There is a strange irony in exhibiting: even though we are all showing off our marketing expertise in very public ways, we’re all obviously tight-lipped when it comes talking about which of our efforts work, and which don’t.
So, short of blatantly copying our competitor’s exhibit environments, how do we learn from them? The answer lies in getting a customer’s-eye view of their marketing.
Go as an Attendee
Ask exhibitors what they do in their spare time, and none are likely to say “going to trade shows.” And yet going to a show as an attendee rather than an exhibitor can give you an entirely different view of how you and your competition are perceived in that environment. Walk the exhibit hall and strike up conversations with other prospects in attendance. Find out whose exhibits they liked, who they bought from, or whom they may do business with in the future. Most importantly: find out why. Ask how competitors’ products, services or prices compare to yours. While doing this may seem bold, many people appreciate feeling that their input could shape your company’s future offerings.
Query The Competition
Although we all tend to check out other exhibitor’s major booth design elements, slowing down and looking at the subtle nuances of their business can be far more helpful. Browse their literature to see the full scope of their product/service offerings, vs. which ones they have decided to feature in their booth. Ask about the small print: pricing, discounts, shipping, maintenance, etc. After checking out their website and signing up for their e-newsletter, pay special attention in the subsequent weeks as to how they then re-target you with advertising on the web and on social media.
Rely on the Pros
Misrepresenting yourself as a buyer or working with “secret shoppers” is fraught with ethical and legal complications. When you’re looking for more insights on competitors, consider the consultancies that offer trade show intelligence as part of their suite of services. Because they survey many professionals from a wide array of markets, these firms often have large amounts of aggregated data about your industry or competitor that you can use for a competitive advantage. Their data can often include information on your competitors’ marketing initiatives and client acquisition strategies.
Attending trade shows is still the best way to make connections and gather intelligence. Spend at least a few days a year focusing on what the competition is doing, and you’ll walk away with a better view of your own company’s role in the exhibit landscape.