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This is Not a Booth: Shift Your Thinking for Better Trade Show Budgeting
"On time, way over budget" is nobody's career motto. But many marketers - especially those new to trade show budgeting - find themselves in that position. Why the struggle? After nearly three decades in this business, we know such mishaps stem from "sticker shock" - a disconnect between budgetary expectation and cost reality.
Exhibiting is a complex marketing channel with many stakeholders and moving pieces. Those who see a trade show activation as a "thing" to be bought - rather than an experience and the associated pieces - are doomed to under-budget and underperform. Of course, it doesn't help that some executives - y'know, the ones approving the budget - think of a booth like a piece of furniture. ("It's just some plywood; how could it cost so much?")
There's a solution for this industry ailment, and it begins with a shift in thinking. Read on to discover the key metaphor we use to help our clients understand the nuances of trade show budgeting.
A Booth is Not a House
You've heard it before - perhaps from your boss.
"If I bought the materials at Home Depot, I could build this display case myself for a quarter of the price on this estimate."
Though the image of a sawdust-coated VP hammering away on the show floor elicits a chuckle, we get it. It should be like building a house, right? You have your price per square foot in space and materials, you apply some labor, and voilà. You have a structure people can walk around in.
Only imagine that once your new home is built, you'll be immediately disassembling it, crating it, and shipping it across the country to a city with its own zoning regulations. There it will be unloaded by a union labor team, who will store it - kitchen sink and all - in a warehouse until show day.
That's when your charming Cape Cod (and 500-plus others) will be transported to the show floor, uncrated, reassembled, and explored by thousands in the world's busiest open house. (To your horror, no one will remove their shoes.) After three days of intense traffic, you'll break the home down once more so it can be shipped to another open house in a different city or back to the build site for repairs.
It's a costly endeavor - if all you've built is a house. But a trade show booth is not a house.
In fact, it's not even a booth.
It's Not a Booth. It's a Show.
500-plus companies. Hundreds of tons of materials. Three days of setup, and thousands of guests converging in a single space to enjoy it.
From the show runner who accepts your company's registration to the folks who vacuum the floor, live marketing entails a complex clockwork of interlocking elements - some physical, some intangible, all essential. At any given show, countless workers perform myriad roles in synchronized scurry.
Why? To create that magical moment when your guests step out of the everyday and into your brand's story. Trade show budgeting isn't about building a booth; it's conceiving, creating, and putting on a show.
Once you understand that a booth is actually an experience - a show - you're ready to unpack the pieces that make it happen. Understanding the costs of those pieces is crucial; those who don't may fall victim to accidental mischarges, under-budgeting, and other unfortunate hiccups. The first step to being prepared is being informed.
Want to learn more? Check out "This is Not a Booth," the first in our series of guides to trade show budgeting. In addition to building world-class experiences for the world's best brands, Group Delphi also creates fresh, free content to make your experiential marketing sizzle.
About the Author
Peter Celauro, Brand Journalist, Group Delphi
Peter Celauro writes about trade show and event marketing as Brand Journalist at Group Delphi, the experience creation shop.
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