Trade Show TalesBlog

Does Your Trade Show Exhibit Have To Be Clever?

October 25th, 2016 COMMENTS


Once Upon a Time…

Trade shows have always been a marketplace where potential attendees wandered through the aisles. When something caught their eye, they would enter the booth to learn more about the product or service. As an exhibitor, a clever message, promotion, or display was crucial since enticing attendees into the booth was an important measure of the show’s overall success.

Clever mattered and the overall booth served the same purpose as a magazine or television ad: enticing people to try your product and service. As a result, marketers went to great lengths to create witty copy, smart graphics, and an interactive experience. In some cases, the copy, graphics, and experience had little to do with the actual product or service. It was more about generating traffic and leads, regardless of the quality.

park3Does Clever Still Matter?

Several years ago, we designed a 20 x 30 island design with a park theme. It included paths, artificial grass, a swing, benches, trees, and a gazebo. The concept was “A Walk in the Park,” which highlighted how easy it was to work with us – design, customer service, exhibit builds. It was a clever idea that attracted traffic to the booth. Even today, our customers still comment on the design, but when I ask them about the underlying marketing message, they draw a blank. Ouch!

Does that approach still work? Yes… and no. The ability to create a creative, integrated, and informative trade show experience for an attendee will always be the “holy grail.” However, being clever may not matter as much as it used to. That may seem counter-intuitive, but trade shows have changed.

Google/Amazon in a Really Big Building

The Internet has changed trade shows, but not in the way you think. For years, “experts” predicted that virtual trade shows would replace physical trade shows. That hasn’t happened, nor is it likely to happen anytime soon. According to CEIR, tradeshow attendance has grown for 21 straight quarters.

People want to be with people who share their professional and personal interests. Today’s trade show attendees are far less likely to wander the trade show floor. They pre-shop in the same way we all do research before buying a new television, car, or service. Attendees are less inclined to discover a vendor at the show. Instead, they identify who they want to visit and plan accordingly. Is there a chance they’ll stumble on a new vendor? Of course, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

What Does That Mean to You?

preshowYour job is difficult and allocating scarce resources is one of your main challenges. Clever takes time. And, if the goal is less about enticing random attendees into the booth, then it becomes more about communicating a problem and your solution. That message is easier since it’s something you do every day. So, what do you do with all this extra time? You devote it to pre-show marketing and to building qualified traffic to the booth… before the show even starts. Successful trade show programs are as much about pre-show and post-show as “the show.”

That’s not to say your trade show exhibit shouldn’t be attractive. It should, but I would encourage you to focus on more practical matters the next time you design or rebrand your display. What do you need in the booth space to conduct business? Make it less about showmanship and more about conversations and information. Take the time you would have spent creating the perfect theme and use it to create targeted social media campaigns and invitations to your clients before the show. Give them a reason to put you on their calendar at the show.

It’s OK to be clever, but on a list of trade show marketing priorities, smart (and successful) beats clever every time.

–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



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