For attendees, trade shows can be an overwhelming experience as the sheer amount of exhibitors puts constant pressures on attendees to make decisions. Which booth should I start at? Where should I go next? Is it worth my time to stop by this booth? Given that trade shows force attendees to make these decisions roughly every 10-30 feet, it comes as no surprise that people take mental shortcuts in an attempt to make the best decision on their next direction.One mental shortcut that’s prominent at trade shows is “social proofing” or the assumption that the actions of others best represent the behaviors or decisions you should make. In other words, people tend to follow the same actions validated by their peers in a social setting. Imagine you’re visiting Philadelphia for the first time and want to get the best authentic Philly Cheesesteak you can find. You see two cheesesteak stands next to each other, but one has a much longer line than the other. Which line are you going to get in? If you want the best, you’re obviously going to get a cheesesteak from the booth with the longer line because you’re making the assumption that these people’s decision best reflects what you should also do.
Although I use the example of ordering food to introduce social proofing, in regards to trade shows, this phenomena arises in exactly the same way. Just like choosing the best stand to pick up a cheesesteak, a trade show attendee's decision on which booth to visit next can be greatly influenced by the size of the crowd congregating at an exhibit. This is because an attendee will subconsciously assume that a larger crowd must mean this exhibit has the most interesting experience in the vicinity. Given this, the question of “How can I draw in a crowd at my booth?” inevitably arises for trade show exhibitors.
This might seem like a trick question with the paradoxical dilemma of needing a crowd to draw in a crowd at a trade show, which makes it very important to generate interest in your booth during the early stages of the event. Exhibitors are at an even playing field when the trade show kicks off, and to gain an upper hand, you need to take proactive steps to ensure your booth stands out and catches the eyes of the attendees. How can you do this? Well there are a number of different steps you can take to make your booth pop among the rest.
GET THE LITTLE THINGS DONE EARLY
Since the beginning of a trade show may be the time that determines the success of your booth, it’s crucial to be completely prepared well before the event starts. You should reserve your booth as early as possible so you know the exact location and dimensions of your exhibit space. Once your booth is confirmed, you need to have a clear vision for the design of the booth, and you (or an exhibit partner) must know how to build-out the design. With these details sorted out well in advance, you can ensure your booth’s set up will go without a hitch. This will help you keep focus on the event in the hours leading up to the expo hall opening and allow you to make the most out of the first impression you present to attendees as doors open.
In the first moments of a trade show, attendees will find themselves in the tough situation of deciding which booth they want to visit first. Given that there will be very few people at any booth, the opportunity for social proofing is extremely limited. Instead, attendees will make the call based on their own instincts, and your goal is to make your booth the obvious decision. One way to do so is to have an interactive display where attendees can see your product in action or even try it out themselves. For some attendees, approaching a random individual to discuss a product is a daunting endeavor. By having an interactive display, the awkwardness of an initial approach is significantly lessened, and an attendee can first try out the display creating opportunities for conversations to emerge from there. It’s much easier as a booth attendant to start a conversation with someone that’s already interested versus a cold “hi” when everyone is expecting a pitch from anyone in company uniform.
Simply enough, a time tested tactic for getting people into your booth is to them offer free stuff (swag). Some swag is better at getting people to stop at your booth than others. Although most booths with swag tend to give out branded keychains, pens, and candy, these items are relatively ineffective at drawing people in and provide low brand recognition after the event. Some popular items that bode well with attendees include mobile device chargers, umbrellas, t-shirts, and reusable water bottles tagged with your company’s logo. Although the effectiveness of obtaining sales through this approach is debated, what’s unquestionable is the foot traffic that it brings to a booth. By applying this to the social proofing phenomenon it will inevitably create opportunities for your business to generate leads and increase brand recognition in your target market.
Decisions are tough, and the choice to visit an exhibit you know nothing about is no exception. It comes as no surprise that people take subconscious shortcuts to assist in their ultimate choices. By recognizing that social proofing has a major impact upon which booths attendees are drawn to, you as an exhibitor can appeal to this innate phenomenon and use it to your advantage. Make sure that your booth is fully prepared before the trade show starts, has interactive displays to engage with, and swag that people actually want to use to build a healthy crowd and welcoming environment during the event.
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