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7 Reasons Why Not All Exhibitors Are Exhibit Marketers

trade show marketingIn a recent blog post on (“I just flew in from the trade show and boy are the booths tired“), Tom Nightingale laments the poor trade show habits of exhibitors at a show he just attended, and offered 7 concise, valuable tips on how exhibitors could do better.

Tom was frustrated that, even with the wealth of best practices available with just a Google search, too many exhibitors were not searching for and implementing exhibiting best practices.  I know we’ve tried to help them, too – we’ve published about 200,000 words on this blog over the past few years, plus hosted dozens of webinars and hundreds of seminars.

But I also know that, as much as we’d like to eradicate poor exhibiting habits from the face of face-to-face marketing, it’s never going to happen.  Here’s why.

We as trained, established B2B marketers have high standards.  We know about writing ads that appeal to our target audience.  We can list on our right hand the top 5 industry keywords we have optimized our website for.  We know what makes our email marketing CAN-SPAM compliant.

We also learn from the best.  We see the print ads of the biggest B2B companies.  We visit the websites of the Fortune 500.  We receive direct mail from major players — either in our industry, or within the marketing industry.  We might even see a TV ad from a billion-dollar B2B company during the Super Bowl.

But at a trade show, the barrier to entry is much lower.  For every full-page advertiser in an industry publication, there are dozens, even hundreds of companies who get a trade show booth in that same industry’s largest show.  I’ve seen estimates of anywhere from 300,000 to 1.5 million companies that exhibit at trade shows.  Not all these exhibiting companies have full-time, trained marketers — let alone trained exhibit marketers.

What prevents some exhibitors from being exhibit marketers

So why do companies that invest thousands of marketing dollars at trade shows not get professional help, either through experienced, empowered staff or from outside consultants, before they exhibit?   Here are 7 reasons why there will always be exhibitors who aren’t exhibit marketers:

  1. B2B companies too often put their trade show marketing in the hands of a well-meaning, but overworked and unprepared administrator — and don’t provide any trade show training, because trade shows look deceptively easy.  They are actually harder than they look.
  2. Some exhibit marketers are not allowed to choose their booth staff, and get stuck with staffers who don’t want to be in their trade show displays — and those unwilling staffers plainly show their displeasure to prospects.
  3. Some exhibit marketers lack the authority to make the changes necessary to actually market at trade shows, rather than just show up.
  4. Some show owners wash their hands of the continuous need to provide coaching to their exhibitors, both new and returning.
  5. Some people responsible for their company’s trade show program think they already know all they need to know — and so they don’t want to find out what they could do better.
  6. At some companies, there is no primary owner accountable for their trade show program, so multiple departments fight over what to do, or just as bad, don’t care enough to fight over it.
  7. Sometimes, exhibit marketers know what to do to succeed, but frustratingly, lack the budget or the time to create a fully integrated trade show program.

Those are 7 roadblocks to trade show success that are never going to go away — at least, not for everyone.  Fortunately, there are companies that want to do trade shows right.  Many of those hundreds of thousands of exhibiting companies want to learn how to improve their trade show results, so we will keep providing as many tips, insights, blog posts, newsletters, webinars, seminars, white papers, and best practices that we can muster.

Are you at a company that unfortunately fits one of those 7 reasons?  It doesn’t have to be a life sentence.  You can take control of your trade show program, and make it one that Tom Nightingale would like.  Even better, be the exhibitor that potential prospects would want to visit, too.

What's Working In ExhibitingAn exceptional resource for the best practices in 7 key areas of exhibit marketing is the What’s Working In Exhibiting white paper.  Request your free copy of the 32-page guide by clicking here

About the Author

Mike Thimmesch is the Principal at Thimmesch Marketing. For over 25 years, he has created and implemented innovative marketing, lead generation, and exhibiting strategies that profitably grow company sales and brand awareness. Mike rose to Director level at Skyline Exhibits, where he helped generate over a half million leads, resulting in over $1 billion in sales. He published 11 industry white papers and eight exhibiting books, presented over 100 trade show webinars, and wrote over 200 exhibit marketing blog posts.

6 responses to “7 Reasons Why Not All Exhibitors Are Exhibit Marketers

  1. Spot on Mike…as always. I completely agree that companies who are unsure of what they are doing should hire outside expertise…but outside expertise that understands trade show marketing. Don’t just assume they get it.

    Your creative agency that creates your ads and or your website may not be the right solution.

    I’m sure Mike, you’ve seen this a million times. I recently went to a show where an exhibitor was very excited about their new branding and booth. I talked to their agency and they were excited as well. And the branding was awesome…on their website and in their ads. But on their booth it was a complete failure.

    The agency, not really understanding the whole trade show thing created a fun clean backdrop. What they forgot to do was include the company name. No where did it say what this company did. People speeding by would have no idea what was going on there.

    I was looking for their booth to check it out and passed it at least 10 times. I couldn’t find them and I was looking for them. Finally someone from the agency walked me to the booth.

    So the moral of the story is, looking good isn’t enough. You have to look good and tell people what it is you do in five seconds or less.

    If you’re not sure…ask your exhibit house!

    1. Traci,

      Thanks for adding a key qualifier to whom to hire, especially when getting an new exhibit design.

      There are thousands of ad agencies that understand marketing, fewer that understand B2B marketing, and fewer still that understand trade show marketing.

      Here’s an earlier blog post about the evolution of trade-show advocating ad agencies that may shed some light:

      Thanks again!

  2. Mike,

    These barriers tend to come in bunches, and show performance deteriorates rather than improves. Exhibitors continue to throw away their exhibit budget with lower and lower expectations until exhibits are eliminated altogether from the marketing plan.

    When at the core of a brand-centric strategic marketing plan, trade shows can be one of the most effective connection tools available. It’s a shame that so many organizations miss out on the opportunity because of this lack of vision.
    – Mark

  3. Have you any recommendation on where I can get advice about marketing around an exhibition. We want to promote our website at an exhibition but it is full and we cant get a stand.


    1. Simon,

      Contact the show about sponsorship opportunities for the show. They may have some, even if the booth spaces are all sold out. Also, get engaged in as many conversations about the show as you can that are taking place in social media.

  4. Great article. Thanks. I agree with all your points…Exhibitors can be marketers only when they get equivalent opportunities. Also, if companies are not able to market themselves, hiring an expert is a good idea.

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