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How to “borrow” great trade show marketing ideas

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Posted by , 30th January 2018

How to borrow great trade show marketing ideas

Could you borrow the idea of on-stand demonstrations to pull crowds like this one as seen at a recent Salon International show?

What I’m suggesting in this article is an ethical way of coming up with great trade show marketing ideas. Allow me to add a disclaimer: I’m not suggesting you rip off your competitors’ ideas!

Instead, here are a few ways to research information that will propel your trade show programme forward, getting you:

  • more attention on the show floor
  • more prospects to your booth and even
  • more potential for industry press coverage.

And it’s all above board, so you don’t have to lose a moment’s sleep over it.

Step 1: Boldly go where you have never gone before

The first thing you need to do is get away from the places where you usually exhibit. Why? Because the only ideas you will ever see there are those of your competitors.

On the other hand, if you invest the time to attend shows outside your own industry, you’ll probably find that exhibitors at those shows are doing things much differently than you may be accustomed to.

Your exhibition contractor or supplier should be able to help you gain access to these other shows, since they typically have clients in many different industries.

Look at the efforts of these other exhibitors with a critical eye:

•How are they promoting themselves outside their exhibit?

•What’s the major draw they’re using to entice people into their booth?

•What do their graphics communicate, and how is that different from what you’re used to doing?

•How are their stand teams dressed?

•What kind of premiums and incentives are they offering?

•Is there an overall “big idea” some exhibitor’s using that’s generating major buzz?

Step 2: One source is stealing, three is research

Maybe you remember this admonition from back in school when you were writing papers for classes.

I remember it well because a high school history instructor warned my classmates and me: “Taking from one source is plagiarism. Taking from three or more sources is research.”

Again, I’m not suggesting that you “lift” what someone else has done lock, stock and barrel.

I’m trying to make the case that you observe and learn how exhibitors outside your industry attempt to do the same things you need to do (attract attendees, tell your story, close a sale or generate a lead).

Doing this can inspire you to do things differently. To change what you’ve done at past events. At the very least, you will have some new marketing ideas to test out at your next event.

So use what other exhibitors are doing as starting points for your own process, not step-by-step plans for how you’ll do things at your next show.

Step 3: Stir thoroughly and allow to rise

Take in all the ways exhibitors at shows outside your own industry do things. Sleep on them (or brainstorm with colleagues). Let those ideas have a chance to mix well. Eventually, a new and workable concept will come to the surface and you will be able to build on that.

All creative people are inspired by the work of other creative types.

It’s the nature of creativity itself. There aren’t any completely original ideas left out there. In fact, Mark Twain once said:

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.”

Step 4: There’s nothing new under the sun

The advent of new technologies hasn’t really changed anything.

We’re still adapting each other’s work and ideas to fit our own brand or identity. We can learn from both the successes and failures of those who have gone before us, or who work in different arenas.

The best we can do is to build on specific proven elements and discover a novel and interesting idea. But I’d venture to say that it would rarely—if ever—result in something completely new.

To the uninitiated, this process might look like stealing. To those in the know, it’s simply being inspired, like generations of writers, designers and artists before you.

See this post for some different display ideas 

Step 5: Work with what you’ve got

The only difference between you and an artist is training and, to a lesser degree, raw talent.

I stress the training aspect because artists are trained to look at things differently. When they look at other works of art, they mentally turn them upside down, see them as negatives of a positive image, or scramble the elements in the artwork to see if something unique comes to mind.

This may be a skill that you don’t currently possess. But like any skill, it simply takes time and effort to grow into it. Your ability to see something novel inside another creative expression will increase over time. But for now, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.

Here’s where other people can help.

Perhaps you should try visiting trade shows outside your own field with a colleague. It’s almost a given that the two of you will look at things differently. When you compare notes, you might find that the results of your combined thinking may be greater than the sum of its parts.

Step 6: Apply what you’ve learned

Now’s the time to take all the mental work you’ve done and apply it to your exhibiting efforts. In short, it’s where the things you’ve “stolen” transform into your own ideas.

It could be something as simple as adding the design of a kiosk or the unique shape of some hanging signs, to the overall theme of your exhibit.

Even the way another exhibitor did something that failed, in your mind, can spark an idea of how to do it better. These ideas you’ve appropriated from other industries can now be expressed through your own creative filters to support telling your company’s trade show story.

Once you and your colleague(s) have gone through all your notes from the show, it’s time to sit down with your stand designer and talk about what you’re planning.

Apply what you’ve learned to all the other areas of your display.

The design of a lead recording card, the look of the booth staff’s clothing, the graphics that communicated something in a unique way.

All of these things can be inspired by what you’ve seen in another  industry setting. Doing so will help you create the best trade show displays possible.

So that’s how you can “steal” or should I say “borrow” from other sources without any fear of being called a copycat.

You might also like this post on memorable trade show marketing 

For “originality”: Get out of the rut

I encourage you to get out of the rut of constantly rehashing the same old trade show marketing ideas you see in your own industry, and reach out for some new creative juice. I’m certain that if you do, you’ll be more than pleased with the results.

So, get pencilling-in some shows to visit. Events that you’ve never been to before. Maybe even a consumer show or two. Take pictures, make notes and “borrow” some great ideas.

About the Author

Charles Dugan is the President and Owner of American Image Displays, designers and distributors of premier trade show equipment. The company’s offers a wide variety of exhibits and products including trade show backdrops, digital displays, shipping cases, and booth rentals. He is also a contributor to Entrepreneur.com and a trade show marketing consultant.

Prior to running his own company, Charles served in the US Navy for 8 years as an electronic technician. When he returned from his service he decided to pursue a career in business. Charles went on to earn his MBA and has been involved in entrepreneurship ever since.

Posted in Design & Build  /  Stand Management  /  Trade show advice  /  Trade show marketing

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