Trade Show TalesBlog

The Mobius Strip Approach to Trade Show Marketing

November 4th, 2014 2 COMMENTS
No Beginning and No Ending

No Beginning and No Ending

Your Comfortable Routine

Most of us are creatures of habit. Why change if it’s working? I’ve learned over the years that trade show marketing tends to follow the same, well-traveled road for most companies. Same shows. Similar booths. Little change to the exhibit staffing. Common frustrations year after year.

Recently, I chatted with a West Coast seafood broker who exhibits at two shows a year. They do no pre-show marketing. Post-show marketing consists of a few phone calls and emails. Their graphics changed two years ago, but not much.  Before the show this year, he asked me for advice. I offered tips about his graphics, about contacting his client database, and about including several customer service employees to the booth staff. Basic stuff. He contemplated changing a header graphic. Then ran out of time and did nothing different, except tell a mutual acquaintance that he “upped his trade show marketing program this time.”

I call this the Mobius Strip Approach to Trade Show Marketing. If you played with a mobius strip as a child, you know it’s the illusion of progress because you start and end at the same point. Not surprisingly, it’s the Mobius exhibitors who grumble the most about their meager ROI, while telling everyone about the costly changes they made. I’ve lost my diplomacy with those folks. They are idiots. For everyone else, you can change. I have faith. Here’s my advice to a brighter trade show future by taking a few baby steps.

Baby Steps

Photo_41. The Line:  You’ll never know if you’ve crossed the line . . . unless you cross the line once in a while. It could be a bold display structure, a new marketing campaign, or a social media message. I’ve found that whenever I cross the line, my team will guide me back to it, but just barely. That way we always make progress.

2. The Expert: Ask for advice. Too many sales and marketing professionals think they understand trade show marketing. They don’t. That’s not to say they don’t understand marketing. They do. They just don’t realize that not all marketing is the same. These are the same people who would consult with half a dozen banner ad experts before placing their first online ad, but would go it alone with a $300,000 trade show spend.

3. The People:  Two types of staffers should be in your booth:  Decision-makers and anyone who was a superstar at their first fast food, retail, or call center job. Anyone else won’t give you their best and will probably derailed those who want the show to be successful. If you had a time-elapse camera during the show, you would see them show up late, not approach attendees, and take a one-hour lunch during a four-hour show.

4. The Show: Get to know the show organizers. They want you to succeed because they want the show to succeed. They may have pre-show marketing tips, advice for connecting at the show, post-show analytics, or even some general suggestions about what works and what doesn’t work. They know the best spots on the show floor, which sometimes may not seem like winners, but work because they’re next to the lounge or a busy show floor intersection.

5. The Exhibitors:  Get to the show early and walk the floor. Better yet, walk with someone and compare notes. Talk to other exhibitors. The ones who arrive early are serious about trade show marketing. They are cleaning, organizing, and (like you) looking for opportunities to learn about their industry and trade shows.

6. The Labor: It never ceases to surprise me when exhibitors don’t ask the labor crew for advice. Labor spends their days wrestling with the decisions that exhibitors make. They, more than anyone else, know how to get from point A to point Z by skipping half the alphabet in the show hall. They still have rules to follow, but they know which ones can be bent a little. If nothing else, ask them to share with you what the really good exhibitors do. In addition, they can tell you the exhibit builders that shine and the ones that make their lives miserable. They’ll even share with you trends they’re seeing. They assemble displays every day and hear from the successful and not-so successful exhibitors.

Please share your thoughts about trade show marketing in the comments.

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or


Tags: , , , ,

2 Responses to “The Mobius Strip Approach to Trade Show Marketing”

  1. I agree with much of this article. I own a creative agency and have over 20+ years branding and marketing exhibits. Our moto is “Bravery Required”, there is a reason for that. In this day in age, you have to create a reaction, an experience to create a vibe about your business. I often am blown away as to the amount of money that exhibitors spend to exhibit at a show, (even a 10×10), and do nothing with pre-post show marketing, or bring their “A” game with their brand and presence. I would love to have a conversation with these companies and see where they are spending their dollars and how we can create more for less. You have to take risks, I can’t remember the last time that a risk has not paid off. Bravery is required by the business, but with the right team, great things can happen! Great article.

  2. Amy Lokken says:

    Great article. I couldn’t agree more to many of these points. I invented a modular sales displays to help companies truly think beyond the pipe and drape. Just a couple of weeks ago I was at a state sponsored ‘marketplace’ event and the exhibit hall vendors were horrendous! Even had one vendor tell me they have a display but didn’t bring it because it was only a day and half event. Than they wonder why the 600+ attendees weren’t walking the exhibit hall. News flash YOU (aka the vendors) didn’t “show up” just like the booth(s) next to you who actually didn’t even physically show up! This made me feel that the guidelines/requirements bar for vendors at trade shows has been lowered to an all time low.

Leave a Reply