An effective trade show starts with attracting relevant leads for your exhibitors. But staging the interaction between brands and visitors is not enough.
Empowering both your attendees and exhibitors to engage through storytelling and knowledge sharing can be the paramount to driving value and maintaining a truly meaningful platform for exchange.
Until recently, we were used to seeing exhibition and trade shows as big floor grounds with hundreds of stands trying to compete with each other through brand experiences (usually attracting leads with mojitos and snacks) or outstanding visual effects.
However, a content-based practice is starting to take over the stage at trade shows and fairs. More and more trade show professionals and planners are starting to understand the real potential of content and knowledge transfer activities, and how they enrich both the exhibitor and visitor experience.
This practice aims to attract more attendees by providing them with fresh insights and access to thought leaders or important speakers. It also lets exhibitors embed the content strategy into their brand experience and plan to entice their leads with useful data and valuable insights.
So how does this work, and more importantly, what should you do, as a trade show planner, to harness the potential of content-based activities when managing your exhibitors?
Here are some experiential dynamics you could include when designing your next event:
Practice #1. Give your exhibitors a voice
Today’s exhibitions and trade shows are also appealing because of knowledge sessions. However, you should restrict yourself to inviting industry thought leaders only. You can offer your exhibitors the chance to engage with visitors on a different level by allowing them to talk in front of an audience.
Obviously, you could charge them more for exhibiting at your trade show and the opportunity to become a speaker.
For that, you don’t need to include your exhibitors as part of the general knowledge session program held in the main auditorium. You could simply reserve a bigger stand space for them and provide a smaller auditorium with chairs for the attendees.
Practice #2. Set up a series of innovation areas
Along with the main auditorium for the knowledge session, create a few open spaces with a smaller attendee capacity, where speakers or exhibitors could talk and debate about the latest technological advancements or trends in the industry. Don’t forget to include these quick “shots of content” in the general program.
Apart from the guests who will be interested in attending these short talks, people just passing by might be curious about the debated topic and decide to take a seat and keep listening. This format creates a better knowledge flow and encourages the visitors to engage more with the content and with the exhibitors.
Practice #3. Build venues inside your venue
Another way to encourage your exhibitors to take part in your experiential content marketing efforts is by engaging them in expert sessions.
What’s an expert session?
Usually it refers to a dynamic where the attendees are contributing to the discussion. Most experts usually have a few slides on a topic (a noncommercial approach, obviously) and ask the audience different questions. A skillful moderator will make sure to spice things up and nudge the guests to be active in their participation.
To make this happen, you might need to build a venue inside the venue (an inflatable space usually works) with enough space to pass microphones back and forth between the speakers and the audience.
Practice #4. Plan roundtables with the main brands
Your exhibitors can also be part of the general knowledge session program, which are usually held in a large room or auditorium. The exhibitors can present themselves as plenary speakers, or you can set up different roundtables with the main brands presented at the exhibition or trade show.
Apart from that, if any major corporations, businesses, or brands will be at your event, you can try and work with one of them to sponsor an entire workshop or even a general topic during the knowledge session.
For example, during a Smart Cities Exhibition edition, held in Barcelona, Ferrovial (a multinational company involved in the design, construction, financing, operations, and maintenance of transport infrastructure and urban services), would finance every talk or roundtable dedicated to mobility and transportation.
Not only will this dynamic provide exhibitors with a platform for engaging and interacting with their audiences, it also lets you increase the funds you’re putting into planning and running the exhibition or trade show.
Practice #5. Encourage stands to design edutainment experiences
You can always educate your exhibitors about new possibilities of engaging with their leads. For instance, instead of focusing on business pitching, exhibitors could design a brand experience based on providing valuable insights.
For example, they could offer free consultations during their interactions with the leads or free educational material.
Apart from that, you could educate your exhibitors to build experiences rooted in “edutainment,” and to build business relationships with their leads through fun activities (which can be habilitated through virtual or augmented reality, for example).
Another strategy is to focus on creating post event content. Important brands are gravitating toward video content. They managed to considerably increase brand awareness and expand their tribe of followers.
However, don’t forget that having a YouTube channel isn’t enough to attract new viewers and followers. To build a fan or potential client base, you must set up a video marketing plan, this way increasing the likelihood that people will find and enjoy your channel.
Providing value beyond business interactions
Nowadays, everyone—including visitors, attendees, and leads—are immune to advertising and publicity. Focusing exclusively on designing an attractive or flamboyant stand won’t work anymore.
It might get visitors to approach the booth, but that doesn’t guarantee they will become warm or hot leads. That’s why, as a trade show professional or planner, it’s your responsibility to let your exhibitors generate more value than usual and sustain their commercial pitches on education and useful content.