As an indie game developer I have to booth a lot. For those who don’t know, ‘boothing’ is when you show your products or services at a public setting such as a fair or convention. It can be very strenuous to booth, and often it is a large monetary investment. So I have compiled a few tips for would be boothers to help them make the most of the experience. The following tips are based on my time boothing as a game dev, but are general enough that they apply to any type of boothing.
1. Stand up and engage people
As much as we wish that the products spoke for themselves, unless you have a well known brand or product, the first thing people notice about your booth is you. If you look bored and uninterested, people are less likely to be interested in what you have to show. If you look like you are more interested in your phone than in talking to customers, they will not want to talk to you. Stand up, make eye contact, smile. Be available. You are most likely at this convention to spread the word about your product, and connect with this crowd, so make the effort to do so.
Talking to people is the easiest way to get them into your booth and turn them from a passerby into a customer. One of my main worries when I started boothing was being too pushy. I know I get uncomfortable when people just randomly walk up to me trying to sell me stuff. And a lot of the time people I try to approach don’t want to talk to me. But I have found a method that seems to work really well for the comfort of everyone involved.
Kersti’s Perfect Approach
Watch the people in front of your booth. If anyone stops and looks at your booth for any significant amount of time (depends on your product and the venue), that is your target. Approach and say:
“Just let me know if you have any questions.”
If they do not immediately respond with a conversation starter, retreat back, and wait for them to either approach you, or leave. This simple statement can work wonders. Unlike a direct “Do you have any questions?” this statement does not require or expect a response. It also gives people a very easy way to not engage with you if it makes them uncomfortable or they have no desire. However, it also lets people know that you are there and ready to engage with them if they want to. It is a conversation starter for people who may otherwise be too shy to approach you on their own. It also makes the person think about your booth, inviting a thoughtful response and making people wonder and think if they DO, in fact, have a question.
When they turn to leave, that is your last chance.
If they are already leaving, you have nothing to loose. There is no need to be too pushy, because most likely they have already made up their mind. However, if you have some sort of special offer that they may not have been aware of, make sure you let them know before they leave. Every so often, they come back.
When we are boothing, we try to make sure we talk to people after they have finished playing one of the demos so they do not just put down the controller and walk away. We thank them for playing the demo, ask them what they thought, and tell them about the free posters, and the fact that we are selling the game at the booth. Rarely does anyone who was about to walk away then come back to buy the game, but several upon hearing about the free posters will stay long enough to get a poster. Its not much, but it is a better interaction for us than if we had just let them walk away.
2. Take booth set-up seriously
Don’t just show up with the bare minimum a half hour before the show is supposed to start. There is no better formula for a bad boothing experience.
Set Up Early
If you have the option, set up the day before. If not, do a practice booth. Make sure you have everything you will need. When we are boothing for work, we always run into something that we are missing. One of the controllers doesn’t work, we forgot a power plug, we grabbed the WRONG power plug, one of the TVs doesn’t work, we don’t have a long enough power cord, the venue didn’t provide as many tables as we were expecting. The list goes on and on. All of these hazards and more can be avoided by simply setting up early.
Especially if your both relies on factors such as lighting, or even the speed of the internet, it is important to visit the venue prior and see/experience your space so that you can make any last minute adjustments to your display accordingly.
You don’t have to be a big corporation to have a kick-ass looking booth. Bringing some simple themed items from home and having a little creativity can go a long way to making your booth look more exciting. Even just buying some frames, and printing out a little info sheet to put in the frame can look very nice. A simple table cover or roll up rug can immediately distinguish your booth from others.
If you have the money, and plan on going to more than one convention, I highly suggest investing in a large format roll up sign. The vertical standing ones are fantastic because you can use them anywhere, but even a hanging banner will be extremely useful in most venues.
When you have decorated your booth, walk down the aisle from various directions. See what the customers will see. Adjust your booth to give yourself the best possible visibility.
The booth space is about the customers, not about you.
This may be of varying importance depending on the type of venue you are at, and the amount of crowds that you have. When conventions are crowded, people are less likely to ‘mosey’ and peruse because they are stuck in a herd of people going one direction. You don’t want people to get dragged or pushed passed your booth by crowds. Make it easy for them to stop and experience your booth. Provide a space and area for them to ‘come into’ the booth, and out of the aisle or line.
One of the worst booth set ups is to use all of the space for yourself, the boother, and have a table separating you from the customers in the aisle. The booth space should be about the customer and the customer’s experience. Push your table back away from the front, or if at all possible, get rid of the table all together. Use your chairs for customers to sit in your booth, not for yourself. Not only will this entice people in to the booth, it will make them more willing to stay. Another good way to entice people into the booth is with strategic placement of swag.
3. Get Some Swag
‘Swag’ is what we refer to as free give away items at conventions. They are meant to entice people into the booth, and to take a piece of advertising home with them. The most common types of swag are paper based such as business cards, postcards, stickers, or posters. But other common types include pens, pins, magnets, and even coasters. No mater what it is, free things attract people. The best swag, in my opinion, is useful in some capacity, like stickers, pens, and t-shirts. People can keep and use those even if they have no interest in your product.
Have your swag work for you
The trick is in making sure that you can use that ‘attraction’ of swag to your greatest benefit. Swag can be expensive to produce, especially when you are just handing it out for free. And the cheapest, paper based swag is easily thrown out and forgotten, defeating the purpose of being a home based advertisement. However, you can make any type of swag work for you by adding a small barrier of entry. Have your customer do something small for you in order to obtain the swag.
For example, Serenity Forge has a newsletter, a Facebook, and a Twitter. Social media is the way that we inform people of our products and the developments of those products. When we are boothing, we have a large sign that says ‘Ask us about our FREE POSTERS!’. We then have two framed posters on the table next to the sign. When we are asked, we tell people that if they ‘like’ us on Facebook or Twitter, or sign-up for our newsletter, they can get a free poster. Most people who ask, do tend to do one of the three. We have 3 different posters, and some people sign-up for all three just to get all three posters. This is a very simple action that the customer can do that helps us to build our online community. It also ensures that we are not wasting our poster resources on people who will just go home and throw the posters away. We are giving them to people who are willing to take the time to support us, and are more likely to continue to support us.
4. Be prepared, stay supplied
Especially if you are boothing alone, or with a small number of people, staying supplied is very important. You are most likely going to be there for several hours. Make sure you have enough food and water to keep you energetic and happy. Conventions are a great place to pick up a sickness, so bring hand sanitizer, or Emergen-C if you are prone to sickness.
Screens, clear plastic and glass can call get smudged, especially if reachable by small children. Bring baby wipes or screen cloths to make sure you can keep everything looking clean.
We have found duct tape, zip ties, sharpies, and sticky notes to be of infinite unexpected usefulness while we are boothing. Duct tape can take care of any tripping hazards. It can also help keep display items prone to getting knocked over in place. We use a lot of controllers, and taping the wires to the backs of the tables keeps people from accidentally pulling out or bending the part of the plug that connects to the computer.
Sharpies and sticky notes can be used as ad-hock display augmentations. They are great for adjusting prices on the fly, or pinning little notices such as ‘free posters!’ to the bottom of the TVs you are demoing on.
It sucks to have something critical to your display break midway through the day. It is even worse when you have nothing with which to replace it. Always bring extras of things that might potentially break or run out. We always bring extra controllers, as well as more business cards than we could possibly need.
5. Use your free time wisely
Even when there are no potential customers walking around, don’t just sit and twiddle your thumbs. There are plenty of things you can still do to make this boothing experience work for you. Some simple examples are tidying your booth, or replacing display items that have been moved or taken by customers.
The most beneficial thing you can do on your down time is to talk to your fellow boothers. Being at the same convention and same area, they probably have a lot in common with you. They can be a great potential contact. Not to mention, being on good terms with your fellow boothers can sometimes be a life saver when you are missing something for your display.
And when all else fails, engage with your booth as if you are a customer. People are more likely to be interested in a booth that other people are interested in. By engaging with your booth as a customer, you are giving the illusion that your booth is busy and has interest. If you are demoing a game, play it. If you are selling something wearable, try it on, model it in a mirror. Don’t necessarily pretend to be a customer, but give the impression that you are interested in your own product.
If nothing else, remember that boothing is not about you, its about the customer. You have to make it easy for customers to engage with you and your product if you want to have a good show. The customers will not just come to you, no matter how good your product is. This is an opportunity for you to connect with your audience, so take advantage! Hopefully these tips will help you get the most out of your boothing experience. Good luck, and happy boothing!