E•Connections

For exhibit and event professionals  

Measurement and the Trade Show Exhibit — From Business Card to iPad

April 13, 2015 By Editor

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by Eric Swartwood, Global Data Capture

This article, in two parts, traces the evolution of trade show lead capture from the business card to audience response systems. And along the way, author Eric Swartwood considers the pros and cons of old time and futuristic capture technologies which affect the measurement success of a trade show program.

PART 1: Stone Age Lead Capture

Approximately 20 years ago when I was an exhibit manager for a major exhibit house, it was my responsibility to target measurable goals for all new and existing exhibit designs. This seemed pretty straight forward with the main task being to design the ultimate (product or service) selling space within the exhibit space given.

Exhibit Goals from those Early Days

In those days, exhibit managers sketched out rough goals to track exhibit success.

  • Attract Customers. Design our booth to attract people from anywhere on the show floor.
  • Have a Giveaway or Activity. This year’s free offer or stunt needs to pack our booth and the aisles with people who are purchasers or influencers of the products and services we are selling.
  • Manage Traffic Flow, Design the space so that it encourages potential customers to enter deeper into the booth for engagement with our company representatives.
  • Choose Staffers. Bring in the best and brightest company or product representatives we can to deliver our message.

Then the endless hours were spent in what seems like the never-ending details of a successful exhibit—planning, building, managing, and executing at the show.

Measurement Means to an End

But going back in reality less than a decade, you have to ask what really defined success within an exhibit? Large crowds picking up the giveaways? The number of giveaways actually given out? Anecdotal evidence from booth sales staff? Without a detailed lead retrieval platform to qualify and measure all activity in the booth, exhibit managers could only guess at the level of success achieved. Their guesses in response to those four stated goals might be…

Attract Customers. “Our booth design is recognized as brilliant and wins best in show for most innovative product display and exhibit design.”

Giveaway or Activity. “We shipped fifteen cases of the stuff and it was gone. The free hot yoga lessons appeared a huge hit with lines of attendees in the booth.”

Traffic flow. “The product stations in the booth seemed inviting and were always staffed by a company representative and they never appeared overwhelmed.”

Sales engagement and number of leads. “Booth looked packed and the sales people seemed to be always be talking to someone. We had a lot of leads—Wait! Where have those paper leads got to? I hope the sales manager took them when he left the booth…”

The Inevitable Call

My exhibit and marketing manager colleagues and I called it “the inevitable call.” The call would come from a very familiar but slightly shaken sounding person on the phone who would start the conversation as you have normally so many times before only to rush to the inevitable question: “Did you happen to take the leads at the end of the show?”

Why was this call inevitable and predictable? Because what happened was the lead person dismantling the booth would find this wad of rolled up, disheveled, obviously-not-very-important-to-anyone papers stashed away in the reception counter. This wad, if the exhibit manager were lucky, would then get put in the job box. That job box would eventually make it back to the shop and sit until the next time it was opened.

Well, I think you get my point. It took a pretty long time from the end of the show for this wad of paper to make it to the exhibit manager's desk. (We sometimes would actually gamble to see how long it would take for the inevitable call to come.) I have seen and experienced this call firsthand many times from years of working in the trade show industry.

It used to perplex me that after countless hours of planning, stressing and physically exhausting themselves, exhibit managers were informed that the only tangible measurement vehicle—the paper leads—were missing. All that planning and executing flawlessly on-site seemed to offer nothing in return.

After several years of extensive travel as an exhibit manager for an East coast exhibit house, and as an account executive at a prominent AV rental house, I found myself a VP of a west coast digital marketing solutions company. Having seen seen the industry from many different angles, I finally came to the conclusion there was no one in particular to blame that the leads from tradeshows and conventions were not being treated as a high priority. It was simply the fault of the technology available at the time.

How was technology at fault?

The first lead retrieval systems were nothing more than a fish bowl for dropping in business cards. After many years of this useless system came the basic lead retrieval systems that were proprietary to exhibition registration companies. These usually consisted of a large piece of bulky hardware that would simply scan a code on a badge that had the attendee's basic information encoded into it. No additional information was being captured other than attendee’s basic information (assuming it was entered correctly at registration). This large machine would then print out a paper copy of the record which looked like a cash register receipt. This initial technology was a definite advancement over the fish bowl, but it was still just paper. And as paper, it would have to be manually entered into some type of spreadsheet to make the data useful to any type of sales management system.

This initial scanning technology evolved into versions that would save the data to a USB stick that you could easily put in your pocket at show close. This provided data in a much more usable digital format. This digital format removed the once laborious task of typing from business cards or paper lead information.

But it did not solve the “inevitable call” problem. Now it was the USB stick which did not make it back from the show (and was even harder to find in the job box than that wad of paper ever was).

Capture Technology Enters the 21st Century

Today there are a variety of show badge codes and attendee capture opportunities—QR code, Barcode, Magnetic Stripe, RFID, and email. With the evolution of cloud registration databases, the “inevitable call” problem was solved once and for all.


Eric Swartwood [eswartwood@globaldatacapture.com ] is the CEO Global Data Capture [ www.globaldatacapture.com ], a full service information, technology and interactive content company specializing in lead capture solutions, ARS, RFID, and custom touch interactives that all seamlessly integrate with Outlook, Salseforce.com, Marketo, Eloqua, or any custom application. Eric has had the opportunity to experience a broad range of positions in the tradeshow industry and is looking forward to learning new things every day.

Coming in next month's eConnections: Part 2 of Measurement and the Trade Show Exhibit — From Business Card to iPad: “Space” Age Lead Capture Technology








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