Pam Summers stepped away from her booth to observe. She watched, and then she smiled. The Mitsubishi Electric Automation exhibit staff was working hard—and engaging. Branding was clear. And as many people were visiting Mitsubishi’s 20’x40’ exhibit as were visiting competitors’ 30’x50’ and 50’x50’ exhibits.

“It felt fabulous. Everything we’d planned and prepared for was working,” said Summers, marketing communication manager at Mitsubishi Electric Automation. At the end of the show, the data concurred with Summers' observation: Mitsubishi had nearly doubled its leads versus the prior year.

Over the past three years, Mitsubishi has elevated its trade show program from just showing up to a powerful lead generator. How? Through a meticulous process of continual evaluation and improvement. And considering that Mitsubishi exhibits at industrial shows including PACK EXPO and International Manufacturing Technology Show, its success demonstrates that exhibits of all styles and across all industries can contribute to their companies’ bottom lines.

“No more build it and they will come! Now we make best use of our investment,” says Summers. Her accomplishments have earned her respect within the organization—and a promotion. Here’s how she did it:

The Process of Continuous Trade Show Marketing Improvement

Summers’ process moves continually through the following cycle:

  1. Identification of opportunities for improvement.
  2. Translation of opportunities into goals.
  3. Creation of strategy to achieve goals.
  4. Implementation of strategy supported by measurement and observation.
  5. Articulate results in terms of goals achieved.

After every show, Summers starts again, documenting what she’s achieved and setting new goals for the next show.

Identify opportunities for improvement.

Summers started to formalize her process three years ago when she hired the 3D Exhibits’ measurement team to implement an exhibit audit. Prior to the audit, she knew her team and her program weren’t perfect—but seeing her team from the perspective of a third party was eye opening.

“Before we did the audit, we knew our staff weren’t engaging attendees, but we didn’t realize to what extent—nor the full extent of what that was costing us,” said Summers.

But once the challenge had been identified, there was no going back. Summers translated the opportunities for improvement identified in the audit report into goals, then started developing strategies to drive more visitors to Mitsubishi’s exhibit and improve visitors’ experience once they arrived.

After two years, Summers implemented a second audit. The follow-up data enabled her to compare findings, demonstrate where the program had improved, and once again, set goals for the future.

Create programs to achieve your goals.

Once Summers’ goals and strategies were established, she began implementing. Visitor engagement became a huge focus—including attracting attendees to the exhibit and improving her staff’s ability to engage.

When it came to her booth staff, Summers’ challenge was that many of the subject matter experts (SMEs) who work in Mitsubishi’s booth are introvert engineers. Speaking with strangers isn’t something that many of them excel at naturally—or like to do.

Summers’ solution was to create a staff training program that included both booth etiquette (how to engage, don’t use your phone in the booth, etc.) and information on what products and activities would be featured at the show. “Preparing our staff in advance increased their comfort level and their performance,” said Summers.

After every show, Summers identified what had improved and where there were opportunities to perform even better. Over time, her approach for preparing the staff evolved and improved. For instance, she learned through experience that her staff performs better when they receive their training earlier and can review the materials thoroughly before arriving on site. In response, Summers now schedules training 2 weeks prior to each major show. “It’s not enough to do it once, you have to keep reinforcing it,” said Summers.

When Summers observed her team struggling to answer attendees’ questions succinctly, she created and distributed scripts with the answers to the most frequently asked questions.

Know when to bring in help.

Summers’ constant monitoring enabled her to identify her staff’s limitations as well. “We took our staff a long way in terms of making them better at having conversations in the exhibit, but there is a limit to how far beyond their comfort zone they can go,” said Summers. At that point, she supplemented her internal staff with professional brand ambassadors whose job it was to engage attendees in the aisles, qualify them, then deliver the qualified attendees to her SMEs for in-depth conversations.

At first, Summers was hesitant to use hired staff, but her objections were quickly overcome. “They’re a lot more than just models,” said Summers. “They are professional and natural when they talk about our products.”

In order to attract more attendees, Summers utilizes the creative services of her 3D Exhibits team and engagement specialist GetSynchronicity. “I like to get expert advice on engagement and activities,” says Summers. At PACK EXPO, Mitsubishi drew attendees with a word cloud activity developed by 3D Exhibits, and an industry survey developed by GetSynchronicity.

Measure and communicate your results.

An important part of Summers’ program is the debrief document she creates after the show. Her report, divided into sections, addresses overall performance, cost to exhibit, exhibit design and messaging, demos, staff performance, and lead attainment—then concludes with a list of new strategies she’d like to implement in the future. Wherever possible, Summers inserts charts and graphs to make the information crystal clear.

“I present the information as a continuum. We were here. Now we’re here. We’re going here,” said Summers.

Following PACK EXPO, Summers’ debrief underscored how the program had achieved its goals with excerpts from the second audit report. These excerpts included statements that supported which goals were achieved (excellent brand visibility and traffic flow), statements that identified where there was still opportunity for improvement (too many messages), and graphs that illustrated the Mitsubishi team’s performance relative to its competitors.

Summers concluded the report with a graph that demonstrated the team’s success in generating leads at PACK EXPO—nearly double the prior year—and a list of three traffic generating activities she’d like to add to the program next year. This set the stage that, even though the team had been very successful, there was still more work to be done.

Summers said the process and her debrief reports have helped maintain management‘s support of the program. “We need to show where we meet, and where we exceed expectations. It’s how we justify the investment we make in our trade shows,” says Summers. “And when we need to make an additional investment in our program, management understands why.”

So what’s next for Summers and her team? More training, of course. “Next we’re going to work on listening better and taking more information on the show floor so we can follow-up later. Our team is feeling pressure to create a solution for the client right on the spot—and that isn’t something they need to do,” said Summers.

If you think an exhibit audit, marketing or strategy consultation would benefit your trade show marketing program, email Stephanie Coupland (scoupland (at) 3DExhibits (dot) com), to set up a free consultation.

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