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February 10, 2017
B2B Trade Shows: Turn Customers Into Loyalists
Don Harder

Trade shows have always been part of the traditional B2B marketing mix. Recently, I’ve noticed companies have scaled back on their booth footprint. And I can see why – they’re expensive to put together, require a lot of personnel (to do properly) and involve travel. It’s certainly a lot more difficult than placing some ads online or in a print magazine. (Yeah, we get that.)

Drive action from your audiences.

So, what do you get out of it? Spending four days surrounded by your competitors and your clients is a terrific opportunity to create a memorable experience that ultimately drives them to act. For me, I liken it to going to a concert. It’s one thing to listen to a song on your headphones, but going to the concert takes your love to a new level and cements your commitment.

And you can’t get that kind of love from a banner ad.

Start with discovery.

How does that magic happen? It all begins with the discovery process. How important is the show? Is it regional, national or international? Is this the biggest show of its class? Are there new products to launch? Are you more show-and-tell or more about relationships? What’s on your calendar for the year and where are you going?

When we did our strategic discovery for Firestone Building Products, we found that there were two types of shows that they typically attend: large, multinational extravaganzas, and smaller, regional ones.

The Firestone Building Products booth used for large B2B trade shows involving product launches, announcements and more.

The larger booth set the “design language” and experience we wanted to emulate for all their shows. In the larger version, importance was given to products and new product launches (by way of large video walls, demo stations and product kiosks). We designed their booth to reflect that commitment to the industry, and included space for Press and other announcements, as well as a private meeting space for their sales reps to take it to the next level. (Literally, we gave them a two-floor set-up with demos below and meetings above.) We also included a coffee bar and room enough to chat and mingle.

Firestone Building Products' booth activation at IRE 2017, featuring interactive touchscreens with product information.

For their regional shows, the focus was different. Here, it was about creating space for conversation and relationship building. So we took the “design language” from the larger booth and compacted it with emphasis on open spaces for networking and a hands-on demo and monitors for featuring products. You can see how they’re related to the larger booth. Remember: these spaces are now designed specifically to these different experiences while maintaining a cohesive design language and brand look.

Find inspiration everywhere.

When I think about trade show design, I am inspired by my real life as well as my work life and get a lot of inspiration from grocery stores and the auto show.

Local grocery stores (well, marketers) are aces when it comes to drawing people to a try new product. They use special lighting (visual), cook on-site so you hear the sizzling bacon (sound) and stack it on an appropriate carrier (taste). And you buy the package to take home because, hey, it’s four bucks! In this case, all your senses are activated.

For the B2B world, this is done in myriad ways. In a trade show (similar to the National Restaurant Association [NRA] show below), we’ve employed fresh coffee (smell), dynamic motion graphics (visual), double-padded carpeting or simulated wood floors (touch) and soft music (sound). All of that creates a special, immersive experience that can make your booth stand out.

Trade show representatives interact with attendees. B2B trade shows allow businesses to showcase new products to prospects.

My other favorite is the annual Chicago Auto Show. These manufacturers have big bucks and can do a lot, but I am most impressed by the smaller tactics that make the experience stand out. They have roaming salespeople who are just as nerdy as you are, collecting information directly on an iPad. Their digital kiosks draw you in.

In fact, I always find myself deeply engaged in games or getting more information than I would’ve with printed brochures or other traditional booth-drivers. It’s all about bringing that product to life in a way that I cannot experience from my desktop, which is the reason I venture out there in the middle of the winter. (I cannot experience that Kia Telluride next to a 10’ screen at home.)

Kia's latest SUV on display at a B2B trade show. Trade shows allow B2B marketers to bring product experiences to life.

And some folks use their own product to make the booth itself. Even the sound of a product — like a car revving its engine or the sound system — is used as a draw and, in Ford’s case, will bring in people ten deep to hear the Mustang roar its mighty engine.

Trade shows are an important way to turn your customers into loyalists. Get the design right and your ROI will be measured in hearts, minds and dollar signs. Make it memorable and meaningful. And let us sort it out the details. It’s what we love to do. (Reach out todayto learn more about what we can do together!)

PS: Want to have some real fun? I discovered this little hidden gem at the Volkswagen booth at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show. How cool is that?! That display was ALWAYS busy.

Volkwagen's B2B trade show booth activation engages attendees to customize their own vehicle though an interactive screen.