Not every exhibitor has the luxury of building a behemoth booth to help it stand out on the trade show floor. In fact, a great many marketers have to make do with modest little 10-by-10-foot booths. But just because your exhibit space is small doesn’t mean you have to think small and expect a matching, miniature return on investment.
Although small booths may not be the most visible at a trade show, a well-designed exhibit with a clear message, a great booth staff, and a cohesive promotional campaign can get the attention of your target attendees, despite your diminutive footprint.
Here are six tips that will help your small exhibit rise from obscurity even if you only have 100 square feet of space and are relegated to the farthest reaches of the show floor.
1. Cultivate an Efficient Booth Staff
The most memorable part of attendees’ exhibit experience is their interaction with your staff. In a small exhibit, this responsibility falls on only two or three people (one staff member per every 50 square feet, ideally with one more to allow for breaks and rotations). Your small staff needs to work at peak efficiency, so make sure to recruit welcoming, knowledgeable, passionate, friendly company reps.
And just as you wouldn’t send an actor on stage without a rehearsal, don’t send your exhibit staff to work on your trade show stage unprepared. Hold a pre-show meeting or several meetings to prep your staff and review your exhibit strategy, covering measurable objectives, promotional programs, the lead-gathering system, presentation materials, and work schedules. Practice giving elevator speeches (a concise statement of your primary message), asking engaging and qualifying questions, and giving product demos or presentations. Include a review of proper booth etiquette and body language, such as never sitting down in your exhibit and staying off your computer and cell phone during booth duty.
Obviously, a small staff can reduce the number of leads you can gather during a given show, so set your objectives accordingly. Time is your biggest competitor at a trade show. To allow for maximum efficiency, the entire process of engaging, greeting, qualifying, presenting and recording information, setting up appointments, and dismissing each prospect should take no more than five to seven minutes. Assuming an efficient exhibit staff person can make up to six complete interactions with attendees per hour, each staffer could potentially qualify a maximum of 36 attendees during a six-hour day at a show with even traffic (if only trade shows were so perfect).
2. Think Outside the Exhibit
Don’t just think about what you can do in your 100-square-foot booth space – think about what to do outside it to maximize exposure to your target audience. For example:
Consider sponsoring events in conjunction with the show.
Secure a spot on the conference schedule for someone in your company to present an educational session or participate on a panel.
Show your latest products in a new-product showcase, assuming show management offers this sort of thing at your show.
Plan ancillary after-hours events to reach your target demographic or distribution channel.
Demonstrate your product in a partner’s booth as well as your own.
Organize pre- or post-show educational events like sales meetings for company distributors or user-group meetings for customers.
Set up meetings with your top prospects or clients for breakfast, coffee breaks, lunch, happy hour, and dinner.
Make the most of all networking opportunities, such as social networking, show-sponsored receptions, and association chapter meetings.
I know one exhibitor who plans early meetings, fitting in two hour-long breakfast meetings every day before he heads to his exhibit for show opening at 10 a.m. One of my clients rents both a small booth space and a small meeting room on the perimeter of the show floor, and every member of the exhibit staff is expected to preschedule appointments for the meeting room during the hours he or she isn’t scheduled for booth duty.
Of course, planning additional meetings and events will require you to bring additional staff, but the ROI rewards can far exceed the additional staff travel costs.
3. Know What You’re Getting
Some shows only offer what’s known as “raw space” – a 10-by-10-foot square of bare concrete, with 8-foot-tall pipe-and-drape walls in the back and 3- to 4-foot-high drape on each side. The show generally also provides a 7-by-44-inch hanging sign with your company name and booth-space number. Shows may also offer higher-priced packages that include standard items such as a 6-foot-long draped table, two chairs, and a wastebasket. Some premium packages even include the carpet and a 500-watt electrical outlet.
When planning the layout of your exhibit, familiarize yourself with the display rules, since they vary by show. The industry standard, according to the “Guidelines for Display Rules and Regulations” established by the International Association for Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), states that the maximum height for linear (in-line) exhibits is 8 feet. But rules about how you use the space within a linear exhibit vary depending on the show.
For example, some trade shows allow you to use the entire cubic content of your 10-by-10-foot space; while others only allow you to build the front half of your booth space up to a 4-foot height to maintain line-of-sight to neighboring exhibits. And if you have the opportunity to select a perimeter booth space, your back wall may be as tall as 12 feet under IAEE guidelines, or even 16 feet if you request and are granted a variance. Corner booth spaces offer twice the aisle frontage, assuming show management allows you to remove the side pipe and drape.
Another rule that governs many linear exhibits is leaving 9 inches of space at the back of your exhibit to allow an 18-inch access tunnel for electrical wiring between back-to-back linear exhibits, effectively reducing the depth of your booth space to 9 feet, 3 inches. Knowing each show’s rules – and what is and is not provided as part of your booth space – can help you proactively plan an effective layout for your small exhibit and avoid frustrating last-minute corrections.
4. Make the Most of Your Space
Your exhibit-design goal should be to produce an attractive, uncluttered booth consistent with your corporate-marketing campaign. Consider the show and type of exhibits your fellow exhibitors use before deciding whether to use a tabletop versus a banner stand versus a pop-up exhibit versus a more customized, modular, or one-of-a-kind exhibit.
Regardless of what exhibit property you use, plan something original and eye-catching. Use color, light, and movement to attract attendees to your exhibit. Even paying to have a single spotlight rigged to illuminate your space does wonders in terms of making your exhibit stand out amid aisles of other 10-by-10s. And whatever you do, don’t build a barrier between your booth staff and the aisle. Just because the laborer who delivers your draped table drops it right on the edge of the aisle doesn’t mean you have to leave it there.
Identify the products or services that are of greatest interest to your audience. If you’re displaying new products, make sure they’re the focus of your exhibit, since the majority of show attendees come to see what’s new. Effective use of product samples, miniaturized models, video, or even 3-D holographic images can greatly enhance the interest in your products. And don’t forget that trade show attendees want to experience your product or service in your exhibit, not just walk past it. So make your small space as interactive as possible.
5. Stop Traffic With Good Graphics
The purpose of your exhibit graphics should be to capture the attention of qualified prospects. Make sure your graphics focus on your prospects’ needs and wants, and not merely what your product specialists want to convey. Since you have limited space for graphics in a 10-by-10-foot booth, it’s doubly important to get it right.
When planning the content on your graphics, think of billboards, where less is more. Graphics should create a visual speed bump to give your staff time to approach and engage those reading them. Your target audience should be able to identify the benefit, or unique selling position, of your product or service in three to five seconds – the time it takes to walk past the 10 feet at the front of your booth. To get the highest impact from your graphics, limit each one to no more than two lines of seven words each, with your benefit (not features or your company name) on the top line. Make your graphics’ messages “self-qualifying” to stop those you want to meet (e.g., “Dealers Wanted”) and discourage those you don’t.
The location of the messages on your graphics is critical. They should be above shoulder level so that booth staff and visitors in your exhibit aren’t blocking them from attendees passing by. Keep the small print off your back wall and put that kind of detailed information on a single-page handout, or offer business cards featuring a URL where interested attendees can access additional product or company information if requested.
6. Drum up Visitors Before the Show
Most attendees do research about the show, reviewing the list of exhibitors on the show’s official website (which doesn’t specify the size of your booth), and reading promotional information they’ve received from exhibitors, starting about six weeks prior to the opening day. Attendees cull this exhibitor information into short lists of a dozen or so companies that they’d like to visit on the show floor, looking for companies that will help them with solutions to their business problems.
Effective promotion is especially crucial for small exhibits, which are easy for attendees to overlook while walking the show aisles. Focus your promotional efforts – whether personal phone calls from your sales staff, targeted e-mail, direct mail, or social-media campaigns – on getting your list of most-wanted prospects to visit your exhibit. Invite them with a compelling solution to their problems. Tell them how your product or service will save them time, money, or hassles, or offer to show them something new. An effective pre-show and at-show promotional campaign can easily double your number of qualified leads generated at a show.
Plan your integrated-promotion strategy for all three timeframes of a trade show: pre-show, at-show, and post-show. Work with show management to obtain a targeted list of pre-registered attendees’ names for pre-show promotion, including postcards, e-mails, or letters offering free exhibit-floor passes. Contact them multiple times with compelling messages. Make sure your message in your promotional campaigns is geared to the level of knowledge and needs of your target – whether it’s suspects who don’t know anything about your product and about whom you have little information, known prospects who have a need for your product, or customers who’ve already bought from you but may need an upgrade or additional product.
Determine on-site promotional opportunities both inside and outside your booth, such as branded hotel door hangers or room keys, taxi receipts, banners, show-directory ads, show bags, etc. And make sure you have attractions in your exhibit, whether it’s an interactive demo, info-tainment such as a game that ties in with your product, eye-catching video, or “show special” offers.
If giveaways are part of your promotional program, pick items that have a high perceived value, will likely be kept by the attendee, and have a tie-in to your show messaging to make them more memorable. Give promo items as a positive reinforcement to those who complete a lead form or attend a demo or presentation. Or use tiered giveaways based on each prospect’s business potential. After the show, don’t forget to follow up via the attendee’s preferred contact method, within the agreed-upon timeframe. Nothing makes a company look less competent than blowing off the post-show contact.
Small 10-by-10- and 10-by-20-foot exhibits are often uninspired, unoriginal, and relatively unsuccessful compared to bigger trade show booths. But that doesn’t have to be the case for you. Simply follow the aforementioned advice, and you’ll be well on your way to making your next small booth a big success.