5 Trade Show Marketing Tactics to Take to Ecobuild (and 1 not to bother with)

In the run up to Ecobuild (in the UK), across the Atlantic, two US building materials associations, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) joined up to create the IBS (International Builders Show) and the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS), at the Las Vegas Convention Centre.

The International Builders Show* is a trade show for US national home builders. Two things to clear up first; It’s definitely not a US version of Ecobuild and it’s not really international either (bar a small Chinese exhibiting contingent and me).


Whatever, some 75,000 attendees were expected to congregate at the show over the following 3 days.

The Builder Partnership Pre-Show Networking Event

First stop was the Builder Partnership networking event, taking place the evening before the show, which I was lucky enough to gate-crash courtesy of Mark Mitchell**

The Builder Partnership is an active and accessible network of contractors, builders, manufacturers and consultants who work and collaborate with each other to create mutually profitable businesses opportunities – a noble goal, especially in the construction industry – it was a pleasure to be in their company.

The general consensus from the room was that the economy was on the up, not quite at pre-crash 2007 levels, but certainly getting closer. And the main event was likely to be a much better attended affair than previous years – again it was great to see and hear such optimism.

The Main Event

To say there was a lot going on across the numerous exhibition halls is an understatement. I met some great folks and saw some really interesting marketing approaches (and some not so interesting). With that in mind, I’ve honed in on six key marketing tactics that, on the face of it, were making a difference and might prove useful to your own planning for Ecobuild.

Here’s the list. Feel free to comment.

1. Product Demonstrations:


Product demonstration (with passion)

The demonstrations I witnessed were rich in content, presented enthusiastically and easy to follow.

All the best demonstrations showed these key characteristics:

  • An authentic and  knowledgeable front man (or woman, or two men) ie. they were skilled technicians, craftsmen (or women) and tradesmen (and women) not the dodgy corporate salesmen (or women) types.
  • They were always enthusiastic and upbeat, even when it was clear no-one was listening.
  • They were accessible and approachable afterward the event.
  • They were supported by a good quality sound system – some systems were crackly and inaudible – Can it hurt to test it first?
  • A visible timetable of events – be clear when your demonstrations are so visitors can plan their day.
  • Enough seating and floor space – but not too much. Perhaps an unintended consequence of too little seating is crowding. That in itself creates more curiosity.
  • A good follow up process. Brochures, pens, golf balls and caps? Or something more meaningful, measurable, actionable even?
  • Minor Celebrities and niche experts. Although not necessarily for demonstrations, perhaps more endorsement opportunities, was the use of minor celebrities (see below). Well promoted ‘appearances’ drew interest and were usually well attended.
Norm Abram - not Tim the Toolman Taylor

“Lock your garage, fasten your tool belts, it’s Timmmm Allen!” Err, hold on a minute…

Key take-away – Your product demonstrators have to know more than the assembled collective. They have to be more energised and they have to be backed up with a working ‘madonna’ style ear/mouth sound system. A timetable is useful but not essential.

2. Fully Charged ‘Booth Guys’ (Booth = Stand, Guys = team):

Get your team fired up for the event

Get your team fired up and looking smart…

As you might expect, most of the exhibiting product manufacturers’ sales teams were up for it and on a mission from day one. However, that was not the case for all exhibitors and it was clear which ‘Booth’ attendants were there just to make up the numbers.

Talking to one exhibiting CEO, his team had been briefed on their goals for the show the night before.

  • The business goal – to sell more premium products.
  • The sales tactic – to get the builders to recognize a basic product (which didn’t need selling) and to use that product as a place to start the conversation and to upsell (raise awareness of) the premium products.

‘Booth Guys’ can make a real difference to your stand (or Booth), here are a few simple tips to follow:

  • Get your team on board early. 
Seems obvious but don’t expect your team to ‘just know’ what you want them to do whilst on the booth. Set the goals clearly.
  • Be forward, friendly and enthusiastic. 
Booth Guy’s (even UK versions) need to be ballsy but respectful.
    Tip: standing in intimidating groups or hiding behind smartphones and laptops on the stand won’t get you far, plus its quite rude and self defeating.
  • Be Knowledgeable. 
About your product, the reasons your company is at the show, the issues around your product (regulations, news stories etc) and also about the advantages of your product over your competitor products.
  • Be Distinguishable from the Public. 
By way of a consistent corporate uniform. Nothing worse than not recognising who to talk to.

Key Take-Away – Get your ‘Booth Guys’ fired up. Help them understand why they’re there and show them what winning looks like.

3. Effective Use of Video:

Video [film, animation etc) was in effect everywhere, from incredible banks of screens that stretched the height and width of the booth wall, to titchy 24” inch screens.

The video above was a particular success – being played on repeat (without sound) on a screen no bigger than your desktop monitor. Jason Tilton and the guys at Tilton Coffered Ceilings proved you don’t need a seven-figure marketing budget to gain the right attention.

Tilton had such great success running the 3D animation at eye level on a small corner booth, that they were soon running out of ‘give-away’ glossy brochures.

Key take-away 1: If your product is new to the market, unseen, or has a clever element or device that’s difficult to describe (in a single sentence or two) create a 3D animated video that does the hard work for you. You can re-purpose for the web, images in print and so on.

Key take-away 2: Don’t print runs of expensive brochures for trade-shows. If you need to print anything, print one or two sided info sheets that point the prospects back your website for further information.

Jason Tilton (a really clever guy) also shared with Mark and I, how they were using Infusionsoft CRM to help them follow up on their leads after the show – see #4.

4. The “Can you Zap me” Follow Up.

Attendees love the line “Can you Zap me” – Busy builders don’t want to carry loaded hand-bags – but they will where big blue necklaces for all to see and zap.

Me, the Whizard and my new friend James

(left to right) Me, my buddy James and the Whizard sport our blue necklaces


The quid pro quo here is that some for of information would ‘follow’ at some point after the show… mind you (in my experience) it’s often anyones guess if that ‘information’ would be remembered by either party, let alone be fulfilled.

The follow up, as I’ve said before many times with reference to Ecobuild, is easy to offer, it’s not however so easy to follow through with.

That said, I was super-impressed when, back at my hotel room on the first evening, I received an email from one such ‘Zapping’ exhibitor.

Organised living email

Wow, an actual email follow up!

The Organized Living email was well timed, short and to the point, featuring of all things a really simple, engaging trivia quiz.

Once I’d got over the genuine shock of actually being emailed so promptly, I began to think about the possibilities and power of this communication.

The message was simple – ‘Thank you for Visiting’ – Nice.

And the trivia question was intriguing (and short) enough for me to click an answer.

However, what followed that, in my view, was a wasted opportunity, and a lesson in how to over complicate the follow up…

I clicked ‘B’… it took me here:


…even more facts on Las Vegas! Sheesh!

If you happen stay on the page long enough, you’ll not only know everything there is to know about Vegas, you’ll also eventually find a call to action (nicely hidden) at the bottom within the text – it reads:

Craving more knowledge? Learn more about Organized Living and its smart products and programs tailored to your project’s needs at http://organizedliving.com/professionals.

And clicking that link leads to a Landing Page where you’re confronted with a bunch more choices – which Profession are you…?

By now, with my pretend customer hat on, I’m thinking ‘How/why did I end up here again?’ and with my digital marketer hat on I’m asking myself just a tonne of questions…

  • What’s the open rate of that email?
  • What’s the click through rate of the email? (gotta be quite good for an email no?)
  • What’s the click through from the trivia landing page to the professionals page? (again, quite good?)
  • What’s the bounce rate of the trivia Landing page and the Professionals landing page? (pretty bloody high I should think!)
  • How many recipients are on Mobile devices? what’s their journey look like?
  • What’s the main goal of this communication?
  • Where did all that qualified traffic end up (if they made it to the professionals page)?
  • What exactly did we measuring?
  • What was considered a success?

I’m wondering what the chances of the prospect (any prospect) actually getting to either the online shop or the ‘Where to Buy’ page are – if that’s a desired outcome.

Key take-away: Sort out your follow up – be clear what a goal looks like. Don’t rely on the zapper. Ask better questions of the prospects on your stand and qualify them there. Avoid sending generic emails without specific, actionable outcomes, these will undo your good work on the booth!

5. Social integration

Social integration was not as widespread as I would have thought. Apparently, after the debacle with QR codes a couple of years back the visiting contractors seem reluctant to try even the most basic forms of digital integration – email, social etc.

Pinterest social integration

Good use of ‘offline’ Pinterest tags

Having said that, Kohler, the bathroom products manufacturer, employed social to good effect (on the face of it).

They used a combination of several clearly promoted platforms to engage with the audience incorporating the hashtag #OnlyKohler across Twitter, Instagram and Vine.

They also promoted the use of Pinterest to get folks pinning their products using prompt cards on products throughout their stand.

It was also fairly obvious they had the budget to nail most everything.


Employing the use of ‘Largest Budget’ to good effect…

I could have written a separate article entirely on the marketing approaches employed by Kohler but it seemed, given the obvious deep pockets, that this wouldn’t have been a particularly helpful post. Any company who coughs up for a DJ and DJ booth within their own booth and no less than three celebrities to endorse their products is not marketing on a level playing field.

"...If y'all need some taps MAKE SOME NOISE..."

“…If y’all need some taps MAKE SOME NOISE…”

6. Please. Stop with the Giveaways and Gimmicks! (personal plea)

Shiny metal objects...

Shiny metal objects…

Trade-show tricks to get the crowds onto a booth are something I expected our US counterparts to be pretty good at – I wasn’t disappointed.

Personally, I can’t condone the use of any of these (especially competitions involving one-arm-bandits or Harley Davidson’s) but they sure did pull in the crowds. How qualified these crowds were is debatable but crowds there were.

Here’s a quick run down of tricks and crowd-pleasers on show – I have defined ‘tricks and crowd-pleasers’ thusly:

Expensive elements of a booth, designed to attract attention, that have little to do with (or a superficial bent toward at best) either the product, the product benefits, the company or the audience.

Here’s my list (to be aware of):

  • Whiz-bang competitions or games:
    Luring the punters with huge one arm bandit style machines with their own micro-phoned compere like a mini gameshow. Winners were briefly interviewed, whooped, and then put to the wheel of fortune (or whatever) before receiving various sums of $’s or $’s off vouchers to spend on the booth owners wares or at one of their outlets. Grim. Don’t.
  • General Corporate Crap:
    The obligatory pens, caps, drinking flasks, stress balls, and every other conceivable kind of mindless brand paraphernalia. Fascinating to see the queues of visitors filling their boots, bags and pockets… Stop it. People like hats, pens, ipads and free shit, not your products. They won’t remember your products. I have a BMW cap (it was free, I never wear it), I drive a Mercedes. I won a trip to the World Cup in France in 1998 via a competition with Budweiser and Esquire. I can’t stomach Budweiser, I don’t read Esquire. I like football and Guinness though.
  • Booth Height:

    Height on your stand was one of the things designed to stand out. Most of the booths went for this high logo’d mast or halo option thereby negating any advantage over the next booth.
  • Music or cooking (or cooking to music):

    Music was a big pull. One stand employed a DJ, a mixing-it-up desk with all the gubbins and club style lighting effects. Others simply employed the services of a chef. I saw one BIM software provider (BIM software is being sold to anyone who’ll listen on any size of project) with a chef on their stand to music.
  • Crowds and gatherings:
    Flocks of people beget even bigger flocks of people. Curiosity is a good thing for a booth’s popularity – you’ll shift lots of your expensive branded stuff.
  • Large Enclosed stands:
    The curiosity box ticked again. And once inside, if the atmosphere is energy-filled (pumping music) and the products are displayed beautifully then you are winning. Money can buy quite an impact. Beyond most companies reach though unfortunately.
  • The unexpected element:
    Whether it’s an F1 car (or the US equivalent), a one-arm bandit machine (the size of old persons council house), a glass-floating-money-machine (like in the BOX), a steel Robot sculpture, a Harley Davidson and so on, and so on. Basically anything to do with cash, fast cars, motorbikes, shiny metal or free stuff.

Key take-away: If your product isn’t attractive or compelling enough on it’s own to garner interest consider not being at the trade show at all.

In Summary

Overall, and putting the complete lack of sustainability to one side, I was impressed with the energy, enthusiasm and attention to detail from our US counter-parts. The guys and gals I met were mostly honest, great fun and hardworking people and I was shown fantastic hospitality and generosity everywhere I went.

But, of course, all this energy and enthusiasm is wasted at trade shows if your plan for the show is non-existent. I wonder how short peoples memories are – it’s hardly a year since things weren’t so great and budgets were slashed.

Now things are looking up maybe it’s timely to suggest that we should still be looking for a healthy return on trade shows – if we’re going at all.

The simple take-away for this post, if you’re going to blow a fortune on a trade show like IBS or Ecobuild, is to set some goals, then plan how you’re going to achieve those goals, and then to follow through on your plan.

If you don’t have a plan, don’t go.

Simple as that.

Save you money for a good, well-thought-through, goal driven campaign targeted to prospects who might actually convert to paying/ordering/influencing advocates of your products.

I suppose, from a global ‘state of construction’ point of view, I was encouraged by the attendance at IBS. According to official figures some 75,000 showed up over the 3 days (a 134% improvement on last years figure of 32,000). And although these figures are very likely to have been helped by the inclusion this year of the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, that’s still a pretty good turnout.

Maybe Ecobuild will bring the same news after the somewhat disappointing turnout last year, from both exhibitors and visitors. We’ll wait to see on that front, unfortunately I’m not getting that vibe from the colleagues I speak to, but I’m keeping an open mind and I’ll be checking it out in person.

Let me know you’re thoughts on any of the above and if you’ll be at Ecobuild this March then I look forward to seeing you there.

*For absolute clarity, this event is not the US version of Ecobuild. Sustainability is definitely NOT on the agenda.

Faux wood. Oh, dear...

Faux wood. Oh, dear…

 **I was fortunate enough to attend IBS in Vegas with my building materials marketing expert friend from across the pond, Mark Mitchell, author of the excellent Building Materials Channel Marketing Book – check it out and buy yourself a copy – you won’t regret it.

About Stuart Dinnie

Stuart has worked in the world of digital marketing for over 15 years. With his measured and planned approach, he has delivered robust digital strategies for construction companies to achieve real business growth. He now heads up the team at Pauley Creative as Managing Director and is leading his team & clients towards digital marketing excellence. He’s worked with over 100 construction clients; helping them on their digital transformation journey, providing sustainable strategies that return year on year incremental growth, delivering award-winning websites and adding value from board level to marketing assistant.

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