The exhibition industry is the big, bad gorilla of the business events industry. A recent study by Oxford Economics ranks the global exhibition industry as the 56th largest economy of the world—larger than the economies of Hungary, Kuwait, Sri Lanka and Ecuador. No surprise, the U.S. exhibition industry ranked first with more than $92 billion of total gross domestic product accounting for 29% of total global economic impact. In 2018, about 32,000 exhibitions hosted 303 million visitors and 4.5 million exhibitors from 180 nations.
By any measure, the data is eye-popping in both scope and scale. The U.S. exhibition industry could drive even higher economic impact if so many exhibitors weren’t torpedoing their trade show marketing efforts.
Over the years, I’ve visited hundreds of trade shows across the country and around the world. It continues to astonish me whenever I see booth staff unknowingly driving curious buyers away. This, despite the fact their employers spend thousands of dollars to create, outfit and staff a booth exhibit.
Why does this happen? It’s a combination of elements. While many, if not most, trade show organizers provide rudimentary training and orientation sessions before the event opens, most exhibiting staff don’t attend.
Very few corporate exhibiting companies spend the time, energy and money to train their booth personnel properly. Finally, the embarrassing reality is that several sales and marketing representatives don’t want to staff their company’s exhibit booths.
Working a booth can be both physically and emotionally draining, which explains why so many C-level marketing executives assign the duty to the newest hires—those who have no tenure and no choice but to accept the assignment. They are thrown into the maelstrom since they have no tenure and no choice but to accept the assignment. And it happens more often than you might think.
Over the years I have gathered photographic proof of this incriminating evidence in a file named “Trade Show No-Nos.” This proves that millions and millions of marketing dollars are completely wasted every year because booth staff defy the basic principles of effective trade show marketing. Here are a few ways to combat these repeat mistakes.
Don’t sit, stand.
Appear (or actually be) happy so people are attracted to your booth and want to learn more about your products/services.
No cell phones.
Turn your cell phone off and leave it in your bag. The only time you should use it in the booth is to assist a buyer who needs a question answered. If you must use your phone for any other reason, leave the floor and make the call.
Watch your body language.
Crossing your arms is the universal signal for, “I don’t care about what you are saying. You are boring to me. Leave me alone!”
Never consume food or drink in the booth.
The booth is a no food and drink zone; it looks sloppy and makes the area messy. No exclusions. The only reason there should be any food and/or drink in the booth is to serve your customers.
Never leave your exhibit booth unattended.
This conveys the message that your organization is not serious about marketing its products/services. Buyers would wonder, rightly so, why a company would waste so much money.
Finally, when planning your exhibit presence at any trade show, calculate how many employees you will need to properly staff the booth. If it is a multiday show you will need some bench strength: Staff who can relieve others so that booth duty is less onerous. For every 100 square feet of space, you will need two to three people, perhaps four if it is more than a day or two.
The good news is that if you do it correctly, exhibition marketing can be the most powerful marketing and sales tool in your company’s arsenal.