At a tradeshow, booth location can be beneficial or it can be harmful. One way to be sure you've got the best location possible is to survey all the parameters that can go into selecting your booth space.
Here are some considerations that can help you prepare to go about selecting the best possible booth location for your company.
1. Do you really want to do this alone?
Your business has stockholders; a board of directors; a CEO, CMO, CFO; vice-presidents; and directors. But the onus is on you to select one of the most valuable tools in the marketing toolbox. Don't go it alone. It's patently unfair to make a critical business decision of many thousands of dollars by yourself. Get others involved: your boss, his/her boss, your peers. They will all have insights, recommendations, and preferences.
Make a list of the most likely questions you can think of. Competitors, up front, further back, big guy, etc. Get input on those questions. Weight those answers and give yourself a total. It will help you represent the requirements of your company in the five minutes you get to select next year's booth space.
Considering these variables up front lets you manage expectations way before the selection process.
2. There are no absolutes
Every show has its own particular method for assigning booth space. These are among the most common schemes:
- The points method. This approach is based on weighted points for booth size, seniority (number of years at the show), and support of the show (what other spend will you allocate to the show in sponsorships?)
- Indication of preference order. Here, the hosting association makes final selection.
- Assigned spaces
- First buy, first pick. This approach is usually for new shows.
3. Show management can be an information resource
To get a very clear understanding of how the mechanics work for space selection for the show, ask show management. The selection method can be different from show to show. If you don't know or you are unsure whether you know, find out.
4. Will sponsorship make a difference in your booth location?
Which sponsorships are more valuable to the show—and to you? If you are willing to pay for preference, this can be a way you can better your position when you are up against established, senior exhibitors that would naturally get the best locations.
Look at it this way: Tradeshows are a profitable business for show management companies or associations; you don't have to be afraid to talk money. Find out whether certain sponsorships have an influence on booth space.
Your strategy is to purchase the right sponsorship for your company and gain the most points for your booth selection. Show management influences the hall with its biggest, most senior exhibitors in mind. Where you both meet in the middle will depend on your knowledge of the game.
5. Is research necessary?
The more you know about your shows, the better decisions you will be able to make when the time comes. Start by examining floor plans for previous shows. Keep an archive from the show kits from other years. You'll see who draws what from year to year.
While you are at this year's show, take notes on the layout. It's likely to be much the same next year. Check out where the competitors are and list physical considerations, such as columns, traffic flow, and main traffic aisles.
6. How 'advance' should advance preparation be?
You need time to collect information about the factors that will influence the decision. Start early. If you are called for 1:20 PM on the opening day of the show to pick your space for next year and you don't have a plan, it's too late. You don't want the show sponsor to tell you, "Time's up, pick or go to the back of the line." Get out in front of the choice. It's too late to devise a plan in the middle of the draw.
Many shows provide space selection on or after the first day, which means any data you have on ROI will come after you select your booth for the next year. So when choosing next year's space, pay close attention to your first day's performance. If the show is in the same venue, be sure you are familiar with last year's stats.
7. Do you have a location plan for different venues?
Long before the current show, you should be thinking about what changes will be in place for the next year.
Are you coming back to the venue next year? Your show is in Chicago this year, but in Los Angeles next year. The game can totally change. Different floor plans mean a different exhibition layout. That space that was prime for you in Chicago can turn out to be nowheresville in LA.
8. Does attendee traffic matter?
Well, yes—and no. Traffic flow is something that is difficult to predict. You can make practical inferences, though. Call the venue and ask about traffic for most the shows that come through the facility.
Which is the "main" door for the show? The door most of the attendees will be using? Where do the buses drop off? Where's the registration area? The restrooms? The food court? What door is near the breakout sessions? The general session?
Then along comes the "no": You've nailed your traffic flow, but your neighbor has a celebrity book signing every half hour on the "traffic" side of your booth. Now everyone's coming from your blind side.
9. Should you redefine your company?
In many shows, how you define your company puts you in a certain category and so you compete for space in a certain part of the hall. Change your company definition, and you'll find yourself in a different section.
The assigned category can influence the spaces you have to select from. It can also change the picking order.
10. Keep these practical considerations in mind
- Watch out for columns indicated on the floor plan. They are often not well marked. Or, if they are, the sheer scale of the show floor makes that six-foot column look miniscule. But in your booth it can become a monster that blocks your traffic flow and sight lines.
- You've got a new product introduction planned for next year. Maybe a hefty sponsorship is in order.
- The show is in a different city and you want to break into that market. You might think about cross-aisle locations. Or take what you can get and invest in an after-hours party. Do you want a bigger space in a less desirable location? Or a smaller space reaching a larger audience?
- Do you have a booth selection plan A? A plan B, C, and possibly D?
* * *
There's a lot in play, so for an initial summing up...
- Know the rules of booth selection for your show.
- Get the input of others.
- Know your show.
- Do your homework.
- Come to booth selection prepared.
Space selection is important, but complicated logistics should not disguise the real importance of being at a tradeshow: What you do with the space once you get it. Are you at the right show? Do you have the right presence? Are you using the right marketing vehicles (booth, sponsorship, activities)? Those criteria can trump booth number every time.
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