Under The Microscope

Should I Exhibit At Macworld? Part 2: On The Show Floor

The Should I Exhibit At Macworld? Series

Part 1: Costs
Part 2: On The Show Floor
Part 3: Decisions, Decisions
Part 4: Odds & Ends

If you’ve ever been to Macworld or any other trade show as an attendee1, you know the basics. Vendors set up and peddle their wares to (hopefully) interested potential customers. It’s somewhat like a bazaar with more vaporware and less haggling. So if you’ve gotten over the hurdle of costs discussed last week, what’s next?

Exhibiting

When exhibiting, you need a booth design. There are lots of options here, from the very basic (a table with a computer on it) to the more elaborate (a pre-designed booth with multiple custom pieces) to those that require an architect to create (such as Intego’s infamous castle seen at right).

For first timers, the smaller and simpler your setup is, the better. If you have a kiosk, your setup can be as simple as loading your software onto a laptop and showing it off. Having an attractive look for your booth will help draw people in, so consider hanging a high-quality sign and some artwork associated with your product.

Like kiosks, booths can be set up quite simply, and even a simple table with a machine to show off the software will work. With a booth, there’s more space for additional artwork, infosheets, CDs, and any other giveaways you wish to hand out. You also have a bit of space to draw people in off the floor and talk more privately.

One On One
For our own booths, our goal is to be as approachable as possible. We’ve kept things fairly simple by setting up a couple of machines and showing off our software on large displays. For Macworld 2006, we created infoboards like the one seen to the left. These provided a simple summary of what our software does for passers-by to read, enticing them to come talk one on one.

In addition to these infoboards, we have a large 6-foot banner with our name and logo that draws people in. At our first shows, people often came over to ask “What the hell is ‘Rogue Amoeba’?”. It may not seem like the best introduction, but that’s ultimately as good a conversation starter as any.

Once users come over, we discuss anything they like, one on one. Often, this is a quick elevator pitch on all of our products until one catches their attention. It can also be more depth on a specific product they ask about. After 30 seconds or five minutes, we hope to get the visitor to take an infosheet and a CD with our products on it, and be on his way. Our goal is to have visitors take a closer look at our products after the show and purchase online.

Crowd Demos
The alternative to one-on-one conversations is to run demos, like the one in Dolan Halbrook’s photo at left. A demo requires a bit more hardware, such as a microphone system and a larger display for visitors to watch. In addition, demos are unlikely to work at kiosks, where there’s no room for visitors to congregate.

With a demo, you can run through the major features of your application and show how users can incorporate it into their work flows. You can also reach more visitors in a single shot. Demos can work especially well if you only have a single product to promote, as it will allow you to talk about and display the product in-depth.

When you give a demo, attendees aren’t forced into direct interaction with you. This makes it easier psychologically for them to drift in and have a look. Be sure to make it obvious what you’re giving away (infosheets, CDs), so that attendees can grab something and move on while you’re still presenting. You’ll also want to be sure to answer as many questions as you can with your booth materials, so people can get the information they need without interrupting your demo or waiting for it to finish.

We’ve not used demos in our own exhibiting, but we’ve seen it work well for many different exhibitors, so I hope others who have will discuss demos in more depth in the comments. For a first timer and anyone with a kiosk, I believe the chatting method is best. If you have a booth, you should decide what you think will work for you and try it out.

Outcomes

What will happen when you exhibit at Macworld? As I said previously, Macworld won’t instantly turn you into a huge success. This is worth repeating, because if you’re expecting to go from an unknown to a top-seller, you need to adjust your expectations. While you won’t achieve instant success, there are at least three things to work for and expect from exhibiting at Macworld.

1) New Interest From Users
The first thing Macworld will provide is new interest from people who’ve never heard of you or who haven’t seen your latest products. Attendees come to Macworld to find new products, so most of the hard work is done for you. You have a captive audience, so provide them with something compelling.

If you show it, they will come. 2

After that, whether you choose to do direct sales on the floor (more on this in the next article) or simply provide a handout, word will spread about you and your products. Without question, word of mouth is the most effective form of advertising. Once it’s spreading, new users will check out your products themselves, they’ll tell their friends, and they’ll discuss them across the web. The first step to getting positive word of mouth is getting yourself and your products out there and in front of users. Macworld is a fantastic forum for that.

In addition to increased discussion of your products, you’ll likely see at least some increase in sales. If you’re selling on the show floor, you can track this easily. If you’re only selling online, we’ve found that using a coupon code on your handouts works well to track orders. You won’t recoup your full costs with sales from the show, but you should see a bump.

2) Press Exposure
The floor of Macworld isn’t only teeming with attendees – it’s also infested by that lovable creature known as the “Mac journalist”. Just like attendees, journalists are scanning the floor to find new and newsworthy items. Mac journalists like David Pogue (seen at right) are great, but even they can’t cover products of which they’re not aware. No, you’re much more likely to get coverage if journalists actually see you and your products, and Macworld is a great place for this.

“How can you accomplish anything unless people know what you are trying to do?” 3

There are even awards to be won at Macworld, from the official Macworld Best of Show awards to independent awards from major sites like MacMinute’s ShowTime awards, great products can earn recognition. As with general press coverage, there’s no guarantee here, but you can’t win if you don’t show up.

3) Great Feedback
Perhaps the most valuable part of exhibiting at Macworld is the tremendous feedback you’ll get from both current and potential users. In four days, you’ll talk to hundreds or even thousands of people, and you’ll gain incredible insight into your own products.

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” 4

If you’re chatting with potential users, you can see where your marketing falls short – the blank stares will be a dead giveaway and you can refine your pitch. If you’re giving demos, you can see what features excite people, and what questions they have when you’re done. Either way, you can learn what works and what doesn’t for your marketing. You’ll also hear dozens of potential use cases, new feature ideas, and ideas for improvment. Have a notebook handy, because you’ll want to write all of this information down.

Hopefully, you’ll get some praise from existing customers as well5. That should definitely boost your spirits. Be sure to save that praise in the back of your mind for when you have a lousy day.

Wrap-up
So that’s what you can expect from your time on the show floor and what you’re likely to see as a result of exhibiting. It probably sounds pretty good and it is. Be sure to tune in next week, when we’ll look with more depth at some of the key decisions you need to make once you’ve decided to exhibit.

Footnotes:
1. If you haven’t been to Macworld as an attendee, it’s a very good first step. Attending is quite inexpensive compared to exhibiting, and it provides a lot of insight.

2. The Voice, Field Of Dreams (Almost, anyhow)

3. Vivien Kellems

4. Ernest Hemingway

5. When a user comes to your booth and says “Audio Hijack Pro changed my life, I couldn’t live without it”, well, you should send them to our booth. But when they say it about your very own product, it will surely put a smile on your face. It’s not rocket surgery, but we do what we can to make people’s lives a little better.

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