Create pre-show promotions to entice customers and prospects to visit your booth. Use both online and offline media for the greatest exposure. Online examples might include promotion in social media channels, a show-related banner on your website, invitations to check-in on Foursquare or other geosocial apps, footers in all employee emails, and an email campaign that links to a website featuring special offers available only to trade show attendees. Offline, consider QR codes, a clever series of invitations, ads in trade journals. For important prospects, send free entry tickets with an invitation to visit your booth at specific times for a special demonstration of a new product — or a meeting with company specialists. Or create a coupon redeemable for a gift at your booth.

Get noticed

At a trade show, the whole point is to attract attention. There is absolutely no benefit in creating a booth that looks like everyone else’s. Your booth should incite curiosity and provide a memorable — and different — experience for attendees. If everyone else on the trade show floor is shouting their message, you can stand out by being an oasis of clarity and simplicity. If, on the other hand, everyone else will be reserved and academic, create a stir with vivid displays and an emotional message.

Pass the billboard test

Three seconds. That’s all you’ve got to grab someone’s attention. Think billboard. People need to read and understand the primary message of your booth driving by at 65 miles an hour. Does your booth pass the drive-by test?

Your “billboard” message should hook people and pique enough interest to pull them closer for a second level of messaging. Once inside your booth, visitors can read, at most, a third level of messaging. Make sure your key messages tie into your strategic marketing plan, and everything in your booth supports your messages, including giveaways, handouts, and even staff clothing.

Show your true colors

You know, of course, that colors evoke complex emotions. For most people, blue suggests serenity or dignity, yellow communicates optimism, and red portrays dominance and energy. Take advantage of this. Be purposeful in the color selection of your booth, and don’t underestimate instinctual responses to color. Be aware of international and cultural color sensitivities as well. For instance, muted colors may communicate sophistication in a European country, but in China muted colors can appear weak.

Lighten up

Put your trade show booth in the best light possible. Is it bright enough? Are spotlights focused on the most important features of your booth? Are you using ambient light effectively? Consider colored lights or gels. Get creative with lighting. A bright, well-lit booth will be inviting.

Activate it

Gotta tell you: Static product panels are dinosaurs. Flat-screen technologies (including touchscreens) can tell stories in a more compelling way.

Make movement, sights, sounds, and smells part of your total booth experience. Hit on all the senses with participatory product demonstrations, rotating display cases, looping video presentations.

And remember, trade show attendees are really just people, away from work for the day. Show them a good time: Challenge their intellect, engage their creative skills, involve them in games, play soothing or shake-it-up music, make them laugh.

Control every detail

What is your booth really saying? Take a step back and have a look. A cluttered booth says, “We’re not very organized.” A booth with walls or tables that inhibit the free flow of traffic says, “It’s difficult to get around in here. Don’t bother coming in.” A booth staffed by bored or unapproachable people says, “We’re not really interested in talking to you.” Control the details and you will impress attendees.

Don’t let hot leads go cold

The show’s over, but your work’s not done. Keep the momentum going with thank you notes, discount coupons, interesting incentives, relevant information. This final phase of communication should be ready to roll as soon as the show closes.

A trade show is a bit like a parade, only the “floats” are stationary and the crowd moves. Don’t let the parade pass you by. Create a booth with great stopping power.