Engaging Trade Show Visitors

Engaging Trade Show Visitors

By Gretchen Schisla

We’ve all experienced the high-intensity visual and auditory nature of trade shows. Action-packed and crazy-busy, they remain a hugely viable opportunity for a company or product to stand out in a densely populated marketplace. Natural Products Expo West 2015 is exactly that type of event. Held at the Anaheim Convention Center, the show took place in early March, with more than 2,700 companies exhibiting and over 71,000 attendees. The world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event is high-energy, and the spirit of innovation is alive and well. Exhibitors try to hit that excitement button — the one that makes a consumer try a brand, love it, and come back for more.

How can a company make a lasting impression during and after a trade show?

  • The product must be relevant and different. It’s OK to think outside of the box. Making sure that your product stands apart from the competition, but still connects with its key audience is essential. For example, the energy bar market is completely saturated, but a savory or meat protein bar is an interesting newcomer to the category and will likely garner attention.
  • The product must resonate and connect with each consumer. Most consumers are enticed by the discovery of something new. When that product is supported by a compelling brand image, people are drawn in to find out what it’s about and a connection is made.
  • The brand must have a sense of purpose. It should play to our intelligence and educate us in some way. Whether it takes a clever approach, cares about the environment, engages the community in some way, or educates about health, brand loyalty is born here.
  • The brand must continually market itself. Regardless of how successful a product is, marketing and promotion is an ongoing process and should not be stopped for any reason. A trade show presence is essential for prospecting and building rapport with clients. Be real in your approach. Ultimately, people connect and do business with people they like.
  • Maximize social media during and after the trade show. Develop your own hashtag for the event and encourage those who stop by your table to tweet or Instagram a picture using your hashtag. Have someone live tweet on your behalf, encouraging attendees to stop by your booth.
  • Offer friendly demonstrations of your product during the show. Enthusiasm is contagious — identify the most outgoing members of your team and put them on the trade show floor, the nicer the better. In my experience, I find myself spending more time in a booth if the person who invited me to sample the product is outgoing.
  • Use educational tools. Touch-screen tablets can tell stories and impart information in exciting ways. More and more, booths are using these tools. The Bolthouse Farms booth featured interactive games geared towards kids, helping them learn about healthy foods in a non-traditional way. Learning should always be fun.
  • And finally, (my bias here) — the design must be powerful. The best booths at trade shows have a unique structure or use tactile materials, such as wood, fabric, texture, and pattern. Everything from messaging to typography, color and image should all tie together seamlessly. A small booth can be just as compelling as a mammoth one, if the design is crisp and clear.


Check out these brands that are doing it right  


Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams


I was researching the nationwide creamery trend and heard about Jeni's. Based in Columbus, Ohio, this scoop shop has a great story and a delicious product to back it up. The brand design is friendly, bright, and cohesive – thanks to a creative internal design team. Their distinct booth space replicated a taste testing kitchen — with an enthusiastic team inviting you to try every ice cream flavor, one at a time. Jeni’s uses grass-grazed milk to produce their ‘wow’ ice cream. They will be coming to our neighborhood in St. Louis and already have me as a loyal customer!

Why the brand is a success: Superior product, stellar brand that connects well with the consumer. They foster community, throughout Columbus, and in scoop shop neighborhoods around the US. Loyal customers are successfully engaged through social media, continually building the brand.

Blue Hill Yogurt


Yogurt is a highly-saturated market, but savory, vegetable-focused yogurts provide new opportunities. Unexpected flavors like Beet, Carrot, Tomato and Parsnip can be used in recipes to enhance soups, purees, dips and muffins. The Blue Hill booth was a welcoming farm stand built with wood — a material used throughout many booths this year, helping products and brands appear more natural and authentic. The brand image is what I’d call “back to basics” with a homegrown look, simple but sophisticated — featuring beautiful illustrations and classic typography. There’s no hype in this brand image, it’s quiet and powerful.

Why the brand is getting attention: Authentic brands and honest food are a welcome relief in contrast to the aisles of unhealthy, processed food in our grocery stores. Consumers are wising up, and companies are supporting customer demand.

Bolthouse Farms


Known for their line of fresh juice beverages, the booth at ExpoWest was designed to replicate the refrigerated cases of a grocery store, displaying product. The thing that impressed me most was the new kids line with seasoned carrot snack bags and small smoothies. Aimed at teaching children early on to enjoy healthy food, CEO Jeff Dunn believes it could be the most important new product launch in a decade, evolving into a $100 million platform. Booth visitors were encouraged to engage with the ‘Food Porn Index,’ promoting fruits and veggies over junk food: www.urwhatupost.com

Why the brand is a success:  No hype, just innovation in food products that help people to change their eating habits. While many products are gimmicky, full of sugar and preservatives, Bolthouse Farms does a great job of playfully introducing foods that are truly healthy for kids. Plus, social media is first and foremost on the homepage of their website.

Epic Bar


Epic carries a line of products, including a new grass-fed animal based protein bar that’s gluten-free, Paleo-friendly and low in sugar. Whole animal meat is combined with unique spice combinations to create flavors like bison, bacon and cranberry. The brand’s design, booth and website all play off the western theme in a sophisticated way, with beautiful type and image, creating the brand’s voice and vibe. It feels inspired by the original Ralph Lauren brand.

Why the brand is getting attention: Unusual products peak interest. How often do you see animal-based protein bars with flavors like “lamb currant mint” or “liver and beef sea salt?" Based on the size of the crowds surrounding the booth, people were curious to see what this brand is about.

Saavy Pure & Natural


Organic and natural personal care products covered a large area at ExpoWest. One unique corner booth that stood out was Saavy Pure & Natural. Rich scents, vivid colors and botanicals captured my attention — this was one display that attracted attendees to stop and experience it. Instead of a heavy booth structure, the space was created to look like a cross between a boutique soap store and a florist shop.

In describing their natural ingredients — Savvy also discloses what harmful ingredients their products lack, and why what you put on your skin matters. While many lotions and soaps hide the product in a solid bottle or wrap, Savvy bars are bright, which becomes part of the brand language. The packaging plays off the bright colors, and uses a bold script type, and botanical illustrations to add interest.

Why the brand is getting attention: It feels like an honest brand — the messaging says 'pure and clean' withouth being fussy. The hand-crafted approach and vibe is appealing to all audiences, young and more mature.