Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Promotion at Conventions: How to Stand Out in a Crowd of Thousands

The second I stepped into the Wizard World Chicago Comic Con, it was sensory overload. With hundreds of booths sporting thousands of items, there were – quite literally – millions of things to look at. It was easy to pass my eyes over the different vendors and not remember anything. Luckily, there were a bunch of creative people that found ways to draw attention to their products.

I’m sure that vendors at Chicago Comic Con make a decent amount of money during the weekend, but the biggest challenge they face is bringing clients to their booths. Sure, thousands of attendees pass by every hour, but if you can find a way to specifically draw them to your booth, you’re practically guaranteed a higher conversion rate.

Some vendors opted for employees walking around in sandwich boards, holding giant signs, or passing out flyers: attention-grabbing, but not enough to make me seek out their booth.

A $5 coupon got me to spend money

A $5 coupon got me to spend money

However, one comic book vendor, Tales of Wonder, actually included a coupon on their flyer. If you purchased merchandise before noon and presented the coupon, you received $5 off your purchase. Not only did Tales of Wonder draw clients to their booth, but they gave an incentive to do so. And with their giant selection, I’m sure that most customers purchased more than the $8 minimum to use the coupon. I know I did.

This isn’t to say that you’ll never make money from attendees that just wander past your booth. The problem is that one booth of comic books looks just like the booth of comic books next door. To entice customers to stay and browse your selection of products, you have to offer something that catches their eyes.

While wandering around the vendors or Artist Alley, there were two kinds of displays that caught my attention: a booth with products on tables and on large backdrops, or a booth with practically nothing. Every stand had something, so the contrast of LOTS to little to average really drew my attention. One artist only had three small piles of prints on his table. The minimalism caught my eye and I bought a print. A comic book vendor had a huge backdrop featuring prints of hand-drawn DC and Marvel superheroes. He purchased them from an artist in Artist Alley, and would tell his clients exactly how to get there – talk about cross-brand promotion!

Yet, even with coupons and flashy displays, promotional products are the best way to attract clients to your booth. Besides drawing people in with a sign that says “Free [fill in promotional product here]! Take one!” your clients will take a memento of your brand home with them.

Norton Symantec passed out hand fans which were perfect to battle the convention heat. Top Cow Productions gave me a bookmark – one of the few vendors and artists to do so – which seems like a no brainer for a convention started by and for comic book fans.

'Rock Jocks' pin

‘Rock Jocks’ pin

Right before their panel, the producer of the indie film Rock Jocks handed out custom buttons that featured actress Felicia Day. For a low budget film, they were smart to hone in on the biggest selling point and use that for their promotion. I saw dozens of them the next day and heard lots of people asking about them.

For all of you future tradeshow or convention vendors, I suggest these tips:

  • Offer an incentive to come visit your table. Have your employees pass out flyers with coupons or hand out a free sample.
  • Make your booth/table stand out. You’ll be sitting among some of your fiercest competitors, so highlight what makes you unique.
  • Promotional products are your friends! It might seem like a big investment now, but when attendees take them home and find your information later, you’ll see your sales soar.

If all else fails, just have a dancing storm trooper:

Ever have a creative promotion attract your attention at a tradeshow or convention? If not, what would? Isn’t that dancing storm trooper video impossible to stop watching?

Image credit to Maiden of Mischief.


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  1. Rachel

    You pulled some great takeaways from Comic Con; as you point out, they’re applicable to all kinds of trade shows or conventions (or craft shows, or student activity fairs at colleges/universities, or job fairs …). I was at a writers’ conference a few years ago where various small presses, literary journals, and other publications were trying to attract people to their booths, and I remember the tables with free stuff or drastically discounted products were the ones that caught my eye the most. Maybe that makes me cheap, but you’re right–free stuff attracts people! 🙂

    And hooray for the dancing stormtrooper!! He was the best. If every trade show had one of those, the world would be a better place.

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      There’s nothing wrong with wanting free stuff. I think as humans (or at least Americans) were programmed to respond with, “OOOOO FREE STUFF!!!”

      Also, if I hadn’t been taking notes for these blogs, I probably wouldn’t have remembered most of the vendors (sensory overload to the max). But, if they gave me something for free with their information on it, I’d definitely remember them.

      And I totally agree. Dancing stormtroopers are the best things ever.

  2. Joseph Giorgi

    I can imagine how difficult it must be for vendors to stand out or make any sort of impression at such a large event. I’ve never been to the Chicago Comic Con (an offense I hope to remedy next year), but I’ve been to other conventions of the type, and I’m always amazed at the effort that goes into running effective booths/exhibits/displays.

    Your tips for future vendors are totally solid! And you’re right: promo products definitely come in handy at these shows. I know I’d be more apt to visit a booth if there were free goodies to incentivize the visit. Awesome blog, Mandy! 😀

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Promo products are definitely the way to go. People were asking about the Rock Jocks buttons, so you could bet they would ask where someone got the sweet pen/magnet/etc.

      I’m probably going to go back next year (and maybe even go to C2E2), so I’m curious as to how the vendors will display their goods next year!

  3. Jen

    These are great tips that will benefit anyone selling to the public. Great post Mandy!
    You’re right about people loving free stuff. Even if it’s just a paper mustache or book mark. I know I want one! 🙂

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Thanks, Jen!

      They were out of paper mustaches when I went to Yeti Press’ booth. 🙁 I was bummed, but I can understand why – those were cool!

  4. amy

    Great tips Mandy, I think you’re 100% correct with people loving free swag. I’m much more willing to consider buying from someone if they’ve shown me that they care about my business. Even something as simple as a free stress reliever or magnet is enough to make me feel special and remember them 🙂

    P.s What’s with all the mustache-themed companies? I feel like I see them everywhere, what did I miss?? LOL

    • Jenna Markowski


    • Mandy Kilinskis

      They could give me a sticker and I would be more adamant about buying from them. Or sweet temporary tattoos that last 3 weeks (Brach’s, you know your temporary tattoos).

      Mustaches are cool.

  5. Amanda

    Great take aways from the convention Mandy! Free stuff is awesome for everyone…consumers love to have something they can use and the vendor is getting their name out there at a very low cost to them. So that is a super way to get people into your booth. I can see why you gave those vendors more of your attention.

    Dancing Storm Trooper, right, that’s funny–I get it! 😉

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      There is something about the word “free” that gets me to stop and look. Even if it isn’t something imprinted, any kind of giveaways will bring people to your booth!

      And I’m so glad that you get it now! 🙂

  6. Jill Tooley

    It sounds like other vendors could really take a hint from Tales of Wonder! They offered a killer coupon AND, because of their time restriction, lit a fire under people’s butts to actually get to their booth and buy something sooner rather than later. It worked on you, it probably worked on hundreds of others, and I promise that it would have worked on me as well. If tweaked with a different date/time restriction, this coupon could have drawn people to their booth each day of the con! Even the “I’m just looking but I’ll come back later, I promise” crowd may have bought something as a result…and that’s a tough nut to crack.

    What was the third coolest promo item you saw there (besides the Felicia pin and the mustaches)? Just curious.

    I enjoyed reading this post just as much as your last takeaway post about Chicago Comic Con. These tips apply to trade show vendors of all industries! 🙂

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Once you got to their booth, they had a ton of great deals – including 5 paperback trades for $25**. That plus the coupon ended up being $4 per trade. Trades of Wonder was so packed Sunday morning! Even worse than usual Comic Con packed.

      Third coolest promo item, in my opinion, was bookmarks. Bookmarks, as I said, just seem like no brainers for a convention where tons of people are buying comics or trades. And unlike the hand fans that are useful during a convention but fairly worthless after, the bookmarks are something that I took home and use frequently. There were lots of different styles, too, as I saw a couple vendors and artists passing them out.

      **I am fairly certain about this number, but it might have been 6 for $30. Either way, awesome.

  7. Brota

    I was a vendor and artist painting live at this event and by no means does every vendor make tons of money. Even Marvel, who was across from me said it was the worst convention they had ever been part of. They lost their ass in sales and said it wasn’t well organized this year. If Marvel is loosing money.. It can’t be all that good for other vendors. There were people walking around the whole weekend that had no clue there was another exhibit hall.
    First off ,its expensive to be part of this event. You get screwed in both directions. You have over priced tickets combined with $100 autographs, parking and the volunteers are not properly trained to answer simple questions. Such as, “where is William Shatner?” They don’t know. In fact I didn’t hear one of them even direct people where the main attractions were or even signs displayed that people could read. They only spotlight the “guests” on their websites which sucks for everyone else especially when they’re being paid to be there and your booth payment helps take care of that.
    Then you have patrons that have all been nickeled and dimed before they even get to you. Most are interested in $275 light sabers. Some will blatantly insult you to your face that your work is not worth what you typically can sell for 4-5x that amount without the overhead of being part of a false prestige.
    It’s become a comic flea market… and for how much money chicago claims to have, Midwesterners, in general, are cheap. Hate me if you want. I live here and every serious artist I’ve had this conversation with agrees. It’s not the best place for any kind of serious art. They want toys, patches, Dr. Who and celebrities.
    You have to make at least $2500 to break even usually at these events.

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