You're right. Immediately after a trade show, countless product brochures become trash-can liners, as attendees lighten their loads before their flights home. And that's exactly why many exhibitors have switched to electronic product catalogs. Indeed, digital brochures certainly eliminate print-production costs, and they decrease weight-based shipping and drayage fees; plus, electronic communication is the medium of choice for some attendees.
However, printed magazines and books still exist for a reason: Not everyone favors digital data. Some people simply prefer the tactile experience of holding a piece of paper while others like to jot down notes in a catalog or add sticky notes to important pages. Plus, booth visitors often enjoy sharing their trade show treasures with colleagues without having to fire up a tablet or squint at tiny images on a smartphone.
So paper still has its place. But there are two reasons why it's gotten a bad rap: 1) unqualified distribution, and 2) a lack of creative vision. Here are some ways to deal with both of these problems.
Luckily, the first issue is fairly easy to solve. Just as you likely shouldn't hand out high-value tchotchkes to every person that wanders by your booth, you need not offer everyone a glossy, premium-paper brochure either. In both cases, you need to qualify potential recipients before you decide what, if anything, to distribute to them. Now that's not to say that every attendee has to be an A lead before you fork over a folder. But a certain level of interest or buying intent should be present before a booth visitor gets a hold of your literature.
Store your brochures out of sight in your booth and set up some distribution parameters for the staff. For example, instruct staffers that they can only give out your brochure after they've spent a minimum of five minutes talking with an attendee, they've assessed that this person has a high level of interest, buying power, and immediate intent (or whatever qualifiers you choose), and/or the person has specifically asked for literature.
Also consider creating two types of handouts. For less-qualified booth browsers, you might place several low-cost one-sheet options in plain view in your booth. Then you could position glossy, multipage pamphlets in a concealed location and only distribute them to qualified attendees with high purchasing authority and interest levels.
So the first key to using literature effectively in your exhibit is to pair its distribution with attendee qualification. The second, then, is to hand out something worth keeping. You need to give attendees a reason, over and above product information, to hang onto your handout – because most people can, and should, get detailed product information online.
That reason, then, usually has little to do with the content of the handout and more to do with its delivery medium. Here's where your creative vision comes into play. Rather than handing out a traditional product sheet or brochure, ask yourself: How else could we distribute the same information in a memorable or at least nontraditional manner? To get your wheels turning, here are some options that will rarely go straight to the inside of a dumpster.
Shapes and Textures – Traditional literature is printed on flat sheets of paper with square corners. Simply changing the shape of the piece or the texture of the paper can help it stand out. For example, if your company offers cloud-computing services, create a brochure shaped like a cloud and make the cover out of a soft cotton-like material. Or, for your one-sheet handout featuring sale prices, design a red, sales-tag-shaped piece, perhaps even with a hole at the top and a string tied through it. And what if the cover of your brochure was actually a piece of sandpaper? This texture could tie into messages about product durability or how your company smoothes out attendees' problems. Bottom line, to give your literature staying power, think beyond the strict confines of stock paper and square shapes.
Pop-ups – This technique is often found in greeting cards. When you open such a card, a 3-D image or word "pops" off the card interior. Why not create a product handout or a couple of pages of your brochure that pop off the page and surprise and delight recipients? Or if you want to get fancy, add one of those musical greeting-card chips, but load it with product messages instead of tunes.
Multifolds and Interactives – Most brochures have a linear progression from the front of the literature to the back. But what if your handout folded accordion style or maybe like a travel map? Or what if you gave attendees a flat piece of paper that when folded according to directions created an origami crane covered with product information? Some companies also offer slide-show-like books with a tab on the side. When the tab is pulled out almost like a tape measure, additional pages emerge from inside a hidden flap. While attendees may have seen these techniques before, they've rarely seen them used in conjunction with trade show exhibits.
Scratch-Offs and Pull Tabs – You don't need a gaming license to hit it big with pull tabs and scratch-off cards. In their simplest form, these items can be branded with your company's information, and attendees can scratch or pull to reveal product info or messages. But what if you integrated the concept into a large brochure or handout? For example, you could place a small scratch-off square on the front cover of a large brochure. Then, text could instruct people to scratch off the square after the show and to visit your company's website to see if they'd won a prize, such as a percentage discount on their next purchase, an electronic component, or even a high-dollar giveaway such as a motorcycle. This tactic could help ensure that most of your handouts stay with attendees long after the show has closed – or at least until they can scratch off the square to see if they've won.
Nontraditional Objects – If you want to take your literature even farther outside of the box, consider printing your product info on unexpected items, such as paint cans (the labels can be easily custom printed and applied), Chinese takeout and pizza boxes (you can print the flat boxes and then fold them into their unique shapes at the show), etc. Or, create a handout that looks like an everyday item. For example, design product pamphlets that look like airline-ticket jackets, menus, movie tickets, cash-register receipts, etc.
So as you can see, traditional trade show literature doesn't have to be traditional at all. If you devise a handout that stands out amid the stacks, and you develop a distribution system based on lead quality, you can greatly decrease the chances of it landing in a landfill – and increase the probability of it taking up long-term residence on attendees' desks.
— Dan McAdams, vice president of marketing and sales, McAdams Graphics Inc., Oak Creek, WI