Tradeshow and Exhibit Thoughtleaders
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Marc Goldberg's Articles

Small Exhibitors: You have to out-think them because
you can’t outspend them!

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When we think of small exhibitors, we think of the 10x10 in line booth with a table blocking the front, a portable pop-up exhibit and a graphic-centered under their name.  Small exhibiting is any type of exhibiting up to 400 square feet.  The major issue is that small exhibiting is not a microcosm of large exhibiting.  It is different.  It requires more aggressive “out-of-the-box” thinking.  It means creative preshow promotions, attractive at-show promotions and a memorable post show marketing effort.  Small exhibiting requires a design that renders every other exhibitor “second best” so that an event can be created in the mind of each visitor to achieve memorability. 

Everyone at one time or another is a small exhibitor.  Even the largest exhibitors attend regional, local, and vertical market events where they exhibit in smaller spaces.  The mindset must be different.  Here are three factors that make small exhibitors eclipse larger exhibitors.

1.   You must out-think the larger exhibitors

  If you want to eclipse your larger competitors you need to plan the event, execute the event enthusiastically and aggressively and follow-up thoroughly  and this takes strategically thinking through the entire process. Thinking strategically means leaving the logistics behind and asking yourself the questions that will make the difference between generating a high return or just showing up
  • Why are you exhibiting?  What is the number one reason you are using tradeshows in your marketing mix?  Increasing share of customer (more salesfrom existing customers), increasing market share (sales opportunities from new prospects) or positioning your brand in the mind of the visitors.  Commit to your objectives early since they drive the entire process.

  • Can you describe your target audience?  Who are targeting when you exhibit. Can you describe their characteristics so you can focus on them and not on your exhibit. Being a small exhibitor

  • What messages do you want to communicate to this target audience?  As a small exhibitor your need to think clearly about what message you want delivered in response to the visitor’s stated needs. To create an impression that generates memorability, the key message statements, the supporting messages and the BIG IDEA.

  • Lastly, what will be your measure of success?  What will determine if your investment was successfully fulfilled.  What was your cost per lead Vs your last show?  What was your cost per visitor reached compared to your investment in trade press advertising?

Since your exhibit is smaller, remember to always.

1. Promote your attendance – no one knows how big |or small you are until they get to the show. If you promote in a “big” way, they will have a “big”
    impression |||of you.

2. Use staff that are experienced in working a show.  In a larger exhibit you can afford to have novices and “hangers-on” – in a smaller exhibit, you cannot. |

    You need staffers who know what they are doing – understand the process of exhibiting. 

3. Work the event every hour the show is open.  Working the show means being open to opportunities every place you and attendees are interacting – in
    the hallways, on escalators, in elevators, in restaurants – look for the unlikely places where you can gain a communication advantage.

4. If you think you need two staffers, bring a third – every person that approaches Exhibit thinks they are the first person you have talked to all day long.
    As a small exhibitor you only have on chance to make a good first impression, so to keep your staff fresh, have a swing person to fill in when it gets busy
   or just as a relief player to so every
can take frequent breaks.  ( Rule of thumb:  1 staffer for every 50 square feet of unoccupied space – unoccupied with exhibit property)

5. Break the rules – don’t eat in your exhibit, but have plenty of water in the exhibit to dehydration. But, keep it out of site.

2.  Promotion is critical to generate mindshare


The first and third a the most important, since the at show has the function of attracting and retaining visitor interest and space is of concern, therefore the pre show has to attract and the post show has to maintain their interest until there is a post show person-to-
person contact.

No one knows how big you are until they arrive at the show and see you, therefore your pre-show promotion must give the illusion of being larger than you are in their mind.  In their mind is where you need to be, so they say, “I need to plan my schedule around seeing  them at the show”.  The call for action needs to say we understand you and  your needs so they make a link immediately upon receiving your promotion.  Whether it be a direct mailer, a telephone call, an e-mail or broadcast FAX, the message is still the same – we are exhibiting, we have solutions, plan to visit us and we can do business.

Aggressive and enthusiastic execution on-the-floor are ingredients that are musts for a small exhibitor.  It is often thought that exhibiting is a 24 hour a day selling opportunity. For a small exhibitor, you cannot leave the  engaging, prospecting and communicating to activities that take place solely in the exhibit.  They take place wherever and whenever a dialog develops such that a need is expressed and you see a possible solution.

At show promotions for most small exhibitors are beyond budget and beyond space considerations.  If you have one, it will attract more of the audience and provide a vehicle to retain their interest. A magician, mime or presenter with a 5-10 audience seating capacity can work wonders in communicating your message and stimulate interest in talking more with your staff.

When the show is over the work is just beginning for a small exhibitor since they don’t always have the in-booth tools larger exhibitors have to create memorability.  Timely follow-up is paramount in linking the exhibit experience with the next step in the selling process.

One plan that works well for small exhibitors is to show them what they will see in your preshow promotion, have them experience it at the show and then reinforce the experience after  the show.  We exhibit in a 10x10 exhibit and  send attendees a  3:x5” four color postcard with of the graphic they will see in our exhibit. When they get to the show, they see the exhibit and then we send a 4”x6” four color post card of us in the exhibit so they see our message “Experience the Results” for the third time.  These two promotional mailings cost less than $1500 with printing and show postage.


3.  Your exhibit design must grab them and leave a lingering question

     Most small exhibitors use a portable, modular or custom modular exhibit in their booth space. 

     The exhibit has two  functions: (1) to attract attention and give the  overview story  of who they are,  what they do and what is their offer to the audience and
     (2) to support the staff in communicating with  visitors.  The role of the exhibit and graphics  is to attract   the visitor’s eye  and create memorability, by rendering
     all other exhibits and graphics second best. 

     The key for a small exhibitor is FOCUS  Focus on one or a few products or services Focus on one or few messages and sub messages. 
     Focus  on the visitor  communicate with them, show the  benefits of your organizations’ products and  services. 

What is small?

Under 400 square feet – almost half of exhibitors in the US
are small exhibitors

1.   It’s not a microcosm of large exhibiting

2.    It requires out-thinking the larger exhibitors, not trying to outspend them

3.   It requires creative, aggressive preshow promotion – no one knows your exhibiting until you tell them

4.   And, no one knows how big you are until they get there, so your preshow positioning is critical

5.   Aggressive execution – it is a 24 hour a day activity –everyplace you go is a selling opportunity

6.   Your graphics have to scream who you are , what you do and what is your offer to the audience – you
only have 3 seconds to get the audiences attention

7.   Use lightweight space age materials for exhibits and graphics that shift the budget from nonproductive
drayage, transportation and I&D expenses  to  marketing investments to promote your participation. 
Take advantage of flexible truss systems to give your exhibit a bigger look and consider custom modular over traditional “small exhibit” components.

8.   Your message must be clear and memorable to overcome the issue of size – size is the #1 factor in
memorable exhibits

9.   Staff has to be prepared to work the event – there are less staff than in larger exhibits so they need to: 

  • be prepared to meet the audience – understand who is attending. have a clear, concise and memorable message about the company, its products and services, and get plenty of rest, drink adequate water and take breaks during the day

10.  Be creative – take advantage of low cost, high return sponsorships, piggy-back with strategic partners on
 hospitalities and customer dinners, use your own staff to deliver your live presentation – have creatively postured demonstrations that leave the participants wanting to know more

11.  Be responsive to attendee needs – acknowledge everyone, have a system in place before leaving for the
show for lead fulfillment and follow .  Make the first day back from the show, the last day of the show.


© 2012 by Marc Goldberg