5 Big Tradeshow Ideas to help your brand THINK FORWARD

Updated: Apr 26



Spring is our favourite time of year here at Captive. This has nothing to do with warmer weather and leafing trees. We love it because it’s typically the beginning of the event and tradeshow season. Now we know this year, much like last, may have its share of restrictions and lead to the cancellation or postponement of many of our favourite events. But we can dream none-the-less.


In the hopes of a more “normal” future on the horizon, we decided to assemble a list of what we think are 5 big ideas to turn your pipe and drape dreams into exciting brand experiences. Applying a creative and resourceful approach to trade show experiences will not only heighten your brand’s presence and perception, but also ensure that you stand out in a highly competitive environment where an 10x10 and some draped fabric isn’t going to cut it anymore.

For our client PrairieCann, we applied creativity and resourcefulness, using readily available materials and local carpenters. Though not as portable or lightweight as aluminum and vinyl traditionally used in booth manufacturing, we were able to build a modular booth that could be used in endless different configurations.



Engage People!


How many booths have you walked past where the main focus is a human staring at their phone or off into the void of fluorescent lighting? A trade show is a highly competitive sensory environment where attention is momentary and focus is scattered. So be the starter. Engage with people authentically. Nice shoes? Tell em’. Cool jacket? Say something. Just get the conversation going. You’re there to bring awareness about your brand and the unique offerings you can provide.


Also, make sure you look the part. You are your brand personified. The way you present yourself and how that ties into your brand’s overall vibe is key. You are like a walking billboard. It’s important to gauge who your audience is going to be. Are you in a suit-and-tie looking to talk to a crowd of hard working farmers? While it’s not always as simple as making sure to wear your brand colours, that’s definitely a place to start. Define your tone and vibe, then dress accordingly.


We like our staff going out in the world with highly identifiable outfits that tie back to the brand experience. For SaskPower, we dressed our teams in cohesive high visibility outfits to both encompass the brand and dually serve as a protective measure for staff on site.



Create a Hook


Writing your name and number then sticking it in a box is about as engaging as filling out a tax return. This is where creating a great hook comes in, and trust us it’s not the promise of a free pen. Now that your customer is engaged, you don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to tie-in your brand messaging through an engaging experience. This not only helps customers feel more connected to your brand, it will also increase the likelihood of you capturing their data.


A physical or digital demonstration of your product or service can have a lasting impact on potential customers and lead to higher brand recall and awareness. However, we also recognize that it’s not always feasible in the environment that a trade show provides. Good news is, technologies for creating digital experiences and data collection points are more accessible than ever. Tech companies like Wix, Canva, Survey Monkey and Google Drive are all incredibly intuitive and inexpensive. These platforms can be tailored by the Captive teams ingenuity and a dash of pixie dust to provide an exciting yet economical way to showcase your products and make sure you are capturing potential customer data.


We recognize that it’s sometimes a challenge to get patrons time and focus, but even more so to get their information (data). Over the years we’ve developed a number of on-trend ways to create hooks and collect data. Recently, we developed a textbot application that allows customers to fill out information on their own time, in a way that’s in tune with our current device obsessive culture.



Set The Ambience


Pop-up banners and black drapes over corrugated plastic have their place, but if that is the only ambient feature of your booth you might just blend into the walls. You want your both to showcase the blood, sweat and tears of building a business and a brand (although pipe and drape does make us want to cry sometimes). The trade show environment is the perfect opportunity to explore what your brand could and should feel like in a physical form. Ask yourself, what is the most comfortable environment for patrons to experience your brand?


We had the pleasure of working with Federated Co-op to design the Co-op Agro trade show booth. We ran with the notion that the Co-op is a staple of almost any rural community along with the rink, the school, and the church. We combined the co-op aesthetic with practical aspects of a farm shop to create a familiar and communal environment.



Make Space


Trade shows are often an inescapably crowded place. Patrons are usually forced to give up a lot of their personal bubble to attend, so creating a place to escape that is a hook in itself. Even in a small 10’ x 10’ booth, designating an area for comfortable conversation with those who are truly looking to learn more from you is key. Try your best to make it as “Feng Shui” and inviting as possible. Think about the direction of traffic and where distractions might be coming from.


If you’re engaging with patrons over a table, think about the height. In an environment in which people are largely just walking around and standing, table height matters. Think counter, or even bar height, as this encourages the patron’s gaze to be focused. If you’re trying to create a “lounge” environment, make sure it’s tucked away where it creates a space away from traffic and crowds. Consider using sofas and chairs that aren’t awkward to get into or out of. Make it comfortable but casual, although lulling them to sleep is likely not the desired effect - unless you’re in the business of selling recliners.


For many of the booths we create, we think about the flow of traffic and how to best create an atmosphere that encourages conversation. For PrairieCann, we created two environments for conversing. A more relaxed setting with lounge chairs, and a counter height table that patrons could both comfortably sit and stand at.



Map It Out


Lay it all out just like you would meal plan a dinner party:

  • How are you setting the table? Your atmosphere;

  • What’s the appetizer? Your hook–the interactive experience;

  • What are you serving up for the entree? Your brand objective or message;

  • How are you serving up the main course? Your audience’s take away;

  • What’s for dessert? Your data capture.

These questions are key to defining your brand’s goals and objectives and will help to ensure that your customers leave knowing more than before, and keep your brand top of mind.