The reading level for this article is Expert

Routine is comfortable. We like knowing what we’re going to do, when we’re going to do it, and what we’ll be wearing while we do it. It’s nice, safe and predictable. There are no surprises, no unforeseen contingencies, no upsets.

There is also no growth, no excitement, and no spontaniety. Routines can easily become ruts, especially at a trade show. It’s very easy to do, especially if you always go to the same shows, display in the same location, use the same graphics and literature, and go through the same sales spiel. It might seem effective. It’ll definitely be comfortable.

It’s also one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Exhibiting is, by its very nature, is a constantly evolving art. To be successful, you need to embrace what is new and exciting. It requires pushing boundaries.

If you’re comfortable, you’re not trying hard enough. Worse, you’re running a very real risk: The risk of boring trade show attendees with your booth.

People have a split second attention span. If you’re not presenting something new, exciting, and engaging, to draw them in, most attendees are going to assume they already know what you have to offer and pass you by. When attendees walk right by your booth without giving it a second look, that’s the same as having sales dollars flying right out the window.

There are five easy steps to break out of a rut.

1) Realize the difference between branding and routine.

Doing the same exact thing the same exact way time after time after time is NOT branding. Careful and intelligent placement of logos, consistent use of color, and overall design are all elements of branding. Look at McDonalds – they have one of the strongest brands on the planet, yet have changed looks, catch phrases, uniforms and menus over the years.

Take a close look at your branding efforts. Are they serving your marketing message, or are you simply repeating yourself?

2) Step outside your industry

Great ideas come from unexpected sources. I’ve gotten some of my best exhibit ideas from the retail world, where they carefully study the impact of color, music, and even temperature upon shoppers. Examine what motivates people to buy products that are very different from your own. What makes someone buy a motorcycle? Yogurt? Sleeping bags? Each of these items requires a different strategy, with many complex elements. Perhaps some of these elements would work well in your exhibit.

Remember, it’s never a good idea to simply ‘cut and paste’ elements from one advertising campaign onto your own. Catchphrases, graphics, and imagery may be copyrighted or proprietary. You want to expand your business, not enter litigation! Instead, analyze what makes a particular element work for you, and see how you can adapt it to meet your own business needs.

3) Get a fresh set of eyes

Have someone who is in no way related to the trade show industry or your company look at your exhibit. What do they notice first? What impression do they get of your company? What emotions do your graphics evoke? Record their impressions and compare how they measure up to your marketing objectives.

Many times we have looked at our own exhibits so many times that we don’t ‘see’ them anymore. This fresh set of eyes will be viewing your booth the same way the attendees do – with no foreknowledge or preconcieved notions of how the exhibit is ‘supposed’ to look.

4) Change up your teams

Just because Fred, Ethel, Murray and Zane have ALWAYS been your trade show team does not mean they always have to be. Take a careful look at your staff. Who is personable and professional, with excellent product knowledge, strong sales skills, and enthusiasm? Send that person to the trade show. Sending one new person to a show can create a new dynamic, sending a whole new team guarantees you’ll get anything but a routine performance.

No matter who you send, make sure that all staff members are trained. Old-hands need to refresh their skills and rookies need to acquire them!

5) Call in wardrobe

Something as simple as changing clothes can totally alter a booth staff’s performance. If they’ve been wearing business attire, consider switching to a more casual yet coordinated look. Have the booth staff break out the suits and ties. You’ll be amazed how differently they carry themselves and interact with attendees.

Uniforms and logo clothing are particularly appropriate for some industries. For example, shippers world wide know UPS by their distinctive brown attire. If this is the case with your company, make sure that the uniform shows up at the trade show. In addition to your booth staff, make sure the uniform makes an appearance in graphics and literature to reinforce the image association in attendee’s minds.

This Marketing article was written by Susan Friedman on 11/9/2005

Written by Susan A. Friedmann,CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, author: “Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies,” working with companies to improve their meeting and event success through coaching, consulting and training. For a free copy of “10 Common Mistakes Exhibitors Make”, e-mail:; website: