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The Biggest Overlooked Thing You Need To Succeed At Trade Shows

Because B2B marketers spend around 40% of their budgets on trade shows, exhibitors really want to know how to do shows well. And so, countless blog posts offer their advice on the key things you need to succeed at trade shows.

We’ve published our own version of that idea here, and we probably will again in the future. There have even been entire books telling you the same ideas, but in far greater detail.

Recurring tips on how to succeed at trade shows include:

  • Set trade show marketing goals and objectives in tune with your overall company goals
  • Find the right shows where your buyers attend
  • Manage your budget for greater return on investment
  • Design your trade show booth to capture attention and tell your story
  • Promote your presence before, during, and after the show with promotions
  • Select and train your booth staff to engage attendees and write up qualified leads
  • Manage your leads for quick fulfillment and distribution to your sales team
  • Repeated follow-up on your trade show leads
  • Measurement and reporting of your results to justify your budget and improve performance

These are all excellent tips, and you need to meet all these steps to succeed at trade shows.

However, in all these kinds of articles about trade show success, there is almost always something essential that’s missing.

What’s often overlooked is your product itself

You can be buried in good advice on the marcom aspect of trade show marketing, and never see any advice on the product marketing aspect.

That’s too bad, because even if you design a gorgeous exhibit, staff it with your top sales people, and host a fantastic trade show activity, you’ll still go down in flames if your product isn’t viable.

So, before you invest in exhibiting at a show, can you answer these questions with “yes” answers:

  • Do you offer a product that is better than your competitors in ways that matter to buyers?
  • Does your product provide important benefits to a large enough segment of the market?
  • Can you demonstrate your product’s advantage in a way that buyers will easily understand?
  • Is your product high enough priced, with a sufficient profit margin, that you can invest in marketing at trade shows, yet low enough priced to be attractive to buyers?
  • Can you identify concentrated groups of potential key prospects?
  • Do you have a strong barrier to entry (start-up costs, technology, patents, distribution) that will limit future potential competitors?

Your products matter. You may be able to succeed short-term offering only copy-cat, me-too products promoted by a trade show program that hits all cylinders from a marcom perspective.  But it’s likely you won’t succeed at trade shows long term.  And certainly not if your products are actually inferior to your competitors.

This key point – your products matter most in your trade show success – was driven home by the recent mockumentary series, “Trade Show SHOW” produced by Mailchimp.

Mailchimp’s “Trade Show SHOW” Reveals Importance of Viable Products For Exhibiting Success

Our SocialPoint team was surprised and entertained by Mailchimp’s “Trade Show SHOW” series. It’s amazing to see so much invested in telling funny stories of what could happen in our own industry.

“Trade Show SHOW” follows the mishaps of 3 entrepreneurs who come to make their fortune at the fictitious WELLNEX 2019. While there are some laughs about their travel pains, really the core of this series is how these three exhibitors are not prepared to market their products, be it at a trade show or any other way. Warning, spoilers follow!

  1. One has no product at all: Jonah Maxine, the head of thryvrr, is a hipster awash in buzzwords and hype, signifying nothing. Exhibiting in a bold, striking booth laden in giveaways (including his company logo on fake poop), Jonah seeks an angel investor who will fall for his “product.” After a few requests, Jonah finally describes his non-existent product like this: “thryvrr’s algorithms interface to synergize personal wellness using blockchain technology. It’s like Uber, but for relaxation.” He ultimately fails with thryvrr, then starts another start up that proves just how poor he really is.
  2. One starts without a viable product: Jeannie Hawkins wants to market her “slajamas” at WELLNEX 2019, but her first product shipment never arrives, and her prototype keeps breaking or malfunctioning. Then she stands in a line talking to other exhibitors, who all have similar, but better versions of pajamas than hers. It’s not until she invents a new other product in a flash of inspiration late one night during the show, and wins a contest with a YouTube influencer, that she succeeds.
  3. One has a viable product, but doesn’t want work to promote it: Decades ago, Marty Calder had a successful product called “Marty’s Mud,” until he lost control of it to a former business partner. At the show he avoids any chance to promote his new, almost-identical product. He grabs a brochure away from a visitor, tells another his product isn’t for him, and even insults a TV reporter interviewing him. Marty finally succeeds, after much reluctance, when he risks his life doing a major stunt – that grabs attention while demonstrating his product’s key advantage.

Marty speaks for the series what he sees as the problem with trade shows, when he tells Dana Calder, his MBA-daughter partner, “This sure ain’t like it used to be. You know, back in the day, it was all about the product. Now it’s all just bullshit and flash.”

Some of what Marty says is true: you need to do the marcom side of trade shows well, including offering experiences that help you stand out, as trade shows are more competitive.

And yet, even today, it’s still really all about the product. So, don’t overlook the viability of your own product when planning for your next trade show.

If you’d like to see more about how you can drive more booth traffic, keep attendees engaged longer, teach visitors about your product advantages, and capture leads with our fun interactive trade show games, feel free to contact us with questions or to discuss your event with one of SocialPoint’s Digital Strategists. We’ll help you generate a serious increase in excitement, crowds, and leads.

Written by

Samuel J. Smith is a thought leader, researcher, speaker and award winning innovator on event technology. In 2011, BizBash Magazine added Sam to its annual innovators list. Since then, Sam has won awards from Exhibitor Magazine, IBTM World, RSVP MN, International Live Events Association and MPI for innovation in event technology.

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