Trade Show Strategy: The Best and Worst of SPIE Optics + Photonics 2016

Posted by Sarah Campagna on Fri, Sep 09, 2016

Optics + Photonics is a well-executed conference set in the beautiful city of San Diego. The weeklong event is known for its technical presentations and proclivity for attracting R&D enthusiasts. It’s also known for lead generation, not in volume but in quality of leads.

Traffic on the exhibition show floor on Tuesday was phenomenal—aisles so thick with attendees that at times it was hard to make it to the next booth. If you were working a booth that day you could easily forget that this wasn’t Photonics West.

By Wednesday, however, traffic had slowed to a crawl on many aisles, as attendees skipped the city for the beautiful beaches of the California coast or caught early flights home. Though some booth reps were frustrated by the lack of visitors, others were relieved that they could enjoy more in-depth conversations with their prospects or even slip out of their booths to visit with a customer in another aisle.

While the show overall was a success, we did see some of the poor trade show behaviors we caution our clients against. Though I took some photos of these offenders, our goal is never to embarrass someone, but to remind others that your behavior will impact your success at the show and down the road.

Here are our best and worst takeaways from this year’s O+P exhibition:


The Best


1. Friendly Booth Staff

With an engaging demonstration of vibration isolator equipment, Minus K Technology’s display involved a quickly wobbling table, wine glasses, and plastic hula dancers. The booth staff was friendly and smiled at everyone who walked past. Their first question as I approached the booth was a qualifying one and though I was not in the market for a vibration isolation system, Steve was kind enough to explain his products and let me snap a photo. In addition, Minus K is giving back to the industry by donating $20,000 worth of patented vibration isolators to colleges within the United States.




2. Useful Industry Resources

Always a solid choice for an investment of advertising dollars, Laser Focus World has introduced an upcoming resource called the Optical Engineering Exchange. It has three inter-related pieces: a special section of  their website dedicated to optical engineering, a moderated community forum where the optics community can discuss specific design challenges and tips, and new supplements of Laser Focus World magazine dedicated to “how to” articles.

The Exchange generated some serious buzz on the show floor as well as on the after-hour Catamaran cruise hosted by Laser Focus World. Though this resource won’t officially launch until October, we’re excited about its potential as an inbound marketing outlet, a place where technical professionals can share their research and insights.

LFW_Cruise_-_edit_web.jpg  LFW_OEX_-_edit_web.jpg


3. Job Seekers

Optics + Photonics was the perfect occasion for prospective optics employees to seek new opportunities. On Tuesday and Wednesday the job fair ran from 10-5 with 17 potential employers set up at one end of the exhibition hall. On Wednesday, this was the most crowded part of the show. Professionals of all ages explored possibilities for career growth in the world of optics and photonics. Ball Aerospace, Magic Leap, and Oculus were some of the companies recruiting for positions in optical engineering, military optics, and software development. The event was excellently organized and executed by SPIE’s Lacey Barnett. Luckily I was able to find Lacey and let her know how impressed I was.



4. Bold Colors

A perennial favorite, Raytheon once again led the pack in clean, bold, streamlined booth design. Their booth had sharp white walls with eye-catching pops of red, a flat-screen TV, and concise messaging—not to mention the blue plastic weaponry available to demo their amazing 1-4X gun sights. One employee handled the sights demo while a second conducted a demo on mirror types and asked qualifying questions. This booth was well designed and well staffed.



5. Super Cool Product Demos

Not everyone is able to easily demo their product at a show, but the team at Photonic Cleaning Technologies does so with endless enthusiasm. Featuring a lens cleaning solution that leaves optics atomically clean, this booth saw a steady stream of traffic throughout the show. Maybe SPIE should charge more for the booth next door.



The Worst


1. Working the Booth on Thursday

One negative aspect of the show was the grumbling coming from booths as tumbleweed replaced conference attendees on Thursday’s exhibition floor. With only 4 hours of open floor time, there were more than a few people wondering if SPIE will simply drop the last day next year.


2. Cell Phone Use

Cell phone use should be limited to breaks and (maybe) very quiet times on the floor. For the most part, there is no excuse for ignoring the show audience in favor of your glowing screen. I walked past one booth at least four times on Wednesday (it’s a small show) and three of the four times the single employee in the booth was sitting down in a chair in the back of the booth staring at a cell phone—not glancing, not quickly scanning an email, but immersed and oblivious to the dozens of khaki-wearing engineers and product managers walking past.


3. Chatty Booth Buddies

Getting to know your booth neighbors at a trade show can lead to joint research ventures, future sales, or at least a friendly face at the next SPIE event. However, chatting with your booth neighbor and ignoring show attendees who stop to look at your booth or literature is poor show etiquette. I stopped twice to speak with a booth rep who obviously noticed my presence but could not stop his conversation long enough to say hello. (Really, I am not making this up!) I saw at least two other attendees stop and be ignored as well, so I know it wasn’t just because I was carrying a camera.


4. Employees Who Don’t Know About Lead Qualification

I noticed a couple of booths with especially interesting displays (one might say gimmicks) meant to draw in a great deal of booth traffic. This is a completely viable approach to handling one’s tradeshow marketing. As a geek myself, I’m a big proponent of Star Wars droids in booths. In fact, I saw this technique used effectively at Photonics West.

At Optics + Photonics however, one booth had such an elaborate game that the staff member spent all of his time explaining the game and never asked the users playing what they did or what kind of products they use. (You know who you are and if I’ve misinterpreted your booth strategy, please feel free to correct me and I will publish your response as well as an apology. Trade show marketing is a complicated task that can be misunderstood even by seasoned professionals.)


5. Understaffed Booths

Another booth had an eye-catching demonstration of metrology equipment that involved candy (yum!); I stopped to look and compliment their only staff member on the demo. I’m pretty sure I could hear the eye roll as he said that it was great except that everybody stopped to look at it. A booth setup like that requires at least two bodies in the booth—one to pull people in and ask qualifying questions like “Do you use spectrometers?” and one to engage the qualified leads with the demo.


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Topics: Trade Show Strategy