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Putting on a show

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Oz Optics served traditional Turkish ice cream at its booth at Laser Munich

Jessica Rowbury reviews how exhibitors made an impact at Laser World of Photonics in a bid to stand out from competition

When it comes to attracting potential customers at trade shows, it’s not just the size of the booth that counts. With marketing a more important tool than ever to help firms stand out in competitive markets, the strategies for drawing people in at events are becoming more innovative and unique.

At the Laser World of Photonics exhibition in June, Europe’s largest photonics trade show, these ideas were out in full force. From booths that mimicked a chic city bar, to competitions and giveaways, the ways in which companies made their mark was diverse.  

One attraction used by two companies, which created huge queues at both booths, was serving ice cream. Oz Optics, a global supplier of fibre optic products, test equipment and sensors, served Maras ice cream, which originates from Turkey. 

‘Due to its sticky and thick consistency, it is renowned for the games you can play with unsuspecting customers. The vendor makes the customers work for their treat by teasing them with twists and turns of the cones. There are also bells that they ring exuberantly as they pass the cone over,’ said Yesim Sezerman, Oz Optics’ marketing and regional sales manager. 

Laseroptik, which produces high-power optics and coatings, also served ice cream, but to demonstrate how easy it is for customers to configure their laser optics online. The Laseroptik Online Portal (LOOP) has more than 1,200 coatings, 9,000 substrate materials – with a choice of 21,000 coating designs. The vibrant red ice cream truck named its flavours after coating types and nearby posters likened the simplicity of building an ice cream – choosing a flavour and a cone – to configuring optics using its online tool. 

Laseroptik served ice cream to demonstrate how easy it is for customers to configure their laser optics online

Hamamatsu took a slower approach with food, using it less as a means to attract new customers but catch up with existing ones. ‘For us, trade fairs mean more than just generating leads. We always invite our customers to visit us and take the opportunity to discuss current projects with them. In order to be able to do this a bit detached from the normal trade fair atmosphere on a stand, we invite them to a delicious meal,’ said Alexander Kirst, project coordinator,  marketing at Hamamatsu. 

Both Oz Optics and Hamamatsu incorporated elements of their heritage in their booth designs – Hamamatsu decorated its booth with Japanese plants and served authentic food, and Oz Optics’s Turkish ice cream and blue and yellow company colours representing founder Ömür Sezerman’s favourite Turkish football team, Fenerbahçe. 

Hamamatsu decorated its booth with Japanese plants and served authentic food

Incorporating elements of identity is important for attracting skilled workers, according to Avantes founder Benno Oderkerk. With talent acquisition remaining a challenge in the photonics industry, it’s not just customers that companies are hoping to attract at events. ‘Attracting skilled personnel – particularly fresh graduates – means having the right branding and story, which creates a corporate identity that’s unique and therefore stands out,’ he said during a recruitment panel discussion at EPIC’s annual meeting earlier this year. ‘We see this as very important for attracting young people.’

While Avantes definitely has an interesting history – the company was formed by just two people building spectrometers in a shed – it’s thanks to clever marketing that the story is now well known and thought of fondly by those in industry. 

Another way of attracting young people is through photography. Cobolt, a developer of CW and Q-switched lasers, has included a selfie wall within its booth design at events. Featuring the striking black-and-white image of a zebra pattern to represent how ‘coherence matters’, the wall attracted young groups taking pictures in front of the pattern – which, after years of consistent advertising, is now synonymous with the brand.   

In addition to attractions that drive traffic to the booth, the design should complement the experience for visitors once they arrive, and ensure they want to stay, said Hamamatsu’s Kirst. 

‘The booth should look good and should not act as a deterrent or even a delimiter. We have had very positive experiences with an open and inviting booth, preferably with demo applications of the products.’ 

Kerry Herbert, marketing co-ordinator at Zemax, added: ‘Zemax provides everything you would need to design optical systems, and the booth design needed to reflect this,’ she said. ‘However, we wanted to provide a booth space to support each optical, mechanical and optomechanical engineer.’ 

Features such as a welcome desk near the from of the stand to welcome visitors, a demonstration area to guide visitors through its product portfolio, and a private area for discussions helped the company achieve this. 

Marketing on a small budget

With companies in the photonics industry ranging from two-person start-ups to billion-Euro entities, budgets can vary hugely. However, with some thought and planning marketing can still be successful with fewer resources, noted said Oz Optics’ Sezerman. 

‘Social media is a start-up’s best friend,’ Sezerman said. ‘It is free and you can get direct and real time feedback from the source.’

Many trade fair organisers help companies by offering platforms and various channels for advertising, added Kirst at Hamamatsu, which helps start-ups address their target groups relatively quickly and easily.

‘In addition, we have found that potential customers in our sector need to be convinced above all by the content and the advantages of the respective products. In contrast to other industries, the appearance or design is less important. Most potential customers are interested in the product and what it is capable of. This should be the focus of your marketing activities.’  

Careful thought and planning should also be put into deciding which events are worth spending resources. ‘Choose your event wisely, so you can maximise your return on investment (ROI).  You should base your event selection on which shows your customers, suppliers, and competitors are exhibiting at,’ Sezerman remarked. 

Zemax’s Herbert added: ‘Our team will work a year ahead to determine what events make sense for our customers, business strategy and budge. Sometimes this will mean less trade shows and more user conferences hosted by Zemax, while other times we will prioritise a larger quantity of small trade show stands to maximise our visibility in the industry.

‘The marketing team must work in lock step with the revenue teams goals, and when you don’t have a large budget you must make a plan and stick to it.’ EO