How do I draw people to a trade show booth?
January 15, 2011 5:03 PM   Subscribe

What was the best trade show booth you every saw, and why?

Looking for suggestions for fun, offbeat, memorable, thought-provoking things to attract people to a booth at a trade show. Industry is agriculture, and to make it more challenging my booth is for a policy-oriented nonprofit, amidst a sea of shiny new tractors and other such toys. (Saw the post from five years ago, but am hoping people might have had more experiences since then.)
posted by Framer to Work & Money (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The ones with free food, lattes, snacks Etc.
posted by saradarlin at 6:25 PM on January 15, 2011

Sybase does a fun thing with a magician doing tricks. There is always a crowd, its fun, and if not for him noone would go near that booth peddling their crappy software.
posted by H. Roark at 6:48 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I remember one where a large, remote-controlled robot rolled up to my coworkers and me, offering candy. You probably don't have a robot, but free food and interactive experiences are good attention-getters.
posted by martianna at 6:57 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The ones with free stickers/pens/cups/bags/food/booklets/magnets
Or live animals.
Toys are good.

Anything is okay as long as it isn't one person sitting there with nothing put one stack of papers.
posted by KogeLiz at 7:22 PM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Giveaways will draw people in, but you may spend a lot of money on them and lose them all early, so choose the item wisely so you can get lots. I think the best giveaway items are things that people will use in their day-to-day lives and be reminded of your organization's existence each time (but don't make the logo/info so garish and annoying that the thing is unpleasant to use). It has to be something a little more unique than a pen or magnet or notepad, though, to make an impact. I love this style of letter opener -- whenever I pick one up at a trade show, I consider it a great score. They're so easy to use. I don't have any experience whatsoever with the vendor I linked to, btw... just wanted to show you the picture.

Most of the trade shows I've been to were food shows, so food was always provided at every booth, but I can certainly see how food would be a draw if that wasn't the case. Also, bottles of water or other beverages (cups are totally fine unless people tend to be carrying a lot) are so nice to pick up at a trade show.

If you want people to come hang out at your booth for a while, have some comfortable seating so they can take a load off; however, don't make your booth so enclosed that people aren't sure whether they can come inside (this happens sometimes when there are fancy tents and faux walls everywhere). Some of the higher-end booths I've seen even had massage therapists giving complimentary short chair massages. You could also get some of those vibrating foot pillows for people to sit down and use. Walking around a big show can be really exhausting.

Another thing you can do is have a contest of some kind or a raffle or something where folks have to be present to win -- or something where they can win on the spot. The prizes can be t-shirts and other swag from your org, even. One time I went to a booth that had a big prize wheel that people could spin. (I remember it vividly because I won a whole set of fancy organic body-care products. It was very exciting!! And even if I had just won a cool cheap letter opener, I would have enjoyed it.) Some kind of activity might be worth considering -- I remember one year an essential oils company had a make-your-own body scrub thing where you mixed up a little salt and jojoba oil or whatever in a jar and added one of their blends of essential oils and then you got to take it home. I don't know exactly how to translate that to agriculture, but there must be something you can do!

I'm sorry if my suggestions are too for-profit oriented... that's just my experience with shows. I have seen some crazy booths with multiple stories and wallpaper and custom carpet and all kinds of over-the-top stuff that probably wouldn't be appropriate for a non-profit organization!!

One final thought is to have really enthusiastic, gregarious, fun people with great attitudes working at your booth. The coolest giveaway item at the show can't completely overshadow a bored or surly person handing it out.
posted by hansbrough at 9:02 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Shiny old tractor?

Policy-oriented? Makes my brain hurt. Makes me think of my current problems. But if you could ease people into "policy", maybe something that let's people think about the history of their industry and how there's always been problems... they may see you not as part of the problem but part of the solution.

Do you happen to know how John Deere became so successful? Polishing the plow blade with sand to keep the dirt from sticking! You might have a demo of that!

I'd suggest you not do the swag. Sure, people will come to your booth, but they'll just be using you, they won't respect you.
posted by at at 10:03 PM on January 15, 2011

It depends on how big your booth is, but having a double layer of carpet padding under your carpet makes a world of difference after walking around all day. It is good for you and will make anyone who is there want to stay.

Getting a good position in the exhibit hall is normally money well spent for getting foot traffic and eyes.

Having something tall enough to see from a few booths away is good.

I don't know what policy issues you guys cover, but having a large screen showing stuff that is interesting might work. I am thinking whatever is like this ( in your space.

Whoever sponsors the trade show's map get their branding looked like 10 times per person, I think that has to be the best place to advertise.

If you want to get interaction, make them do something. Here, sign up on our mailing list, and we will give you two chances to putt the golf ball in the hole. If you make it, you get this cool thing, if you don't, then you get this other much less cool thing. Make it hard enough to be affordable but easy enough (looking) to attract people.

If you supplied free wi-fi and some chairs (and the exhibit hall did not) you could pretty much ensure that you would have a shitload of people around. It would create crowds and buzz (and maybe not much more) but that will at least get attention. If the place does have free wi fi, see if you can sponsor that. See if you can make the wi-fi network have the name of your organization... "Free Wifi from USDA" or make you company the password to the service.

You will not have a crazy cool tractor or combine in your booth, but you could think about the last show and remember who had the best stuff. Get near them. Everyone will want to swing by to check them out...

I don't know what your goals are for the trade show (as an aside, you should try to focus on them when you are putting this booth together) but if you are looking for people's information. Have a couple really cool things that folks can enter to win. Have them put a card in a bowl for a drawing. You then have all of their cards to mailings (or whatever).

I have more ideas but the idea is to figure out what you want from the tradeshow, and set up your booth/presence in such a way to accomplish that as well as possible.
posted by milqman at 11:56 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe something with useful educational content? I used to go to a ton of educational technology shows. The best booths - which could be spectacularly large - were often those by NASA, and they were mobbed because they had stuff that was actually educational, rather than glossy promotional and/or cheap plastic crap from China and/or full of sugar. Basically, people took stuff home for their kids.

Eye catching banner and a prime location near the entrance or on one of the main 'streets' is also very useful although you pay for that kind of stuff.
posted by carter at 3:28 AM on January 16, 2011

The biggest, best attended booths that I have seen have one of the following: scantily clad models offering a product, ice cold Coke, ice cold Beer, hotdogs, a bowling alley, a virtual golfing game, puppies in a Plexiglas tank, massage chairs, a shuttle going to the other exhibition hall, garbage cans/napkins, plastic bags to carry other swag in and anything that someone could bring home to their kids.

The best way to get people in, is to look at their name badge as they approach.

"Hey Larry!" said with a tone of familiarity, "weren't you stopping by to discuss policy X?". It will make them stop but then you could offer them a water, chat them up, give them a position paper or business card. In 2 to 5 minutes, they'd be off.

Good luck.
posted by zerobyproxy at 1:23 PM on January 16, 2011

Seconding carter... Cool is fun, but usually expensive, and tends to attract everyone equally - so you waste time and money on non-prospects. Having something useful and educational to give away that would be of value only to your specific target audience is key. Maybe free books, reference guides or magazine/website subscriptions related to the policies you're involved with. (If these are too expensive, you might write and give away helpful summary pamphlets with drawings for the expensive stuff). Our most popular and successful booth give-away was a simple slide chart for making a calculation that only our potential customers would ever make.

On the cool but not too expensive side - one of the most memorable booth gimmicks I saw that might work well for your organization was an arcade-style Whack-a-Mole game. People line up to play. Easy to tie into a booth theme (e.g. something like "we help you whack those problems that keep popping up"). Key is having a booth staffer chat up the people waiting in line, and note the ones you really want to talk to. After they play, direct the non-prospects nicely back out to the aisle, and the prospects into the booth to talk to another booth staffer. Maybe have some little stuffed mole toys under the counter to give them as a parting "remember us" gift.
posted by evilmomlady at 4:07 PM on January 16, 2011

An interstitial zone is key. Some place with any combination of the things people have mentioned above (booze, good looking people, games, video displays, free wifi/computers) where it's open and very obvious that people can hang out there without getting "sold to." Have a smaller, holier than holies place inside for those one on ones. Keep the staff visible but visibly unconcerned that anyone is asking about your Great Service or Product X.

This will attract people to your space, and at conventions, it's a numbers game plain and simple: the more people who come to your booth, the more people who will see it's happening and come, and those raw numbers are your potential sales opportunities. It's quantity over quality since you've limited time. Can't sell to someone who's not there in the first place.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:44 PM on January 16, 2011

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