By Marlys Arnold, Exhibit Marketing Strategist; Speaker, Author, Consultant; Trade Show Insights Blog/Podcast Host

It’s a sad fact of our modern culture that many things with little to no value receive a high percentage of attention, particularly in the popular media.

But just because reality TV and do-nothing celebrities take over our national spotlight, that’s no reason to let gimmicks take over your exhibit marketing plan. Here are four areas of caution for exhibitors:

  1. Designing a display for shock value alone that makes no sense and doesn’t connect with your audience is a recipe for frustration. I’ve seen so many examples of this! For example, there was the giant brain spinning on a pole high above a booth … and no, this was not at a medical show! Attendees stood in the aisles puzzled, but not enticed to enter the booth. It’s far better to have a display that is authentic to your brand and makes people want to learn more about what you offer.
  2. Creating a booth attraction that draws huge crowds but doesn’t have anything to do with your message or brand, will leave you exhausted with few leads. So many times, I’ve seen this happen with some high-profile celebrity in the booth, signing autographs or doing photo opps, but that’s the only reason people are in the booth. There’s no conversation happening between attendees and booth staffers, and once someone gets what they came for (autograph), they’re gone. The staff goes home with little, if any, new business. Instead, create an attraction that reflects what you can do for attendees. I remember a fun activity at EXHIBITOR one year where Mayflower had a scale model of one of their trucks and let attendees try to fill it with all kinds of various-sized crates. This not only kept people in the booth for an extended time, but also allowed staffers plenty of opportunity to have conversations while they worked together to solve the puzzle.
  3. Giving away cheap tickets creates exactly that impression – cheap and careless. Instead, give a memorable gift that makes sense for both your brand and your audience. But that doesn’t mean it has to be expensive to be considered valuable. Some of the most valuable items (and therefore most like to be kept) include tools that help your attendees with their daily life or job. That could be a pocket guide or slide chart that helps them calculate calories burned (for a health/medical show) or select the right motor oil (for automotive).
  4. Doing a drawing for some kind of expensive “wow” prize draws lots of freebie-seekers vs actual leads. I think often exhibitors believe they need something exciting to draw people in, but the truth is that giving away something from your own list of products or services (or something closely related) will actually gain far more qualified leads. And isn’t that what you’d prefer over hundreds of cards that will just be thrown out later because they’re not interested? (And who wants to be the one to do all those follow-up calls … I think not!)

So before your next show, lose the gimmicks and discover ways to deliver greater value for attendees.

With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. As an exhibit marketing strategist, she travels the country consulting and training on how to create experiential exhibits that produce significantly higher numbers of qualified leads. She’s led workshops for events ranging from local consumer expos to some of the largest trade shows in the U.S. She hosts the Trade Show Insights blog/podcast, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image, the Exhibitor Education Manifesto, and the ExhibitorEd Success SystemExhibit Design That Works (the first book in the YES: Your Exhibit Success series) debuted in July 2017. She’s also the founder of the Exhibit Marketers Café, an online education community. Opinions are her own.

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