We just returned from one of our favorite places: the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. We saw some really great products, great booths and great people. We also saw some room for improvement. We offer these tips to CES exhibitors to improve both their presence and their bottom lines.
1. Tell me what you do.
I want to know from the middle or end of the aisle what it is that you do. If you have a tiny box on a table and your booth says “XYZ Inc.,” I’m likely not going to take the time to investigate. But if you have a tiny box next to a giant picture of a bathtub filled with water and a banner that says, “XYZ Inc. Presents the World’s First PC for Use in the Bathtub,” then I’m coming over.
2. Light your space, design your booth, and spellcheck.
If I can’t see what you have from the middle of the aisle, I’m not going to approach your booth. I’m also going to infer that you don’t think what you have is that great, either. You don’t have to spend Audi levels of money on a booth, but you do need to consider what you paid to be at CES in the first place and that you are competing for business with thousands of other vendors. Make sure there are no empty shelves, cases or pedestals (unless that’s part of your presentation). Think outside the box: you need to look different from every other booth there. And please, please spellcheck. You have spent a lot of money to be at CES. Your booth shouldn’t say “Tecnology.”
3. Design your product.
CES is a tech show, and I’m just as bowled over by innovation as the next person. But I’m also looking for design innovation. There is nothing more disappointing at CES than a product that promises to have next-generation technology and is downright ugly. If you’re putting money into R&D and product development, throw some toward the design as well.
Some CES Exhibitors focus on decluttering their booth to highlight the sophistication of their design.
4. Make sure someone in your booth speaks your target customers’ language(s).
Not having booth staff who can communicate clearly and quickly with prospective customers means lost sales opportunities. I watched as both large companies and small lost potential sales because the very well-meaning booth staff couldn’t speak the customer’s language. The smartest solution I saw to this was a certain mid-sized company who had identified their target customers before the show and had hired booth staff who spoke those languages fluently. Spanish, Swedish, English and Mandarin were all ably represented – but French, for example, was not, because that wasn’t their target audience.
5. Ditch the booth babes.
“Booth babes” is a derogatory term coined in the 1960’s for the female models hired by companies to stand at exhibitor booths, display products and attract attention. Their outfits can range in style from long evening gowns to pencil skirts and oxford shirts to ripped white short shorts to neon green spandex catsuits. There’s been a huge push to force CES to ban the booth babes (and they’ve been banned at tech shows in the UK and Japan), in part because their presence implies that only men are interested in technology and make the buying decisions. While this is true, it isn’t persuasive to many business owners. So here is an argument that hopefully is persuasive: booth babes make your product look like it can’t stand on its own. Their presence undermines consumer confidence in what you’re delivering; you must not have a very good product or you wouldn’t need to surround it with five sets of triple D bosoms. (Don’t believe me? Picture an Apple store staffed only by young women wearing tube tops and short shorts. Now how do you feel about their products?) And it is offensive, but it’s also sad. Here are these mothers and sisters and daughters wearing seven-inch platform heels and pleather miniskirts to hawk your microphone system. Nothing about booth babes makes me like your company or your product, so don’t use them.
6. If I have to tell you not to blow me, you’re doing it all wrong.
Don’t block the passage of, stick your face in the face of, or throw things at people as they walk past your booth. It’s not cute and it doesn’t help your cause. I had an exhibitor holding what looked like a portable vacuum blow a steady stream of cold air on me as I walked toward and then past his booth, yelling over it that I should really feel what this is like. “Sir, I do not wish to be blown” is not a phrase I ever imagined uttering at CES, and I would like to never have to utter it again.
7. Be approachable.
People at CES are for the most part so geeked out they can hardly stand it. They want to talk about what you have and what it does. Don’t stand in the corner of your booth with your arms folded or sit in a chair looking down at the floor. Doing trade shows is an art, just like any other kind of sales. If it’s not your strong suit or it really does cause you tremendous anxiety, find someone else – another employee, a friend or even a professional sales person – to be your booth presence.
8. Ask for people’s business cards.
Yes, people are asking for and taking your card, but you’re going to be hard pressed to remember next week who you talked to. Taking business cards allows you to follow up with people when you’re back in the office and can regroup. While you can use CES’ scanning system, it’s still a good idea to take cards from people. It makes people feel important, and the card design and paper stock give you an immediate sense of that person’s business in a way that a scan can’t.
9. Have digital materials.
It’s CES, so we’re all focused on the next great technology. Then you hand a customer a giant paper catalog that she has to carry around and will probably leave somewhere prior to going home. Here’s a better idea: create a digital version of your materials and scan people’s badges or ask for their cards to receive it by email in the week following CES. Embed tracking in the presentation, so when you email it out you know who’s read it, how much they’ve read and whether they’ve shared it. You get a lot of business intelligence and save the costs of printing and shipping.
10. Give away relevant promotional products.
If you are going to give away swag, make sure it has something to do with your company or product. This helps people remember weeks later when they’re looking at it what it is that you do and why they should contact you. The most successful of these was a bag given away by a bag company. The least successful was a data storage vendor that gave out plastic fish with squeakers. Not only would I not remember what they did, I also questioned their ability to handle my data.
 This is a terrible booth idea, but it illustrates the point.