Think Outside the Booth: Trade Show Guiding Principals

A guide to showing off at your next trade event

After a couple years creating content in the “unprecedented times”, it’s pretty surreal and exciting to be writing about an IRL conference! In particular, we’re talking Lift&Co., a trade show that offers cannabis brands the rare opportunity to speak (somewhat) freely about their product to potential consumers and collaborators. 

The thing about our line of work is that it’s impossible to turn off the creative, production and strategic parts of your brain. Not long into walking the aisles of the conference, we sat and collected our thoughts: what was working and why? What was getting lost in the noise? 

Read on for our guide to showing off at a trade show, complete with our five favourite booths at Toronto Lift&Co. Expo.

Think outside the booth: guiding principles


We’ll get into the nitty gritty of what we liked and why, but some common themes came up in our discussion of the conference. Here are some quick wins for standing out at a cannabis trade show. 

Create an oasis

The trade show experience isn’t exactly comfortable. Lighting, flooring, natural materials and plants can help manufacture a coziness that makes people gravitate towards your booth. 

Clarify the experience

People are a little rusty at socializing and navigating crowds. If they have to hover at your booth waiting to be attended to, you might lose them. Have a place for them to go, something for them to look at, and something for them to do with their hands while they wait. 

Streamline your message

Remember: your brand collateral will be supported by a real life human being and print materials. You don’t need to communicate every last proof point of your brand right out of the gate. Doing so lands your booth into science fair aesthetic territory and overwhelms the audience. Decide your objective (brand awareness? networking?) and support this with clear messaging and visual identity.
 

Consider your sight lines

Focus your brand efforts above people’s eye line, and take into account your positioning on the floor. Will your assets be visible when people are visiting your booth? Unless you’re on a corner, branding on the front of tables will go largely unseen, for example. 

Staff with heart

The people working your booth are the real brand assets. Even the simplest booth can shine when supported by people who know what they’re talking about, and are nice to talk to. Spend the time getting people up to speed so they feel comfortable with the material and happy to be in attendance. 

Without further ado, here are some of our favourite booths, and how they made the most out of their trade show footprint. 

dutchie

  • The Booth
    This big-budget activation took you through an art deco hotel lobby, with curvy lines and natural wooden finishes. The theme lends itself to a concierge desk where it’s clear you can talk to somebody about dutchie. 
  • The Brand
    This booth effectively brought a sub-brand to life that existed harmoniously with the dutchie brand. Without having to say it outright, the environment evokes “Come see what 5-star service looks like”. 
  • Free Stuff
    Hotel “guests” were given hotel slippers, definitely a higher cost per unit, stand-out item. Notably, these were only handed over once contact info was exchanged. Budget permitting, it may be that lower volume,  higher value swag tied to a specific audience action is better aligned with your business objectives.
  • Bonus Points!
    Staff were easy to find and easy to talk to. Interactions had a nice pace and didn’t feel pressured or sales-y.

Canna & My Fungi

  • The Booth
    The Canna/My Fungi booth occupied one of the largest footprints at the expo, but did so in a way that felt elegant and not at all overwhelming. String lights, wooden finishes and overhead features gave the feeling of shelter, almost like you were on an intimate outdoor patio. 

    There were spaces to sit, places to stand, and even a button to press if you would like to grab the attention of one of the staff. Sure, not every brand has the green to take up this amount of space, but not everyone would have used it so wisely either.
  • The Brand
    What stood out to us was the negative space utilized by the brands (again, maybe a function of having space to spare). The turquoise hero colour was prominent throughout to unify the booth, but every surface wasn’t taken as an opportunity for text convincing their audience. On the buzzy tradeshow floor, this felt like a breath of fresh air.
  • Free Stuff
    Notably, business cards at the Canna booth were printed on plantable paper, meaning that you were taking home future-basil, along with their contact information. On a day where people are collecting loads of cards, this made their card memorable and on-brand, as Canna is a gardening and grow company.
  • Bonus Points!
    The staff we spoke to alerted us to a talk they were hosting later on in the afternoon. This is a great way to capture return visitors.

Iivy

  • The Booth
    Iivy’s booth demonstrated how simple, intentional choices can make your booth shine even on a small, budget-friendly footprint. Many brands positioned a table at the very front of their space, placing a literal barrier between them and their audience, and leaving people in the traffic of the event if they wanted to stop and talk.

    Iivy made use of a smaller table and product cases on the perimeter of the booth so that you could really drop in and learn more. Products were prominently displayed so you could get your hands on them and understand what makes them special.
  • The Brand
    A clean flat lay of Iivy’s cannabis accessories stood upright behind the booth on a stretched, backlit canvas. This simple feature very literally highlighted their best assets and drew people in.
  • Free Stuff
    Branded stash bags were a nice change of pace from the flurry of rolling papers on offer, and as a plus, provided somewhere to store all the other bits of swag you might have collected throughout the day.
  • Bonus Points!
    A QR code-entry swag pack giveaway made it easy for attendees to enter, and easy for Iivy to collect potential new leads and customers.

Indiva

  • The Booth
    Positioned on a corner and the end of a row, Indiva made exceptionally good use of their sightlines and real estate. Their X-shaped installation provided a distinct brand experience within each “alcove”, and made for easy, inviting spaces to stop and chat. Pillars and shelves with print material and samples were tastefully scattered throughout.
  • The Brand
    Indiva focused on their edibles portfolio, including some tasty graphics from BOLD LIP’s very own. The clean, larger hero pieces definitely stood out in contrast to the many green, text-heavy assets at the event.
  • Free Stuff
    Each brand had items to give away, but our favourites were the unmedicated Pearls gummies. We thought their website might be exaggerating when they described them as “pillowy orbs”. They were spot on.
  • Bonus Points!
    Overhead signage made the booth easy to locate. Understanding that not every booth will have the budget or space to make that a reality, it’s still worth considering how you can use vertical space to be found above the somewhat mazelike tradeshow floor.

Boveda

  • The Booth
    Though large, this booth didn’t necessarily win us over with bells and whistles. They made their value apparent, made their space approachable and had lots of happy, helpful staff to do the rest. A hero backdrop was supported by a few bar tables and stools, as well as cases containing additional products and print materials. The vibe was open, inviting and conversational.
  • The Brand
    The seafoam and brown branding did just enough to catch our attention amongst the other brands. Their backdrop featured their product imagery and brand colours overlaid with just a few key benefits and product images. There’s a certain confidence to letting the brand speak for itself (with the help of your staff, of course).
  • Free Stuff
    We pocketed our fair share of Boveda packs. You can never have too many.
  • Bonus Points!
    Prototypes of future packaging innovations were on display in the booth, giving real insight into the product innovation going forward.


Show off your best assets

No hard feelings if you weren’t featured this time around! Trade shows are hard: you have a thousand other things to do, and lead times on vendors and materials are longer and more tangled than ever.


That’s where we come in. Send us an email at hello@boldlip.ca so we can help you spend your trade budget more happily and effectively.