Best and Worst of the Photonics West 2016 Exhibition Floor

Posted by Sarah Campagna on Tue, Feb 23, 2016


According to my pedometer, I covered over 20,000 steps on the Photonics West trade show floor this week, and though that’s certainly not enough to see every booth, I felt pretty good about what I did see. There were some clear winners in my book this year—booths that were clearly a step ahead of their neighbors in creativity and lead generation effectiveness.


What Makes a Winner

Having Fun

A promotion with a playful edge can increase not only your overall lead count but your qualified lead count as well. Anything that causes a passerby to break stride and smile gives the sales team the second or two necessary to make eye contact and ask a lead-qualifying question.

My favorite this year was Quantum Composers, a laser and laser technology company out of Bozeman, MT that had a booth full of laser sharks, reminiscent of the 1997 classic Austin Powers. The Quantum team members I spoke to confirmed my suspicion that booth traffic had been stellar, with plenty of people coming by the see the sharks.



Doing Good

Brand building is an important part of tradeshow exhibitions, and building a brand among younger employees who have a healthy sense of skepticism is always a challenge. These employees are swiftly moving into decision making, buying positions, and a big trade show like Photonics West can be an excellent place to reach them.

The 2015 Millennial Impact Report found that 84% of employees between the ages of 20 and 36 made donations last year. Philanthropy is even more important to the younger generations that it was to their predecessors. It seems that SCHOTT North America, known for their shot glass giveaways, took this to heart, asking for a $1 donation to support Project Night Night in exchange for a SCHOTT glass. It was a brilliant move and certainly helped endear this big name brand with visitors of all ages walking the show. Kudos to SCHOTT. I hope to see even more programs like this next year.




Engaging Booth Visitors

No one feels welcome at a booth where staffers appear disinterested or are distracted by their cell phones. I’ll talk more about the dangers of texting-while-booth-staffing in a bit, but for now let’s highlight a company doing things right. I walked past the EOT Electro-Optics Technology booth in the South Hall and noticed right away that all three booth staffers were engaged with prospects. When one visitor walked away, the staff member got out a cloth to wipe down the display case. The booth staff was 100% on-point, engaging with visitors and keeping their booth spotless.



Targeting our Other Senses

Photonics West is a visually overwhelming experience. There is so much color and movement everywhere you turn that it can take something unique to get visitors’ attention. Though at least one exhibitor attempted to target visitors with the sound of a carnival style barker again this year, the winning booth in my opinion was Hamamatsu. This Japanese Photonics company employed a racecar simulation in their island booth to garner attention. The beauty of it was not the crowd surrounding the demo, complete with referees in stripped shirts, but rather the pleasant rev of the engine that was audible even one aisle over. It grabbed one’s attention without trying to drown out the sound of those speaking around you. It was effective and unobtrusive, an unmitigated winner in my book. I was even lucky enough to meet Jake, who was responsible for the display and congratulate him on his work.




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What Makes a Loser

Cell Phones

Though most exhibitors need to hop on their phones once in a while to check an email or a text coming in, I couldn’t possibly count the number of exhibitors who sat at their booth tables looking at their cell phones for extended periods of time. I even had one exhibitor completely ignore me as I looked over his products and picked up a business card. I paused for another minute or so, thinking he may look up but to no avail. I have refrained from posting photos to protect the guilty, but you know who you are. Next year, save your phone checks for breaks in the Exhibitor lounge. And unless you need one due to medical reasons or age, consider skipping the chair. As your visitors walk past, you should be ready to speak to them at eye level.

Messy Booths

While EOT kept their booth spotless, this could not be said for all exhibitors. Though it’s ok to have collateral and giveaways out on the counter, beware of the booth table that just attracts clutter. I spotted this table in the North Hall and wondered how a prospect would feel about sitting down to have a meeting there. Next year, keep a plastic bin behind your backdrop to hold water bottles, excess collateral, and office supplies.


Out of Touch Exhibitors 

SPIE has long been a supporter of diversity in optics, founding the SPIE Women in Optics in 1998. Though there continues to be a gender disparity in the STEM fields, more and more women are entering university in these subjects. So why in 2016 do we find a booth decorated entirely with 1950’s style drawings of women in sailor hats with their lips pursed as if blowing kisses at passersby? Kirge, Inc.’s booth is, in my opinion, not relevant to the product line or the exhibition. Though I don’t find their booth offensive, I find it antiquated and out of line with the values of the organization hosting the conference.

I know backdrops are expensive, but it is probably time to replace that set of banners. I think Kirge could find a better way to catch someone’s eye. The corporate logo includes a unicorn. How about four panels with unicorns sporting lasers strapped to their heads? They might give Quantum Composers’ laser sharks a run for their money.


Jury is Still Out

One gimmick at this year’s Photonics West caught me a bit off guard: Laser Components’ enormous, talking robot being wheeled around the corridors between the North and South Hall. Not only did the robot tell you his sponsor’s booth number, he also squirted water at you. He was distracting, fascinating, and pretty cool to look at. I just can’t decide if I like him or not, though I did jump out of the way in time to miss the water.



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Topics: Trade Show Strategy, Branding and Identity