When you walk into the exhibit hall at a healthcare or medical show, you realize right away: There’s a lot of money in this room. Trade show displays at healthcare shows tend to be enormous and elaborate. Meanwhile, your smaller booth is tucked away in one of fifty rows, dwarfed by the major industry players.
Clients often ask us: How can I stand out at medical and other pharma trade shows when I don’t have a six-figure trade show marketing budget? It seems impossible, but it’s not. Here’s what we tell them.
1. Be colorful and bright.
The visual language of healthcare trade show marketing is colorful, crisp, bright and bold. You may be tempted to swim against the tide and opt instead for a more classic or subdued exhibit design, but we don’t recommend it. You’ll just look like you don’t belong. FrontLine Exhibits’ in-house designer can help you create a custom booth that fits the pharma trade show look and perfectly represents your brand. You don’t need a 30- by 70-foot booth to make a confident statement!
2. Win before the show opens.
“No one knows how big or how small you are when you’re reaching out before the show,” Chase Howells, FrontLine Exhibits’ Senior Account Manager, tells clients. In pre-show marketing, the playing field is level — and that’s when you can score. At least two months before the show, send out mailers. Six weeks beforehand, send out a personalized email campaign. And three weeks before the show, set appointments with your top prospects.
3. Send a surprise.
When’s the last time you got something fun in the mail? We don’t mean that pack of bamboo toothbrushes you ordered from Amazon, or the BOGO coupon for your neighborhood burger joint, but a genuine surprise. If you want to delight your prospects before the show, mail them something cool that will entice them to come visit your booth. If you want to guarantee they see it, send it via FedEx and make them feel even more special.
We spend our days working in front of screens. We spend our evenings relaxing in front of screens. We even carry them around in our pockets. You’d think that a glowing monitor would have lost its ability to draw an audience at trade shows, but that’s just not the case! People are always drawn to screens. But how can you use them effectively?
First, consider the size of your space and the flow of traffic within your booth. You don’t want people to pile up — or worse, skip your booth because there’s a crowd gathered around a touchscreen. If you want a large screen as a focal point, make sure people can still access your booth staff and your marketing materials.
Second, ask yourself what kind of video or experience will do the best job of engaging your audience and conveying your product’s value. A recorded product demonstration? A live feed showing a machine running in your manufacturing plant? A live Q&A via Skype with a category expert? An interactive game? For one of our clients, the healthcare tech company Creo, we built a frame around a monitor to make it look like a giant iPhone. On that monitor, Creo demonstrated its mobile app for health screenings and risk reports.
Third, think about how multiple screens may interact — or compete — in your space. If you have a salesperson doing a live demo, for example, a recorded video on a large screen may distract people. One of our clients placed two freestanding workstations in the corners of their booth. On the front of each workstation was a larger monitor running product demos; on the back were smaller, 23” touchscreens from which people could enter a sweepstakes by printing faux “boarding passes.” The result: a fun an engaging experience that drew people in and effectively touted the product.
Trying to figure out your trade show budget for 2018 is like trying to rebalance your investment portfolio. There are so many variables, how can you possibly know how much money to set aside for trade show displays, shipping and marketing?
You may not have a crystal ball, but you do have us — your FrontLine Exhibits team. We do more than execute effective trade show booth strategies; we also help our clients develop accurate budgets and game plans, so you can march confidently into 2018.
“Our goal is to help people and make the whole trade show side of their marketing easier for them,” says Chase Howells, FrontLine Exhibits’ Senior Account Manager. At the end of the year, bring us your list of trade shows for 2018, and we can help …
Estimate trade show labor costs.
As we’ve mentioned, the location of a trade show has a significant effect on trade show labor costs. If your biggest show is in Boston or New York City this year, expect higher hourly rates for union installers, electricians etc. The showrunners don’t make it easy to figure this out — often, they won’t release the exhibitor manual with all the details until a month or two before the show. Fortunately, we keep our own records for various venues. “Because we’re in Vegas every week, we have an idea of what the rates are going to be,” Chase says.
Calculate trade show display shipping costs.
Location and timing can dramatically affect the price of shipping your trade show display. You always want to plan for advance warehouse shipping, instead of settling for show-site shipping. The difference is major: You can save 20 to 30 percent if your display is created and shipped by the show’s advance deadline.
Weigh the costs of enlarging your trade show presence.
When you have a quiet moment at the end of the year, sit down and analyze the results from your 2017 trade shows. Were they all equally successful, or did a few feel like a waste of time? At your biggest show, did you feel like your booth was overshadowed by your competitors’? Maybe it would make sense to cut one or two shows and put that money toward expanding your presence at the flagship show. We can help you figure out how to budget for a 20- by 30-foot exhibit instead of a 10 by 20; factoring in not only the trade show booth cost, but also the increased shipping, installation and booth space.
Nudge you on trade show deadlines.
Waiting until the last minute to plan, design and execute your trade show booth can cost you thousands. With a two-week lead time, the best we can do is a basic exhibit. Give us a month or more, and our in-house designer can work with you on a custom-made display that really reflects your brand. We know busy marketers have a lot on their minds, so if you share your trade show schedule at the beginning of the year, we’ll send you reminders throughout 2018. “That’s ideal for everybody,” Chase says.
One of FrontLine Exhibits’ longtime clients is Total Party Planner, a company that creates intuitive online catering software for caterers and banquet facilities. Unlike companies that take a one-size-fits-all approach to trade show marketing, Total Party Planner never does the same thing twice.
“We’re always working closely with FrontLine on something unique and different,” Founder and President John Cohen says. Here’s how they do it.
They adapt their trade show marketing plan for each show.
Every year, Cohen says, they attend two vastly different shows: Catersource and the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show. Catersource, the largest B2B trade show for catering professionals, is Total Party Planner’s target market. Almost everyone on the show floor is a potential or existing client, Cohen says, including owners of banquet facilities, catering companies, etc. There, Total Party Planner’s goal is to wow attendees and spend quality time with existing clients.
The NRA Show is a different beast. Some 70,000 foodservice professionals attend, and maybe 10 out of 100 are worthwhile prospects. At NRA, Total Party Planner focuses on brand awareness and competing with other software companies. “At NRA we have to be a little bit louder, to really stop people in their tracks,” Cohen says. But they spend a fraction of their Catersource budget, because the ROI is lower.
They become their clients.
Total Party Planner’s clients are catering company owners, event planners and chefs. “They’re people who are creative, they’re people who like to throw parties and make people happy,” Cohen says. At Catersource, the atmosphere reflects that approach to life. People are eating, drinking and enjoying themselves — and they are not enticed by “the booth with three podiums and three monitors, with people waiting to show you their software.”
So Cohen and his team created a trade show booth that looked like an elegant venue. In a 20 by 20 space, they arranged a dining table set with candelabra and floral arrangements, loveseats with pillows, and framed pictures. Booth staff wore black dresses or vests, ties and black pants. The message: “This is your world, and we get it.”
It worked. The booth was “jam-crowded, slammed for two full days.” Meanwhile, competitors’ tech-focused booths were sparsely attended. “We love it,” Cohen says. “We hope they never, ever change.”
They understand who they’re competing with.
At NRA 2016, Total Party Planner decided to try the same “elegant event” theme that had performed so well at Catersource. “It didn’t quite work,” Cohen says. “It didn’t feel right.” Why? At NRA, Total Party Planner’s booth was placed in the technology pavilion, where it felt old-fashioned next to the bright and streamlined exhibits staffed by millennials in Chuck Taylors.
Total Party Planner’s message was getting lost. So they rapidly shifted. They raced to Macy’s, bought T-shirts and jeans, and reorganized the booth. For NRA 2018, their trade show booth design will be “super fun, super bright, super red,” with a branding focus and a relaxed feel.
They devise a strategy for trade show giveaways.
“We’ve never been big on giveaways,” Cohen admits. He recalls the year they offered MopTopper pens and people grabbed them by the handful. His employees had to dole them out one by one, which wasn’t the best use of their time.
Instead, he prefers to offer higher-value items only for existing clients. At Catersource, he had T-shirts made for clients. As they collected their gifts, his staff took photos of them holding up the shirt. Those photos became an asset for social media and future trade show marketing.
They think beyond the booth.
Coveted speaker gigs at Catersource are hard to obtain. “We’ve been trying for years to get on stage,” Cohen says. But he recognizes that attendees probably don’t want to hear people speaking about software or social media strategy for the hundredth time. So he proposed something entirely different for Catersource 2018: the first-ever Caterslam.
Caterslam is a storytelling competition for caterers. Cohen will announce a topic — like weddings gone wrong, for instance — and invite eight caterers from around the country to tell their stories on stage. The best will win prizes. It’s fun, entertaining and gives smaller attendees a chance to take the stage. “Those will be some good marketing dollars spent,” he says.
Fabric pop-up trade show displays — which consist of printed fabric stretched over a collapsible, lightweight frame — are everywhere, and for good reason. They’re economical, stylish, lightweight and eye-catching. Here’s our advice for using them effectively.
- Do use pop-up display walls for more than just trade shows. When your big shows are done for the season, don’t shove your displays in the closet. Pop-up displays can be used in office lobbies or as a backdrop on stage. Step-and-repeat displays add style to events.
- Do change the graphics as needed. Many pop-up displays allow the printed fabric to easily be switched out, via Velcro. It’s cheaper to get multiple fabrics printed that fit a single frame, and can help your company tailor its message for specific trade shows. One of our favorites is the versatile Hopup display.
- Don’t always go for cheap pop-up displays. While all the trade show displays we sell are well crafted, the cheaper ones simply won’t last as long. Graphic tension can pull and flex the frame, and plastic pieces can easily snap. We can recommend displays that have full or partial aluminum frames, as well as a lifetime warranty on the hardware.
- Do treat your pop-up displays with care. The lifespan of a trade show display really depends on how it’s handled in the field. The rule of thumb is that if you feel like you’re forcing it to close, you’re breaking it! The display should set up and fold down easily; if it doesn’t, one or more hooks is probably still engaged. If you do break the frame, just call us. We’ll repair it, free of charge.
- Do make sure your images can be scaled up. A pop-up display that’s 8 by 8 feet or 10 by 10 may not sound really big, but it is. Most photographs cannot be printed at that scale without looking pixelated or blurred, and that’s not the image you want to convey. You can invest in high-resolution, professional photography, or work with our designer to incorporate your photos into a larger design.
- Don’t choose white. Predominantly white fabric has two problems when used on pop-up displays: it holds wrinkles and it’s translucent, which allows the frame to show through. If your brand requires a large expanse of white, we can recommend a heavy-duty fabric that’s best for the job.
We create more than trade show booths; we also put our strategy-focused design process to work designing product displays and retail environments. For some clients, we build out entire store interiors, and for others, we fabricate customized displays to showcase a particular product line on the retail floor. We’re always watching store design trends, and here are some we’re seeing all over the place.
Increasingly, what sets a product apart is not what it looks like, but where it comes from. Shoppers want to know if things are manufactured sustainably; if they’re designed locally; if they’re made by hand or by machine; and what your company is all about. FrontLine Exhibits can design multimedia kiosks and displays that help tell those important stories.
Mobile and modular displays
With fierce pressure from online shopping, retailers need to engage shoppers’ attention anew every time they walk in. One way to do this is with store fixtures that can be moved around, adjusted and reconfigured. “Modular and mobile fixtures are now in huge demand, and displays must be able to incorporate mobile graphics or be multi-functional,” SPC Retail says. Custom-fabricating modular displays is one of our specialties.
Pastels and monochrome color palettes
“Millennial pink” may be the shade that started it all, but pastels continue to be a hip colorway in retail environments. “Combined with more vibrant colors and tones, these pastel colors created balance to produce a more energetic space. Combined with whitewashed wood, the palette remains soft and airy, creating a tranquil atmosphere,” observes VMSD.
Millennials love their houseplants, as media outlets have recently been reporting. The concept of indoor jungles, or “planteriors,” is a growing trend in retail design too. Adding plants to a retail space can be a challenge, as they require the right kind of light, container and care. CARIN, a high-end sunglasses boutique in Seoul, has drawn admiration for its bright, laboratory-themed environment populated by succulents and cacti. While we’re not gardeners, we can help build structures and displays that include space for greenery.
Interested in our retail design services? Contact us and let’s talk!
In this space, we’ve talked about how to be memorable at a trade show (without hiring mimes or handing out super-expensive swag). One effective way to do it is to add thoughtful accent pieces to your booth. It’s kind of like furnishing a house — you may already have the walls and the furniture, but what about the lighting, the carpet and the décor? Each of these elements can help your trade show booth attract attendees. Read More
Every company at a trade show wants your attention RIGHT NOW. They court attendees with aggressively friendly sales staff, piles of swag and ever more elaborate trade show displays. But a week after the show ends, most of these exhibitors have faded from memory. Only a few remain.
Clients often ask us, “What’s the secret to being one of the few companies attendees remember long after the show is over?” Here’s what we say.
When you’re shopping around for trade show displays, it can be hard to tell the difference between manufacturers. Almost every company promises high-quality displays, simple setup, flexible configurations, et cetera, et cetera. But there are a few standouts in the industry, and one of them is Featherlite Exhibits.
We’re one of the few trade show display companies in the Mid-Atlantic to partner with Featherlite, which is based in Minneapolis and manufactures its products in the United States.
Featured Product: Featherlite Medallion Tension Fabric Displays for use in in-line and small island configurations.
Why we’re fans of Featherlite Exhibits
Consistent high quality: We’ve been selling Featherlite displays for a while, and our clients have been universally pleased with both the durability and ease of setup. Featherlite’s displays are well made, with clearly labeled parts and simple instructions. Other, cheaper displays are hard to set up and can appear warped. “It literally looks like someone twisted it,” says Chase Howells, FrontLine Exhibits’ Senior Account Manager. “It’s really embarrassing.”
Graphic flexibility: Most trade show display vendors sell a standard assortment of square and rectangular booth elements. Featherlite gives you countless options, including angled headers and curves and varying heights and widths. We really like the placards they offer, too: smaller graphic elements that attach securely to the frame and add more dimension to a display.
Interchangeable elements: You don’t always want your trade show exhibit to look the same, right? You may want to add elements to fill a larger space, or swap out pieces to tailor your message to a particular show audience. Featherlite makes it easy. One setup we particularly like is deceptively simple: just two side-by-side tension-fabric panels. With two-sided printing, you can place messaging on both sides of each panel and instantly have a customizable, changeable display. Printing the second side costs a fraction of the price of printing a full additional display.
Superior print quality: “We’ve looked at 20 different companies’ fabric printing, and they’re by far the best,” Howells says. Featherlite prints displays with the dye sublimation process, which dyes the image onto the fabric instead of directly printing on its surface. You can see the difference: blacks, blues and reds are saturated, photos are crisp and gradients are clear. “People are always very impressed with the end product,” Howells says.
Whatever you like to call them, banner stands are everywhere. They’re the most common element in trade show exhibit design, because they’re easy to customize, they’re cheap and they’re simple to set up. But, like any other component of your trade show presence, there’s a right way and a wrong way to use them.
What NOT to Do With Banner Stands
Because they’re so versatile and inexpensive, pull-up banners are sometimes overused. We’ve seen clients build entire trade show exhibits out of banner stands. They’ll order three or four custom banners and place them in a line. They pull each one up and bam! Instant booth backdrop.
There are a few problems with this. One, it’s hard for a single person to lug three or more separate bags, instead of a single pop-up display, to a trade show. Two, most banner stands aren’t as durable as a real trade show display. If one gets torn or damaged, your company’s brand presence will suffer. And three, they just look cheap when they’re standing next to other, professionally designed booths.
How to Use Banner Stands Effectively
- DO use the right pull-up banner for the job. If you’re planning an outdoor event, buy banner stands that are designed to withstand the weather. The MediaScreen2 Outdoor Banner Stand, for instance, has a heavy base and bends in the wind.
- DO use banner stands when you need to maintain a presence offsite. One FrontLine Exhibits client purchased over 300 banner stands to place in senior-living facilities, with a straightforward goal: to inform residents about a specific insurance product.
- DO use banner stands for updates and accents. Maybe you already have a beautifully designed trade show display, but you want to highlight a new product, or celebrate an anniversary. The best way to convey that message on a pop-up banner.
- DO limit the amount of copy on your banner stand. A small banner can’t tell your company’s entire story. They’re not meant to be read; they’re meant to be seen and reacted to. Talk to our in-house designer about your goals, and we’ll design custom banner stands that get the message across.