Trade show tactics

Megan and I just got back from eBay Live. Our goal as an exhibitor was to get the 10,000 attendees talking about Squidoo. And my guess is that your goal as a trade show exhibitor is to do the same thing (no, not to talk about Squidoo, to talk about you, of course).

Here’s what we did: we printed 600 t-shirts with a long, hand-written letter on the front, explaining how Squidoo helps eBayers. And we gave the shirt away to anyone willing to wear it. The incentive? Each day, Megan picked someone who was wearing the shirt and gave that person $9,000 worth of ads on Squidoo.

Within an hour, you saw orange t-shirts on the show floor. By the second day, every single t-shirt was taken and more than 5% of all the people there were wearing the shirts.

Total cost: $3,000. (plus the ads).

This obviously doesn’t work at every trade show. You need both an audience that’s into playful promotion and a suitable and appropriate prize to reward the t-shirt wearer. Since this was self-referential (Having people build Squidoo pages about you is a lot like getting them to wear a t-shirt about you) it was easy for us to do, but it occurs to me that there are much broader applications of this technique. Hey, it even worked for radio stations all the years I was growing up. Stations used to offer a cash prize if they found your car and you had the bumper sticker. And no, the station never did pick our car…

A gimmick? Of course. But a relevant one. The spreading of the idea was not just our tactic, it was the entire point. Too often, trade show exhibits seem focused on either getting rid of the people who stop by or getting their badge scanned. What a waste. The real win is to generate true buzz… people talking about you and what you do, not about your tactics. So, a magician in your booth might be fun, but if all I talk about is the magician, you’ve wasted your money.

PS The shirts were so popular that our booth was marauded. People took our sample shirts, they even took the shirt off the mannequin we brought. If you took a shirt you can part with, drop me a line. I’ll be happy to buy it from you!

[Speaking of spreading the word, here’s an SEO related interview you might enjoy. Plus a phoner I’ll be doing soon (actually, there’s two). And here’s a summer intern-type gig you might want to mention to a stranded teenager in your house.]