Trade Shows: The Great Equalizer

Graphic: ©

Graphic: ©

This week, my hometown is celebrating because our Kansas City Royals qualified for baseball’s World Series by sweeping the American League Championship Series against the Baltimore Orioles.

Now that may not seem like such a big deal — someone qualifies every year, right? But what you may not realize is that less than a month ago, no one was even sure the team would qualify for the playoffs. But ever since they did make it in, they’ve won every game in each series and people tell me they’ve become the team to watch for people in 47 out of 50 U.S. states, and have even been referred to as “America’s Team.”

How can this be possible? It’s because once the playoffs begin, every team is set back to zero and it doesn’t matter how successful they’ve been during the season, how famous the players are, or anything else except their performance during the playoff games.

That’s not so different from the trade show floor. It ultimately doesn’t matter how big or small your company is, how well known you are, or how much money you’ve spent to be there. What really matters is what happens once the show begins. I’ve seen small companies with 10×10′ booths packed with attendees while a giant island booth near the entrance was a virtual ghost town. Now that’s not to say what you do leading up to the show opening is pointless — that’s actually what sets you up for success.

For example, I remember one conference where my exhibit was next to a company with a household name (no, I won’t tell you who) and I stayed far busier than they did. It certainly wasn’t because I was better known or had spent the most on my display. Instead it was the result of creative pre-show promotion tactics along with being a sponsor, which allowed me to place a postcard in attendees’ registration bags. Because of those things, I drew an estimated 15-20 percent of attendees to my booth and generated a lot of great conversations. Meanwhile, they stood by (or sat) and waited for their colorful branding and reputation to do all the work for them.

So just like in baseball, you can’t rely on previous success or your reputation to work magic for you at a trade show. Each and every event where you exhibit offers the opportunity to compete on an equal playing field. It’s up to you to do the work required to make your exhibit the talk of the town.

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Marlys Arnold

With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. As an exhibit marketing strategist, she travels the country consulting and training on how to create experiential exhibits that produce significantly higher numbers of qualified leads. She’s led workshops for events ranging from local consumer expos to some of the largest trade shows in the U.S. She hosts the Trade Show Insights blog/podcast, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image, the Exhibitor Education Manifesto, and the ExhibitorEd Success System. Exhibit Design That Works (the first book in the YES: Your Exhibit Success series) debuted in July 2017. She’s also the founder of the Exhibit Marketers Café, an online education community.

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