20 Tactics to Drive More Attendees to Exhibition Booths

How can you help drive more attendee traffic to booths? This post gives you clever tactics to make your exhibitors happy.

Drive attendees exhibition

I recently received a message from a reader, Nicola, that caught my attention:

I love your blog and the new ideas it gives my team. I run an annual conference with an exhibition of 40+ booths. We get a lot of comments that we need to do more to get the delegates visiting the booths but I am coming up short on how I can do this, unless I physically drag them round myself! I was wondering if you have written any blogs with some ideas on this?

Good question Nicola. It cost me a couple of weeks of research, but I thoroughly enjoyed investigating this topic.

Whose Responsibility Is to Keep Booths Busy?

I can see a lot of event professionals saying it’s none of their business.

Of course, but if exhibitors are not happy, it is highly likely that they won’t renew next year.

See, all of a sudden it is your business.

I believe there is a lot of support we can give to those kind souls who decide to purchase exhibition space at our event.

I believe the role of event professionals should be similar to how governments tackle health issues. Running communication campaigns to improve citizens’ health is much cheaper than paying for expensive medical bills.

In the same fashion it is much better to work with your exhibitors to provide them tactics to increase attendee traffic rather than leaving it up to them. The prize you are running for is renewal next year.

This is why Nicola is a bit concerned.

How To Use This Post

Whenever someone signs up for your exhibition, it is good practice to offer them tools and support to make the most of their investment.

After all we know how difficult it is becoming to secure exhibitors. Providing constant communication and support is a great way to keep a healthy relationship.

Sharing tips on how to increase the booth traffic should be a must for savvy conference and trade show professionals.

Therefore my suggestion is to share this article with your exhibitors. Maybe you have a newsletter or a comms pack. The medium is up to you, I’ll take care of the content.

A Note on Methodology

The tactics you’ll see below are mostly tech driven. After 6 years writing this blog, it is obvious I am a bit of a geek. There are tons of activities and ideas to drive attendees towards stands. I feel more entitled to suggest the tech driven ones.

I loathe spam. I am not a fan of messages over Twitter or any other social network along the lines of: “Come visit us at booth 700B #eventname”. That is called spam. Clogging the event hashtag to just announce you are part of the exhibition is similar to shout you are awesome on the show floor. It may work for some but it is quite a bland practice.

– My advice is usually targeted to business to business environments. Nonetheless you’ll find some good ones for consumer exhibitions.

I dislike initiatives that do not align with the product or brand. Call me old school but I quite dig common sense. Giving attendees a massage it’s usually meaningless unless you don’t provide massage services. Giving away an iPad in return for a tweet makes no sense unless you are Apple. Concentrating your strategy on branded pens is superfluous.

I hate to think about footfall as the end result.
In most cases the game we play is how many leads we are able to generate and how many of these leads translate into customers. In the same spirit it can be important to look at how many mentions we are able to generate online and how many of these mentions translate into clients.

Trade shows are usually about trade, let’s not forget that.

Case studies. I really made my homework with this post. I searched Twitter to present you real examples of most tactics. I must say this has been quite a daunting task. The amount of exhibitors spamming hashtags saying ‘please visit us’ or ‘remember to stop by’ is somewhat depressing. See it yourself.

1. Competitions

This is the most adopted and, dare I say, abused tactic to increase footfall at exhibitions. I believe there is a space for competitions but only for smart ones.

In line with my comments on methodology, competitions should be aligned with the product and/or brand. They should help to communicate the selling proposition of what is being promoted.

It is a smart idea to run competitions over social networks during the event rather than asking for the vintage ‘business card in a bowl’.

I am a big fan of those who offer services around their product as rewards. It is a great way to preserve the value of your core service while giving something away.

Here is an example:

2. Share Knowledge

One of the most effective online lead generation tactics in B2B is to share free knowledge in exchange for contact details.

White papers, ebooks, reports are just few of the traditionally valuable weapons to gain qualified leads.

I don’t see any reason why this tactic should not be similarly effective offline. The process is the same. Attendees get a copy of your quality piece of content, you get their data.

Delivery can happen via USB stick, NFC, RFID or email (as long as you remember to send it).

3. Offline Like

I started to talk about the value of offline/online interaction in 2010. I believe the industry is mature enough to start investing more heavily in these tools.

Inviting attendees to Like your product at exhibitions is a great way to generate long term value online.

See how Renault did it a few years ago at AutoRai and my comments about it.

4. Offline Tweet

Similarly effective is the offline Tweet. This is an even better tool to power competitions. It can be easily achieved with simple NFC tags or QR codes.

The key here is to make it super simple for the attendee to action the Tweet (or Like that is). If it takes more than 30 seconds I do not believe it is worth it.

If you are able to work out a simple process to get your attendees to tweet offline I believe you have quite a disruptive competitive advantage. I am sure fellow exhibitors are going to hate you.

5. Photo Booths

I told you in December that this was going to be the year of Photo Booths. I believe that I’ve seen one at each exhibition I’ve attended.

Taking pictures and streaming them online is a great start, but you are required to push it a bit to make an impression.

I believe that the Meet Mr Holland campaign, one of the best social media campaigns ever produced by the human kind, is a prime example of how to get this right.

6. Social Ads

A quick look at a random exhibition hashtag over Twitter will give you an immediate idea of how clogged hashtags are becoming.

‘Come and visit us, we are so cool’ messages flood the tiny screens of our mobiles while we try to make some sense of the intrinsic chaos of the showfloor.

Social advertising is a great way to gain competitive advantage and secure prime real estate in the event stream. I am thinking Twitter here but also Facebook.

Twitter Ads help you to target specific hashtags and audiences, making sure you focus only on relevant prospects. I believe this is an often overlooked opportunity with quite some potential.

That is if your message is not ‘come and visit us, we are so cool’. Not even ads will help you with such a weak message.

7. Wifi Party

It gives me shivers to think that in 2013 I am still writing this. Yet wifi connectivity is still a major issue in the industry. I actually can recall the only events where wifi worked and was reliable. It is probably 5 or 6 out of hundreds.

Smart exhibitors can capitalise on the lack of good coverage most exhibitions have by providing their own wifi for free to attendees.

Not being a fan of freebies, complimentary wifi needs to be tied in some way to your product and service. You can collect leads by giving free accounts and present branded splash screens to login to the service.

8. Tweetup

In 2012 I attended IMEX in Frankfurt. If you asked me what is the most memorable activity I did at the event, I must say it was the #eventprofs Tweetup.

It was a great gathering of like minded people. Once again Mr Holland was so nice to host the tweet up and provide free drinks for the chirpy crowd.

You already noticed how many times I mentioned Mr Holland. This proves the point that the more innovative and welcoming you are towards online communities and technology, the better the results.

For an account of IMEX Tweetup, this is the post to read.

9. Customer Service

Another powerful way to leverage on exhibitions’ weaknesses is to fill in their gaps. Despite introducing the role of the Event Cool-ordinator (or Twitter Concierge) a few years ago, this is a service rarely offered at large events.

Very few exhibitions are dedicated to provide customer service over social media. I believe this is a fantastic opportunity to help attendees at the event.

Practical information about the show floor, wifi, services, education program are just few ideas to get your tweeting on and get your brand recognised over social media.

It is your shortcut to amplification, reach and differentiation from the ‘come and visit us’ boredom.

10. Give Workspace and Plugs

Orange Telecom stand at Ad:Tech London 2009. This is how powerful giving plugs and comfy working stations is to attendees.

I still remember that booth, it was the only place where you could sit and spend some time working and relaxing. There was no staff from the company. Just the space.

Yet the message was so powerful and everyone at the exhibition knew that the Orange stand was the place to go to recharge physical and mental batteries.

11. Charity Giving

Donating to charity is such an amazing proposition. It immediately shifts perceptions and attitudes.

Why not asking for social actions in return for charity. Here is a great example from Xerox:

12. Buy Premium Ads on Event Mobile App

If you read the Event App Bible, you know by now that premium sponsor opportunities are increasingly recurring features in event mobile apps.

With growing adoption of event mobile apps, this is a great way to secure precious advertising real estate in a very relevant and timely fashion.

Once again the message of that advertising placement needs to be carefully considered. A weak or merely promotional message will not add a lot of value.

13. Mini Live Knowledge Sharing

I can remember the first time I was passing by a super tiny booth and noticed the company arranged 2 lines of 4 chairs. A zealous speaker was running a seminar about what I guess was an interesting topic.

Curious bunnies started to flock to the stand and in a matter of minutes 30 people were listening.

The seminar was about 15 minutes long and it recurred every hour. What a great idea. It is in effect an alternative to share an ebook. It is quick, practical and to the point. Win-win.

In a consumer context, this can be achieved with special happenings featuring guest stars. See an example:

14. Vine Showcase

I still have to make my mind up about Vine or Instagram for events. I don’t jump on excitement bandwagons. I believe it just makes pundits look silly on the long term. Just search for articles on how Google Wave was going to change events forever.

Nonetheless I appreciated this example for a couple of reasons:

First it gives an idea of what to expect at the booth. This could release the ‘tension of the unexpected’ we all feel before reaching out to people we don’t know.

Secondly it outplays on the Twitter stream, giving you quite some real estate on the hashtag stream. Worth considering.

15. Product Sample

Giving away a little bit of your product or service is one of the most adopted exhibition tactics.

After all meeting your customers in person is a unique opportunity to get them to touch and feel your product.

This is a great incentive to drive more people to your stand that is completely in line with your product or brand. Here is a good example:

16. Product Launch

Exhibitions are a fantastic opportunity to make announcements or launch products. We all agree that one of the top reasons why we attend such events is to learn what’s new in an industry.

Giving the insider scoop may well be a great way to capture the attention of the otherwise bored prospect.

Here is a good example of product update announcement and looking at the number of retweets it is safe to say it was quite a successful one:

17. Build Momentum Pre-Event

Most of the times exhibitions are opportunities to gain new customers. Yet most companies ignore the potential of engaging with existing clients.

Few realise that engaging correctly with your existing audience before the event is the best way to secure an army of advocates on the show floor.

Make sure your customers know that you will be there and what your activities will be. It will be easier for them during the show to recognise and amplify your message.

This is a sound example of a company engaging with their existing audience before the event to build momentum:

18. Ask Questions

Another way to leverage social media is to engage with the exhibition audience online via questions or polls.

I think we all agree that the experience of walking through the show puts us in a quite passive role having to listen to pitches, collect bulky brochures and meaningless goodies.

Involving the event audience to actually give their opinion is a unique opportunity to soothe their frustration and get them to express themselves.

I am such a fan of this practice and here is your example:

19. Check in For The Win

Check ins are increasingly influential in the decisions we make when exploring a new environment. If I check in on Foursquare at the exhibition I will immediately recognise those companies that have been active on that channel.

They probably incentivised check ins at the stand, they left tips and created smart to-do lists.

On top of that several event mobile apps allow check ins therefore incentivising them (by means of competitions, charity or discounts) is a smart tactic to increase our exposure.

20. Visual Recording

I was desperate to find a number 20 for this round up and William Thomson was so kind to come to the rescue with quite an interesting one.

What about summarising what is being discussed at the education programme with the help of visual recorders?

You could then share the knowledge at the stand or via social means (think Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).

Very smart.

In Conclusion

Driving attendees to exhibition stands is not an easy one. It requires creativity, smart communication and tech awareness.

The tactics described in this article will surely be helpful for those event professionals willing to help their exhibitors.

Now time to go and share the post with the world, I am sure you’ll be thanked for that.

Photo by Redfishingboat (Mick O)

About The Author
Julius Solaris
Julius Solaris is the editor of EventManagerBlog.com, he is an international speaker and author of The Event App Bible, Engaging Events, Social Media for Events, The Good Event Registration Guide and The Annual Event Trends Report.
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