Creative Trade Show Ideas for Organizers & Exhibitors

By: Mark Fisher
tradeshow attendee helping create a group mural

Successful trade shows foster an environment for brands to thrive—even among crowded exhibition (expo) halls and busy agendas. Despite the rise of hybrid and virtual events, trade show marketing is one of the most profitable business-to-business (B2B) strategies and continues to grow.  

For organizational leaders, trade shows are an irreplaceable marketing and sales channel. For exhibitors, it’s a valuable face-to-face opportunity to generate leads. And for trade show organizers, it’s about delivering a valuable B2B experience while bringing industry peers together.

Whether you’re organizing a conference or are participating as an exhibitor, capturing and holding attendees’ attention with creative, interactive trade shows (and booths) builds lasting brand connections. 

Tips for Trade Show Organizers 

Goal: Deliver a truly memorable expo experience for exhibitors and visitors.

Large conferences with multiple sessions, networking functions and an expo hall give visitors a limited amount of time to take it all in. Making the expo easy to navigate and exciting to experience is key. Here are a few more considerations to keep in mind.

1. Agenda 

Incorporate exclusive (non-competing) time in the event agenda or make the expo itself a session that attendees choose when customizing their agenda. Placing a stage or presentation theater in the expo hall can also draw visitors in.

2. Food & Beverage

Where there’s food, there’s people. Plan a meal, reception, entertainment or break in the agenda to attract attendees to the expo. (Bonus: these are great sponsorship opportunities.)

3. Activations

Who doesn’t love a good selfie? Create memorable expo activations using photo stations, luggage tags, games, custom T-shirt and hat designing, or other interactive engagements. It’s another great way to get your sponsors involved! 

4. Gamification

Event apps pose a great opportunity to gamify the event experience and pull visitors into the expo hall. If you aren’t using an event app, it’s still possible. (Think: old-fashioned paper passports to create a point-gathering adventure when scanned or stamped at a booth to qualify to win prizes.)

5. Push Notifications

If you have access to an event app, remind attendees to visit the expo hall via scheduled push notifications throughout the event.

6. Wayfinding

Direct traffic throughout the event space, leading attendees to the expo using projections, floor cling graphics, and directional, self-standing or hanging signage. Maps are especially helpful in giving visitors a sense of where they are and revealing undiscovered areas.

7. Expo Theming

Create a memorable atmosphere with an overarching event theme. With a proper heads up, exhibitors can create giveaways and booth branding to match the conference theme and give visitors the impression of a well-coordinated event.

Ebook: Harnessing the Emotional Connection of Immersive Event Experiences

Tips for Trade Show Exhibitors

Goal: Stand out from the crowded expo hall and meet (or exceed) your event goals.

Your window to capture your audience’s attention is short, demanding to-the-point messaging, can’t-miss visuals and the right people behind the booth. Think of the expos you’ve attended. The trade show booths you remember were more than a networking opportunity with a trickle of people pausing at the booth. They got people excited from a distance and drew them in to hear more. Here are some key trade show marketing strategies that will give you an edge and bring more visitors to your booth. 

1. Visible Brand Message

Brands only have a few seconds to catch the eye of an attendee and break through the clutter of a busy expo hall. Keep your key messages (like a tagline) to-the-point and prominently placed in your branding, unobstructed by obstacles or staff.

Related: Applying Elements of Storytelling to Experience Design 

2. Striking Visuals

Beyond branding, visitors appreciate quick-to-understand images that reflect your people or culture. You can also lean into bold messaging and bright colors.

3. Proactive, Professional Staff

Nothing feels worse than seeing an empty booth. Control the environment with trained staff that know how to work a crowd. When the booth staff is engaging and proactively approaching visitors, the mood is contagious.  

4. Engaging Elevator Pitch

Make sure your booth staff is not only trained on booth etiquette but also short talk tracks that capture visitors’ attention. The delivery should feel natural, not overly rehearsed. 

5. Distinct Signage

Visually appealing signage, like pop-up banners and flooring, is an easy way to make your booth stand out. For larger booths, consider matching your booth’s flooring to the aisle flooring to increase traffic flow without the invisible boundaries.

6. Targeted Promotion

Promotions and giveaways are tried-and-true methods to earn visitor traffic—from T-shirts to sponsored treats. It’s a great opportunity to gain leads and take their contact information for lead nurturing. And there are plenty of ways to run a promotion sustainably. Avoid ordering large quantities that could go to waste and print on sustainable materials.  

7. Sustainable Sourcing

Keep sustainability top of mind, beyond giveaway items. From recyclable display materials and green printing to LED lighting and digital materials (that eliminate the need for shipping), the options are in your favor. Experiment with QR codes to link to documents or follow up with leads via email.

8. Tracking Leads

Make sure you have a way to track the people who come to your booth (scanner, forms, etc.), and have a post-expo plan for how to nurture your newfound leads in a timely manner. Following the show, teach your staff how to identify hot leads from visitors that are just looking for a free gift or general info.

9. Realistic Goal(s)

Know what you want to get out of attending an expo, whether it’s a certain number of leads or demos, or simply greater brand visibility. A clear goal and a way to measure it, tells the story of your ROI. And evaluate your overall experience after exhibiting; you may want to supplement or replace your booth presence the next year with new items, including speaking sessions or activations. 

Related: One-on-One Chat With Event Sponsorship Program Manager Mark Fisher

How to Achieve Creative Trade Show Booths

With these tips in hand, you’re already on your way to elevating your trade show game. The bottom line: invest in the on-site experience where it matters most.

Creative activations lead to engaged visitors which leads to more positive brand connections. And all that leads to a positive ROI—a biggie for trade show organizers and exhibitors alike.  

Go beyond traditional trade show strategies

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher

Mark has been a marketer for over 25 years. After receiving a bachelor's degree in communications from the University of California, San Diego, he spent several years with Ziff Davis Corporation. While at Ziff Davis, he created event marketing plans for some of the largest high-tech tradeshows, meetings and events in the industry. In other roles, Mark was able to explore meeting and tradeshow planning, promotions, and event marketing in the pharmaceutical industry, associations, franchise and other industries. Mark was also a Marketing Manager for the Life Sciences group at Microsoft Corporation. He has had articles published in event magazines and is an established speaker at Exhibitor Show, Healthcare Exhibition Association (HCEA) and Corporate Event Marketing Association (CEMA) events. Mark continues to be an instructor in the Meeting Planner program at San Diego State University. Currently, he holds the position of Senior Sponsorship Event Manager at ITA Group.