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How do you stand out in the crowd when you’ve got little to no budget? Here’s how to make an impact at trade shows and exhibitions without spending a fortune on incentives.
The problem with having a low budget at a trade show means that regardless of the swag you provide (that you can’t really afford), it will probably be overshadowed and won’t stand out among the rest of the booths, unless you come up with some original ideas. The key to driving booth traffic on a low-budget then amounts to user experience and memorability, by tying gifts or ideas to your brand message, and always ensuring that you are providing quality will help you to stand out!
Trade shows and exhibitions are tiring, especially if attendees are aiming to stay all day so food and drinks are always popular (especially if the only other options at the venue have premium pricing!) Some favorite foodie ideas include:
- Popcorn Machines – Hire a machine and offer cups to attendees that visit your booth. Make it more valuable by requiring attendees to sign up or leave their contact details in order to get a free tub of popcorn. This will give you a contact or lead list to follow up on after the event and justifies the value of having the machine. If you have the budget, aim for branded cups for the popcorn too so that every attendee will know where to go and get some and automatically increase your brand awareness.
- Water Bottles – Water can be a luxury at events like this and you can add extra value by buying cheap bottles in bulk and printing your own labels with your booth location and contact information on them for a unique branding opportunity.
- Branded Candy – Candy is simple and effective, as well as a common tool for marketing and branding. Who doesn’t love candy? You could make yours stand out from the crowd by adding a twist such as vegan, sustainable ingredients or even a healthier alternative such as antioxidant-infused chocolate.
- Drink Promotion – Offer a glass of wine or signature cocktail for those who visit your booth and Tweet or check-in. It works towards the social media goal and can be inexpensive, particularly if you buy wine in bulk.
- Handmade Cakes/Pies – Handmade options can be time-consuming prior to the event but very cost-effective and adds a personal touch to those who visit your booth. It can personalize your brand and make you more approachable as well as making an excellent icebreaker or talking point.
- Miniature Food – Offer bite-sized finger food or canapes that can be cost effective but dressed up to look classy and intentional. Make the flavors interesting so that a little goes a long way and isn’t boring.
Your booth design can say a lot about your services or brand as a whole so make your booth engaging to stand out from the rest using some of these ideas:
- Bright Colors – A bold color scheme can draw the eye and make people look at your booth first so bright colors can be an excellent assist to these other ideas to draw people in. Bright colors also tend to make you seem more inviting or welcoming, drawing people over.
- Living Walls/Art Installations – These can be easy to create on a low budget as you can create living walls yourself and it adds extra depth and dimension to your booth. A live art installation also intrigues attendees and would offer a unique photo opportunity for attendees to have pictures taken with the model or subject.
- Moving Parts – Adding moving parts to your booth can make it feel like it’s more alive and capture the attention of attendees. Find elements that keep with your brand message that you could animate or create a moving prop.
- Themes – Theming done correctly can always cause a stir, particularly if it relates to your brand message. It doesn’t have to break the budget but the key point here is to commit to it! Think of small, quirky details and you will definitely leave an impression.
- More Power – Add a charging station to your booth or provide an outlet and some seating that is dedicated to attendees. You can buy simple, adaptable leads to suit many of the main phones or devices to create your own, low-cost charging station and it will give you an opportunity to talk to attendees while they wait.
- Seating/Lounges – Adding some bean bags, beach chairs, or camping chairs can be a cost-effective lounge or seating idea which is always welcome to attendees who have been walking for hours. Creating a lounge encourages people to congregate and offers you an opportunity to talk to them, get them interested in your products or services, and potentially make a sale.
You don’t have to be a performing monkey but entertaining attendees makes you more memorable and creates a better atmosphere.
- Bubbles – A cheap bubble machine can work wonders and we all revert back to kids when the bubbles are in the air, just trying not to pop them. This childish idea can draw people in and also adds some whimsical fun to your booth showing you have a cheery brand image.
- Magician/Urban Tricksters – These can add a wow factor and a magician, card, or urban trickster can leave a lasting impression, especially with tricks that guests haven’t seen before. The magical element has a tendency to draw a crowd and can also get the attendees involved too.
- Mini Massages – Offer a relaxing mini massage at your booth so that attendees can take a break, unwind, and feel comfortable which will make them associate these feelings with your brand. Generally, you can have professional masseurs come in exchange for some signage of their services at your booth. This works as long as the two brands can complement each other rather than compete.
- Photo-Booths – These are fairly simple to make yourself as you can create a backdrop using linen and a wooden board or wall of your booth. Add in some homemade props and a social media frame with your branding on and you have an excellent photo-opportunity for attendees to share, have fun at your booth, and raise your brand awareness.
Games and competitions add fun to your booth and encourage people to let out their competitive side and get involved!
- Fishbowl Raffle - Ask everyone who stops by your booth to drop a business card into the fishbowl and come back later for the prize draw. The prizes can be small such as bottles of wine or stationary but it also collects contacts and encourages attendees to return later on to see if they have won a prize.
- Social Media Competition – If you want to focus your booth on serious content you can instead hold a competition on social media to win your products or services. Anyone attending your booth could use a QR code for easy submission and they get a bonus entry for being there in person!
- Half And Half’s – These are fun and offer literal reasons for attendees to visit your booth. For example, offer a branded colorful sock upon entry to guests and tell them to visit your booth to get the second one! Alternatively, you could gamify it by giving attendees playing cards at the entrance to your booth and having poker ‘hands’ displayed on a board at your booth.f the card makes a winning hand in poker they win a prize
- Sign-up Giveaway – Focus your budget on a larger prize as a giveaway and collect details and information for potential leads and prospects to follow up on. Ask for signup as entry and offer bonus entries for signing up for services such as newsletters or updates.
Keep traffic at your booth with these low-budget engagement ideas that can also attract foot traffic.
- Influencers/Industry Experts – Get an influencer to Tweet about or visit your booth for photos or to sign autographs and you are likely to get people flocking to you! You could also have ‘one question with X’, where attendees can wait in line to ask you one question for free where you offer advice or help to solve a problem for them.
- Ask Them Questions – Turn the tables around and ask questions, collect information, and make their visit about them and what they need. This is a free way of collecting data that you can use to target your demographic and meet their needs later on.
- Demonstrations – Show what your product or service actually does! People will engage more and are likely to purchase if they can see it working in front of them. It makes your product real and has them imagining what they can do with it and how they make it useful to them.
- Workshops – Offer a mini-workshop to educate visiting attendees and add even more value. Whatever your expertise, turn this into a teaching moment and offer part of it to those who visit your booth. If it is good value, you can offer an extension course on your website which they can buy to generate sales or explain how the product you are trying to sell can be used to help solve a problem.
What can you give attendees to make them search for you at the trade show and ask others where they should visit!
- Exclusive Discounts – Offer vouchers or codes offering a discount for your services and products for those who have visited your booth. Make them exclusive so that no one else can get their hands on them. You could mix it up by having a large discount for those who make purchases on the spot if you are aiming to convert traffic to sales of your product or service. The more they buy, the better the discount.
- Pre-Event Emails – Contact anyone on your contact list that could be attending and offer them discounts or vouchers for those who visit your booth. You could also drive traffic straight away by offering a limit such as the first 20 attendees to visit get 25% off, the next 10 will get 20% off, etc.
- Free Trials – Offer a one-month free trial on your service for anyone who signs up on the spot at your booth as an exclusive offer that doesn’t cost anything up-front. Plus it can generate more sales in the future as they renew.
- Quirky Items – You may not be able to create high-end swag but you could create interesting budget options such as unique yo-yos. A great example of this was Cisco at the 2016 Spiceworld conference who gave out mini light-up, branded lightsabers. They appealed to their demographic and were the talk of the conference with everyone asking where they got them from!
Things To Consider:
- Purpose of your Booth – What do you want attendees to do? Sign up, follow you on social media, generate sales, create a lead or contact list, or merely brand recognition and awareness? This will affect how and what you should do to drive traffic to your booth. Giveaways can be powerful but not if you are only driving traffic for this one reason as they will soon leave and you won’t have much to show for it!
- Content is Important – You have attendees at your booth - now what? Make sure that your content can back up whatever reason they are here in the first place. If your booth is a letdown compared to your incentives and your content doesn’t hold up, you’ll be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
- Staff Attitude – Sometimes one of the most memorable things you can do is provide excellent service! If you ensure that staff are friendly, helpful, and aiming to go the extra mile with attendees -- chances are they will be remembered and a good attitude doesn’t cost a thing.
- Be Prepared – Don’t run out of brochures or material! Always be prepared and have enough. Better to overdo it than not be able to provide potential leads and prospects with necessary information.
- Stay on Message – Give prizes and swag if you can afford it, but only if it is on-message and worth it, otherwise it’s a complete waste of money and won’t make sense.
- Have Expert Staff – Make sure that the staff who man your booth are experts and know the ins and outs of your products so that regardless of the questions that they are asked, they are prepared, professional, and give as much value as you could. There’s no point in driving traffic if you can’t give attendees what they want.
- Offer More Than a Handout – Don’t think your job is done by handing them a brochure. You may not have much of a budget but you need to offer them something of value, information, or a way to solve a problem. Either way, be more than just your brochure.
- Go Quality, Not Quantity – The traffic you want to drive is decent prospects who are interested in your brand or products, as well as your target audience. Don’t focus so much on the number of people – try to come up with solutions to suit your demographic. Five decent prospects and potential leads (or even sales) are better than 20 booth hoppers just looking for free stuff.
- Follow Up – We’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times. It’s all about how you follow up with your audience, leads, or even business prospects. Whether it’s emails, newsletters, phone calls, or surveys, make sure you follow up after the event to remind your booth visitors about you.
Driving traffic to your booth is all about being smart and original as well a lot of preparation. Be prepared to spend more time in the lead up to the event, whether it is using DIY to help prepare workshops, demonstrations, or train staff - it is all worth it if you put the time and effort in. You can stand out among the big brands by offering a better service and always remember to be able to back it up with killer content once you get people over to you!
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