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5 Ways to Stand Out at a Tradeshow

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This summer, the Fancy Food Show descended upon New York City's Jacob Javits Center, overwhelming visitors with over 2,700 vendors sharing sweet and savory foods and beverages. Many of those exhibiting are specialty brands with small staffs and small budgets. So how can one hope to stand out in this incredibly crowded, three-day marketplace to get the attention of retail buyers, media and consumers? A small, family-run shortbread company found a way to stand out at this massive food & drink tradeshow.

Shortbread House of Edinburgh, housed in Edinburgh, Scotland, made the journey to the Big Apple to share their finely crafted wares, and they were up against major competitors like the Walker Shortbreads of the world. To make the most of this tradeshow opportunity, Shortbread House employed some very smart techniques that brought their branding to life and grabbed the attention of passersby.

Here are some of the tradeshow marketing tips that worked for Shortbread House of Edinburgh – and can very easily work for other brands in other industries, not just food & drink companies:

  1. Bring your brand story to life. Shortbread House of Edinburgh employed Scottish gentlemen clad in the country's traditional garb to man their booth. This was more than an attention-getting visual. Just by being there, these gents, who spoke fluently about their brand's history and products, brought attention to the authenticity of the sweet treats by which they were surrounded.
  2. Be friendly. It wasn't just the brogue that brought warmth to this Scottish brand. Warm smiles, inviting gestures, and conversation that wasn't rushed – rather, that encouraged visitors to linger and partake of the samples – really stood out. Tradeshows can be grueling for both those exhibiting and those attending, and it can be easy to wear that exhaustion on one's face. These gentlemen welcomed visitors as if they were welcoming them into their own homes to enjoy biscuits and tea.
  3. Don't be afraid to talk shop. For some reason, tradeshow exhibitors often dwell in smalltalk and never get to the point. While one doesn't want to engage in heavy-handed selling techniques that turn off visitors, the real reason everyone is attending is for an information share. After some niceties that seemed entirely genuine, the kilt-clad staffers were sure to guide visitors along their product line, which included a new product launch (see tip #4).
  4. Have something new! People like to be "the first" to experience something new, so if at all possible, tradeshow exhibitors should launch a new product. That's what buyers want to know about – so they can leverage that "new" factor to bring buyers to their stores. That's what the press wants to hear about – so they can share that "newness" with their readers and viewers. And that's what consumers want to find out about – so they can have bragging rights via social media and word-of-mouth sharing. Shortbread House of Edinburgh was introducing a special holiday offering: a "Finest Whisky Cake" infused with Scotch malt whisky. Packaged in a festive tin, this food & drink item conjured up wonderful thoughts of holiday parties, entertaining and hostess gifting – a nice escape from the brutal heat of summer in Manhattan. It also gave the brand's representatives a chance to talk about their country's tradition of holiday whisky cakes, something with which many American attendees may not have been familiar.
  5. Be true to your branding. If a product (or service) doesn't stand up to a brand's marketing, that brand is likely better off not having a tradeshow presence until they get either the product or the marketing right. Surrounded by competitors, this is the ultimate sink-or-swim venue: retail buyers, press, and consumers will be the first to share negative impressions of their experiences, and they'll often do it loudly – at the show, to other exhibitors, and beyond. Those trying samples at Shortbread House of Edinburgh seemed to feel that the taste lived up to the "truly handmade" tagline adorning the holiday whisky cake tin. That will likely translate into shelf space, positive media coverage, and something new for Americans to add to their own holiday traditions.

Tradeshows can be a key tactic for brands, from start-ups through Fortune 500 – but they are often quite costly: space rental, booth design and execution, staffing, product, marketing...it all adds up. Be sure it adds up to the right results.

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