An experience fit for a queen

In 1851 in London the mother of all trade shows was born — the World's Fair — embodying in a glass palace all the inventions of the modern world. With more than 14,000 exhibitors, new product launches, live demos, oversized props, celebrity appearances and 6 million visitors, it was an experiential marketer's dream.

Sounds pretty cool if you're showcasing the steam engine or the world's largest diamond, but less so if you're hawking spring-loaded false teeth.

More than 160 years later, businesses are still trying to figure out how to stand out on the crowded trade-show circuit. Particularly in the B2B space, the trade show is a time-tested method of getting in front of your audience. Taking up space, though, doesn't guarantee ROI.

Marlo McCormick leads Branigan's experiential division and has coordinated hundreds of live events in her 14 years in event marketing. She shares some key insights that make the difference between success and failure.

•Many businesses have a love-hate relationship with trade shows. They are a big investment in terms of time and money. You don't have to be at every industry event, unless, of course, your business is highly segmented and that's where you need to be. Generally, we advise our clients to focus on one or two trade shows and do them well. By wisely allocating resources, you can budget more to create an experience and justify the expense of the real estate.

• Put your best foot forward — you will be measured against your competition. Be sure your messaging is consistent, from your booth design to promotional materials to real-time social media coverage. It's all about integrated marketing.

• Trade shows connect you directly with your target audience. Seize the opportunity to get a read on what your customers think about your product or service and your brand, and how they rate your company's customer service. Think of it as one big focus group. While you're there, conduct one, and share feedback with the rest of your team.

Better yet, maximize ROI by conducting custom event research and analysis (BC's Onsight program comes to mind) to understand how people are reacting to your booth, and, if necessary, adapt your presentation during the show itself.

• Don't be afraid to have fun at a trade show. Infuse creativity! You want your exhibit to be the most talked about on the show floor.

Memories are what people crave, and maybe they always have. Queen Victoria was so enamored with the World's Fair that she reportedly made more than 30 visits during the run of the event, often bringing her children. No word, though, on what she thought of the false teeth.