They’re a bit like that famous yeast extract, aren’t they? Some people tingle at the thought of the exhibition hall – the smell of freshly-laid carpet; colourful stands; intriguing exhibits. Others groan, imagining hours on their feet; overpriced coffee; endless corporate videos.
Personally, I love them. I cut my marketing teeth on exhibitions, back in the mid-90s. But even after years of exhibiting and walking the floor at shows around the world, I still get ‘the tingle’ every time I walk into an exhibition hall – from build-up, right until the last minute of the last day. It’s the sense of the unexpected; of all that preparation work coming to a head; of all the opportunities only exhibitions provide. So here’s why I love exhibitions, and my thoughts on how to make the most of them.
Anyone could turn up at your stand. It’s not just customers that visit exhibitions – there are competitors, journalists, academics, people trying to sell to you… Exhibitions are a two-way street, and that keeps you on your toes. It’s so important to be open and ready to talk to visitors, whoever they are. You never know how you might benefit. Make sure you have a strategy prepared for how you’ll handle various types of visitors, and brief all your stand staff – then prepare to enjoy the variety.
When customers do arrive, think of the opportunity! Any marketer should relish the chance to have a few minutes face to face with a customer or prospect. Keep all your questions fresh in your mind, and make the most of the chance when you meet customers face to face.
But what if the stand’s quiet? All a waste of time and money, surely? Never. If there are enough of you on the stand, then leave someone there and go and walk the floor. What do the other exhibitors think of the show so far? What comments have they heard from visitors about the show? Can you sell your product to them or could you collaborate somehow? Go out and create the opportunities.
If you’ve planned the staffing mix on your stand properly (and you should), it’s a great chance to spend time with your colleagues from other departments (both on the stand, and in the local Indian restaurant afterwards). Exhibitions can generate a great team spirit, and just being a part of that can build the relationships in a company that help marketers get things done. Plus, if your colleagues are talking to visitors, it’s a chance to shadow them and find out how they handle different kinds of questions, or improve your own technical knowledge.
Most of all for me, an exhibition is about the brand on display. It’s time to hold your head up, and be proud – of your company and what it does, and your brand and what it stands for. From the moment you walk into the hall during build-up, you’re an ambassador for your brand. So be passionate, upbeat and engaging; enjoy yourself; smile; banter – and make someone’s visit to the show enjoyable.
There are more ways to exhibit than just taking a stand. If you’ve the right kind of product, you could strike a deal with the organisers to provide a free product or service to the exhibition in exchange for publicity. For example, a water cooler supplier offered to provide water coolers around an exhibition hall for no charge, in exchange for just being there and having the chance to have ‘water cooler moments’ with passers by.
Even if you’re not exhibiting, visit a relevant show anyway. You can get plenty out of just visiting – meeting suppliers or customers, checking out the competition, meeting journalists, attending seminars, seeing what others in your industry are talking about, picking up promotional ideas, noting who is and isn’t there. Remember all your market research questions and see how many of them you can start to answer. Complement exhibitors if they’ve got a good stand – how did they do it; who did they use?
So yes, I love exhibitions – and I’m saddened to see so many of them losing their way, and even being overtaken by various digital alternatives. Whatever the merits of ‘virtual’ exhibitions and events, and sourcing information online, I say you can’t beat getting out of the office; feeling the vibe of an exhibition; and meeting people face to face.