Lessons learned at SXSW 2016: Go Big or Go Home

Posted by Christine Ziebell on 3/22/2016 5:00:00 PM


Lessons learned at SXSW 2016: Go Big or Go Home

Don’t think of SXSW as an average trade show. It has become a powerful source of all things discoverable and discovered. But, when attendees are presented with so many things to discover, it becomes more difficult to be the thing they are discovering.

The fear of blending in has led many a vendor (myself, at one point, included) to perform Google searches, looking for the trade show “do”s and “don’t”s that will give them the advice they need to stand out. But the information found in a typical “3 Things to Do At a Tradeshow” list is usually a level 3 on the 1-10 scale of helpfulness.

If you’re going to any trade show of consequence, you need real advice, from real people, based on real experience. I’ve been there, in trade show booth nomansland, and the failures and successes I’ve had have taught me best practices you can use to maximize your presence on the floor. More importantly, I’ve learned how to make sure they remember you after you go home.

KISS your audience where it counts. I’m not suggesting you offer kisses in place of schwag. When it comes to your booth, the KISS acronym nails it right on the head: Keep It Simple Stupid. A trade show is like a giant box of over-stimulated puppies. And, like Pavlov’s puppies, you want the crowd to salivate over your one, simple bell–or, in this case, your booth.

Stick to your brand.

Trade show attendees don’t often notice a person, they notice a brand, so this is not the time to blend in with everyone else. Your job is to hit them hard and leave an impression. To do this, focus on delivering your one, core message. The stronger your single message, the more relaxed and memorable you will be.

Don’t show up without a crafted message. If you don’t have a crafted message, now is the time. If you don’t know what it is, how is anyone else supposed to remember it?

Pick your color scheme.

Your brand color should optimally be limited to one, bold color. In any case, don’t go beyond two or three.

  • The design of your booth should be full of, but limited to, these colors.
  • Your representatives should be wearing these colors (a bold colored accessory such as a scarf or tie will also do the trick).
  • Your schwag should also be completely branded with your color scheme.

This consistency will get everyone to associate those colors with your brand. When an attendee sees a booth that is obviously the same color scheme as the people or schwag they’ve seen floating around the floor, they are more likely to take notice.

Keep in mind that, although your booth color scheme will ideally match your brand color scheme, it doesn’t have to include all of the variations. Less is more!

Ditch the typeface flourishes.  

It’s never a good idea to express your creativity through font, so ditch the swirly script. Again, think puppies: People passing by may give your copy less than a second of eye time. Make what they see simple and easy to read, because it’s the only way they will actually read it.

It’s also important for anyone passing by your booth to know, in two seconds, what it is you or your product does. Have a one-liner on the wall or a roll-up.

Let them self-educate.

There is no substitute for an in-person demonstration and conversation - however, you will not be able to get everyone passing by your booth to stop and listen. Consider strategically placing QR codes all over the place that direct people to your digital presentation, so they can check it out themselves. Maybe they’ll want to watch it while walking around; there’s no need to pin everyone down.

  • This takes away the pressure of a presentation, which can be a deterrent for attendees who don’t want to sit through your pitch.
  • It frees up your booth and representatives to focus on convincing and converting prospects rather than just talking to people.
  • It creates wonder. You’ll get your message across, and they’ll get that cool sense of treasure hunting.

Using this tactic in booths I have run has freed us up to fill our space with terminals and tablets that allow people to play around with our platform. This technique is applicable to most presenters:  Let them get their hands on your product, poke around in your software, or get the consultation that will convert them. They get to experience, and you avoid being that boring 9th grade social studies teacher with a class full of napping students.

As for furniture, take my advice: don’t use the stuff offered by trade show management. Get yourself some chairs and tables that match your branding. Don’t block your booth with a draped table and two chairs, even if they are free.

Don’t be the tradeshow bully.

As simple and tempting as it may be, don’t bad-mouth the competition. Yeah, you’re there to make an impression and show everyone that you’re the coolest in the world. Doing it at the expense of others rarely works, so focus on talking yourself up instead of talking the competition down.

Talking smack about your competitors is a subconscious sign of weakness. If Twix kept telling you how much Kit Kat sucked, sooner or later you may start wanting a Kit Kat just to see what all the hubbub was about. It’s human nature.

Simplify the Schwag.

Give away schwag that people want, and that others will ask about. Again, think simple.

Let’s say you give away popcorn. The boxes are blinged out with your brand colors. Your booth # is on the front. Not only will it make you instantly popular with your hungry audience, but the smell is impossible to overlook–especially when you’re hungry. “Where did you get that popcorn!?” It only takes one glance at the box to know where to find you.

Then, save the day at exactly the right time of day. When the afternoon starts to drag on, and the phone batteries are starting to get tired, switch to giving away mobile phone chargers - branded with your logo and designed in your colors, of course. Bingo. You’re part of the solution.

In short: The best way to be remembered is to be memorable.

We understand that this is sometimes hard to accomplish. Trade show stunts designed to be memorable can backfire and just end up costing you money (and a small bit of your soul.) But, done right, you can become a big hit.

Category: Product & Company Updates


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