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How To Rock a Trade Show on a Budget

I’m delighted to have my friend Audrey Walker as a guest on the blog today.  

I was so impressed with what she and her company ShiftNote pulled off at the National Restaurant Association show earlier his year, I asked her to write about it here. ShiftNote is also a sponsor of my Social Restaurant Podcast.

Ladies and gentleman, give it up for Audrey Walker…

Last May the ShiftNote team ascended upon Chicago in order to get the word out about our web-based communication and employee scheduling tools at the 2013 National Restaurant Association Show.

Several months before the event we purchased space on the trade show floor, and we began to plot out how we would totally rock the conference, all on a shoestring budget.

The hardest part of planning our trade show booth for the NRA Show was coming up with our theme. It was really important for us to stand out from the hundreds of other companies at the conference, and draw in as many potential customers as we could.

We knew it was going to be difficult on a small budget, and because we weren’t the only ones with this goal.

1.  Be Different, But Be You

The ShiftNote team had many, many Skype calls and meetings before we finally came up with our winning idea.

We wanted a plan in which we could do a lot of the labor of building and putting together the booth ourselves to save money, and we also knew that we were intent on standing out from the crowd.

The problem was how could we be different enough that it would stop people in their tracks and entice them to enter our booth, but at the same time stay true to our brand and messaging, and not do something that would alienate or offend potential customers.

For example, some tactics other companies were using to stand out were hiring pretty ladies (who didn’t know much about the product being offered) to run the booth, or playing a loud looping video.

In the end, we decided to go back to our roots and try to visualize a pain point that ShfitNote solves. A main benefit of ShiftNote is to help rid restaurant back offices and bulletin boards of messy paper and files, and provide a more effective way of communicating.

So our eureka moment was to cover the back wall of our booth display with bright-colored sticky notes, filled with messages from managers and employees of common communication points at a restaurant.

We then placed our logo and marketing message right in the center of the chaos in a way that showed our system would cut through the crazy and simplify communication.

Shiftnote NRA Tradeshow Booth

2.  Once You Grab Them, Have Something To Say

We were very successful in our goal of having a trade show booth display that was so creative and unique that it stopped people in their tracks and they came over to see what we were all about.

However we also made sure to place the same importance on what would happen after people came over to check out the sticky notes. We created a rolling console that fit 4 computer stations so that we could show off ShiftNote in action.

Members of the team actually built the console themselves and drove it up all the way from Kansas City! Almost the entire team was present at the show to talk to existing and potential clients and hang out at the conference. We backed up the demonstrations with materials that could be taken away from the show, and we signed those who wanted up for a free trial on the spot.

 3.  Turn Everyone Who Stops Into a Brand Ambassador

Swag is a huge part of any conference.

What cool trinket can you give away that people are actually going to use and keep so that your brand is displayed and it reminds them every time they use it that you’re awesome. Again, we were on a budget, so we had to think of swag we could give away that wouldn’t be a huge expense per item. The conference was in late May in Chicago, just as the weather was starting to get nice. I also noticed a trend in people wearing those cheap, neon colored, sunglasses.

We decided to get 1000 plastic sun glasses in ShiftNote green and blue with our logo printed on the side and to hand them out to everyone that walked by our booth. What do people do when they have sunglasses, but they’re inside a building? Put them on their heads! Our swag caused our brand to “go viral” at the trade show, as we had several hundred people walking around with bright-colored ShiftNote glasses on their head that resulted in those who did not have the glasses yet to ask where the attendees had gotten them.

Not only was our swag something useful that could be used outside the conference, but it caused those at the show to have a reason to come by our booth so we could let them know that ShiftNote is a freaking fantastic tool that would change their lives.

Shiftnote Sun Glasses

4.  Tell People To Come To Your Booth, Before They Can Actually Come To Your Booth

Another important element of how we had a successful trade show booth was to let people know what we would be offering and where before the show even started. The best tools to spread the word were social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and our blog.

We encouraged existing ShiftNote users to stop by and say hello, and created a Four Square special for secret giveaways if attendees checked in at our booth during the show. We also included a blurb about our booth and participation at the show in any marketing piece sent out leading up to the event, such as email blasts.

Our National Restaurant Association Trade Show Booth was a huge success! We ended up going home with many new potential clients, and we made a memorable impression of our brand on thousands of attendees all while staying true to our brand and within our budget.

We are incredibly excited to attend the event again in 2014, and we encourage anyone that attends to stop by the ShiftNote booth to see what eye-catching (but still inexpensive) ideas we come up with for next year!

Employee Scheduling Software | Shiftnote

Audrey WalkerAudrey is the Director of Marketing at ShiftNote – maker of web-based employee scheduling and manager’s logbook software. She’s also a proud Michigan State University Alumni, Professional Traveler, Craft Beer Drinker, Foodie & Euchre Dominator.  

You can find her on Google+ and Twitter

  • Scott Taylor

    Great tips Nate. I think it also helps if you’ve got a really great looking exhibition stand too – at the end of the day that’s what’s going to catch people’s eye and get them to come over.

    • Frank Tricker

      I agree Scott. A display is so important. My friend has lots of used cars for sale and when he started using a display the cars sold faster

      • Cyrusmiley

        Anything that grabs the eye helps.

  • Kelly Rogers

    That’s so cool! Giving out those sunglasses was one of the best ideas you implemented. I can just imagine the number of people going to your booth just to satisfy their curiosity. :) And get the sunglasses, of course. :)