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Trade Show Booths and Duct Tape

January 7th, 2009 · 12 Comments · Trade Show Marketing

So what do trade show booths and a roll of duct tape have to do with each other? Probably not what you think. If you’re thinking that you should have a trade show booth that you can repair like MacGyver, that’s not what this post is about. And actually, you should have a trade show booth that is well designed and built so that you don’t have to repair or fix it, either with bubble gum, paperclips, or duct tape (at this point I am reminded of the old saying, “if you can’t fix it with duct tape, you probably just haven’t used enough duct tape”, but back to the post).

What trade show booths and duct tape have in common is that an effective trade show booth should be able to pass the duct tape test. And no, the duct tape test do NOT mean that you can fix or repair the trade show booth with duct tape. What the duct tape test means is that you need an effective trade show display design that is clear and speaks for itself. Your design needs to say who you are, what you do, and how you can help your potential prospect. In a nutshell, the trade show booth duct tape test is to image yourself at your trade show, standing in your trade show booth, with a piece of duct tape over your mouth


Now that you’re standing there in your trade show booth with duct tape over your mouth, when people walk by (and you can’t ask them questions or invite them into your booth, or explain what your company does), will your booth design do this for you? Will your trade show display design stop people, and let them know who you are, what you do, and how you can help them? I know you’re probably thinking that people will stop to ask you why you’ve got duct tape on your mouth, but I think you get the point.

The duct tape test actually applies to a lot of marketing material in addition to trade show booths, and includes brochures, mailers, and yes, even and especially blogs. Your trade show booth design (and other marketing materials) should speak for themselves and communicate what you need them to communicate. You shouldn’t need to or rely on “explaining” what the design means. It cracks me up when somebody asks me to review a postal mailer design and then when I don’t “get it” proceeds to tell me what the design is supposed to mean. Unfortunately, they won’t be at my mailbox to “explain” the mailer when I get it. The duct tape test means plain and simple that your design needs to speak for itself, and thatΒ effective trade show booths aren’t really effective if they can’t pass the test.

So now that you know what trade show booths and duct tape have in common, and what the duct tape test is, my question to you is…

Does your blog pass the duct tape test?

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12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 cardiogirl // Jan 7, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Well done! I think my blog falls down a tad on the duct tape test.

    If I were allowed to gesticulate wildly while gagged, I might be able to pass.

    Most of the time I observe the world over at my blog but occasionally I write about exercising and chick stuff.

    I think my marketing efforts need a little work.

  • 2 The Trade Show Guru // Jan 7, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    hi cardiogirl,
    Thanks for stopping by again! I think it all depends on who your target market is. A big mistake I see on blogs is “inside jokes.” They are fine if your target market is insiders, but not if you are trying to reach a general market. Sometimes I will ask a blogger what their blog tagline means, and they will explain it is an “inside joke.” Unfortunately, 99% of their potential readers see that as one of the first things when they get to the blog and go “Huh?” ~ Steve

  • 3 RT Cunningham // Jan 7, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Speaking of duct tape, you probably haven’t read what I wrote about duct tape wallets. Hint, click the link you guru guy.

  • 4 The Trade Show Guru // Jan 7, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    hey RT,
    For those readers that may not get what you are saying above, I will restate it. If you want to know more about duct tape and where it came from, and how to make a duct tape wallet, you may want to read this post that the Master of the Philippines wrote back in 2007. There… how’s that? πŸ˜‰ ~ Steve

  • 5 Tim // Jan 7, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Very good article as usual.
    I tagged along on a lot of craft / art shows when I was younger, as my mother was a full time painter. Some of the booths were run by people less than qualified. I’ve seen lots of displays that were held together with tape πŸ™‚
    As far as my blog goes, it is loaded with insider jokes and obscure references to the non-existent. In my case, I like it that way. Part of the point of it for me personally is to get those comments from people who obviously don’t ‘get it’. Maybe I just enjoy quietly chuckling at other people’s expense.
    I just described a lot of Canadians right there πŸ™‚

  • 6 The Trade Show Guru // Jan 7, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    hey Tim,
    Wow, I am blessed… comments from the Master and the King both in the same day, and on the same post!
    Again, it all depends on your target market and your purpose as to whether or not to use inside jokes (the reference I just made to the Master and the King is an example of an inside joke). I think you’re fine on your blog, and they can’t be too “inside” since I think I get most of them, well, at least some of them… but maybe I’ve got some Canadian blood in me somewhere… πŸ™‚
    Thanks as always for stopping by, and try to stay warm up there! ~ Steve

  • 7 Natural // Jan 10, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    never heard of the duct tape test, surprisingly, but it does make sense to me.

    my blog doesn’t pass any test. i don’t know what it is, can’t define it or explain it. i just know that’s it’s mine and i post on it.

  • 8 Kathy // Jan 11, 2009 at 7:12 am

    I don’t know that my blog design, specifically my logo, speaks to anything or communicates what my blog is about. Maybe slightly, in that I designed the words “The Junk Drawer” with random letters and cobbled them together, kind of how things just get thrown in a junk drawer willy-nilly.

    The logo says nothing about the fact that I run a humor blog, but I do love the logo, especially since I took all but one of the pictures of the letters myself. For me, it’s got a personal touch, but I don’t know if it says that to my readers.

    Happy with her logo Kathy

  • 9 The Trade Show Guru // Jan 11, 2009 at 10:55 am

    @Natural (aka Valerie),
    I made up the term “duct tape test”, but I’m glad it makes sense to you. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked the question, “Does your blog pass it.” Often blogs are for someone’s own personal pleasure, and it doesn’t matter if someone else “gets it”, but if a company spends thousands of dollars at a trade show to promote their product to the people there, then their trade show booths had better pass the “duct tape test!” BTW, I think your blog is just fine, which is why I visit it regularly! ~ Steve

    I think your blog name is perfect, and so is your blog. Thanks for sharing the story behind your logo. Another example of how much work you put into your blog (like responding to all your commenters πŸ™‚ ).
    ~ a-fan-of-the-Junk-Drawer-blog Steve

  • 10 Will // Jan 12, 2009 at 1:24 am

    Great post Steve! I don’t know if my blog passes the test! What do you think? Maybe I will do a poll.

    When I first saw the title of this post, I did think about repairs. Duct tape is amazing stuff. At work we drive these old John Deere Gators around all day. Some are VERY old and the mechanic has actually used quite a bit of duct tape on some to keep them going!

  • 11 The Trade Show Guru // Jan 12, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Hi Will,
    I would say that based on the name of your blog alone (Healthy Living) that, yes, it passes the “duct tape test.”
    I keep a few rolls of duct tape out in the garage. It is magical stuff, and I can’t imagine civilization without it. πŸ™‚ ~ Steve

  • 12 Tim, the Duct Tape Guy // Mar 20, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    We work a LOT of trade shows and are constantly approached by exhibitors to garner duct tape to hold their booths together. For god’s sake – PACK A ROLL or TWO in your tradeshow toolbox. You WILL need it – for something.
    And, if you want the ultimate booth draw, don’t depend on bikini-clad babes, captivate your audience with the Duct Tape Guys customizing a show for YOUR booth. If it worked for Dupont at the International Plastics Show – it will work for you!

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