The Elephant in the Room: Your Tech Isn’t Working Correctly at Trade Shows


You can build a lot of buzz around a new product on the trade show circuit. In fact, in-person events are second only to email for driving early-stage engagement, and they topped the list of tactics for helping to convert leads into actual sales.

So when the tech doesn't perform as it should at a trade show, it is not going to shine a positive light on the latest innovations. Amazon took a hit at CES 2019 when neither of its new-product showcases seemed ready. At one demo, an important feature wasn’t activated, begging the question: Why leave anything to chance?

Tech must be designed to travel — packed, unpacked, and repacked. Rushing a product for an event is like rushing a product to market. It does nothing more than put a brand at peril — after all, events are often the first interaction consumers have with your wares. If you’re not planning early, trust that something will fall through the cracks.

Here are four tips to prepare for a successful trade show event:

1. Partner wisely.

Not all vendors understand how to engineer solutions that support retail technology. Look for partners with a track record in delivering tech-enabled displays for retail environments. Better yet, choose someone also skilled in formulating on-the-fly solutions to unexpected problems.

The goal here is to identify potential partners with experience in contingency planning. Best-laid plans, as they say, often go awry. As you interview candidates, ask about a time when they had to resolve an issue with a trade show exhibit.

2. Design simply.

Building a stellar presentation won’t matter much if the tech doesn’t work, make sense, or allow for repairs at a moment’s notice.

In the design phase, find ways to simplify the display, making sure to be strategic with every decision. Will a touch screen add value to the experience? Does a virtual reality activation align with the brand? What will happen to the booth experience should the tech fail? The last thing you want is to waste money on something that’s unreliable or will have little experiential impact.

3. Prepare smartly.

Labor unions can complicate trade show setup, as contracts and labor laws vary around the country. Obviously, research the jurisdictions for each venue. But it’s better to err on the side of caution and assume your tech crew will only be allowed to oversee display construction.

Just make sure a team member has a background in technical project management. You’ll reduce the chances of damage to the display during setup.

4. Execute securely.

No matter how thoughtful the design or thorough the preparation, something will inevitably go wrong. Whoever is designing and fabricating your display should build in an alerting mechanism to notify staff the moment something goes wrong.

For one, it’s embarrassing to have visitors tell the team that the tech isn’t working. It’s also painful to watch people do an about-face as a result of a malfunctioning activation.

When it comes to technology, preparation is essential. You need functioning tech if you want a successful event. According to Bizzabo, 86% of event marketers believe tech is the difference-maker in a successful event. Whether it’s social media or product features, technology can have a positive impact as long as any gamble is strategic.

Scott T. Reese is a passionate leader, a “what’s next” enthusiast, and an arbiter of progress — with the detail-oriented, get-it-done attitude needed to make sure those big ideas are actually accomplished. Scott is currently serving as chief technology officer at Harbor Retail, where he helps bring Harmonic Retail™ to life with intuitive Self-Healing Technology.™

He spent the first 10 years of his career learning how to be an effective, inspiring leader in the United States Marine Corps. Then, he spent the past two decades collaborating to make a difference as an expert in corporate process and an effective consultant in the field of technology.

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