When multinational firms consider where to put their global marketing dollars, they may select an international trade show. But since the investment required is so substantial, it’s wise to do extensive research to ensure success in each international venue.
How to set up your booth
Exhibits that play beautifully in Boston may bomb in Beijing. Even if you’re an old hand at booth space design, construction, staffing, marketing and selling in the US, there are different complexities to consider when working internationally. Before we address any cultural aspects, here are some functional issues you should handle six months prior to the show:
Booth design and construction is different. Exhibits are generally built from the ground up for each show. Many booths are actual cubes, with a ceiling, but without a line-of-sight setback allowance from the aisles. And, of course, they’re constructed in metric space.
Construction contractors vary. European carpenters are generally unionized, but Asians aren’t. Allocate additional labor dollars for their time.
Gain approval from show management for your booth design (make sure it includes ceiling height!).
Draft your promotional campaign and reserve your advertising space.
Select an expert freight forwarder to ship and handle your entire product.
Hedge your budget to allow for local currency fluctuations.
Set aside enough transformers, adapters and sophisticated tools for emergencies. Never expect show management to supply anything. Watching your demos flare into a shower of sparks several hours into the show would not be entertaining!
Dealing with different cultures
Now that you are prepared technically, here are some of the culturally-based differences that may occur at the conference:
In Germany, your booth construction personnel will take beer breaks, and in Brazil, workers will expect long (2-hour) lunch breaks.
The “atmosphere” and “entertainment” in your booth may make or break your traffic flow. (Translation: Women serving free food and beverages may draw crowds.)
Smoking is common, so park ashtrays everywhere or your exhibit may really set the show on fire.
In China, highly energetic demonstrations and promotional giveaways have generated such crowds that booths have collapsed!
In Italy, prospects may feel comfortable discussing your company and products for an hour, while other attendees wander away unattended.
Creating a memorable presence
Despite the unusual variables, there are tremendous opportunities to generate an unusually memorable presence for your firm at international trade shows. Many issues can be resolved or accommodated with the right mindset, so be flexible! One way a company controlled the crush of the crowds seeking freebies in China was to hand out tickets to a specific show in an enclosed part of the booth, and then present the attendees with the promotional items afterwards.
Since many international companies attend only several tradeshows a year, they expect to invest more time building the booths onsite and developing relationships with the prospects. Many countries have no prohibitions against serving full meals with alcohol in the booths, and exhibitors want soon-to-be clients to sit down and share a glass of wine and a small meal on good china with them.
The VIP list
Whatever you do to entice the clients, you must be sure to bring the right staff to close the sale. In Western Europe, buyers may leave behind that interminable decision-making mindset at the door of the exhibit hall. They are ready to buy, but you must have the personnel with the various levels of product knowledge, technical support, financing and contracts available. Be sure to have a receptionist with a list of VIPs who have been invited to your booth, and align them immediately with your appropriate company representative, preferably in a separate meeting room. No “directors” will want to be seen hanging around in your booth – it will look like an endorsement of your product, which is unseemly. Above all, never make VIP prospects wade through the wrong people in your booth!
Everyone who has exhibited internationally has some experiences to share, so talk with other vendors from the show. Ask about their best and worst case scenarios. One extraordinary story by Vanessa Saunders, an expert on exhibiting in China, described a conference some years ago where the Dutch Government had Miss Netherlands in their booth, in full costume, handing out cheese samples. The Chinese, who enjoy trying Free Anything, gamely ate the cheesy bites, grimaced alarmingly, and spat them out onto the floor! Miss Netherlands was not amused. Eventually, the Dutch realized that some Chinese don’t care for cheese, so they switched to candy giveaways. Sweet.