Most people go to SPI to see the latest and greatest solar products. As a solar marketing pro, I go to see the latest and greatest in solar event marketing trends. How are people grabbing people’s attention? What are people doing at their booths? Are booths bigger? Smaller? More interactive?

I gained a lot of insights from what I observed this year. Here are a few thoughts:

Booths: Perhaps size doesn’t matter any more, but location does?

Reflecting the overall industry consolidation—especially in the solar PV panel world—there were fewer exhibitors at SPI 2013 and smaller booths. At previous SPIs, you had to go big, big, big, perhaps to show how successful you are. Giant two story mega-booths were common in 2012, complete with little private meeting rooms and a cappuccino bar. Not so much in 2013.

For the most part, even the big solar PV panel and inverter players kept their booths to one level, and square footage footprints were significantly reduced, as well.

Overall, I think that’s a good move. It shouldn’t be the size of your booth that counts, but what you do with it and how your people interact with attendees. (More about this later.)

The other odd thing I noticed was that competitors seemed to be keeping their distance from each other, spread across the entire floor. That may be due to shuffles from exhibitor cancellations or by choice. If by choice, I think that’s a bad move from the attendee perspective. People want to see all their product options in one area. From a marketing perspective, competitive products and their booths should be able to stand out from each other, even if they’re side by side. Next year, I hope SPI returns to grouping exhibitors in specific product areas.

To Get a Crowd, Demo that Solar Product.

In past SPIs, I’ve seen magic shows and fashion shows, and while these can draw a crowd, they generally said nothing about the actual solar product.

Attendees don’t come to the exhibit floor for card tricks or to gawk at booth babes. These are distractions. They come to see what’s new and to get useful product information, and perhaps cement relationships with vendors.

Instead of magic shows, I’m happy to see that SPI 2013 had plenty of presentations and demonstration at the booths. In fact, I saw a lot more booths that were designed to have seating areas for classes/presentations about new products. Judging by booth crowds, that seemed to be an effective strategy. As I always say, “Stand out and educate.”



There were also some companies that put on a full how-to show. Most notable to me was The RAQ racking product from Sader Power (pictured above). At first glance, you might think they were stacking their booth with models in hard hats. In fact, these women were real solar installers who kept installing and uninstalling Sader’s racking product throughout the show. They were also able to answer in-depth questions about the product and take orders. Nice.

Beer, Bananas, and Oysters

I remember past SPIs where I had my choice of cappuccino bars and beer gardens. I think I saw one cappuccino bar this year, and that’s a shame. Food and drink–especially good food or drink—is social. Sure, some people grab and go, but many stop and have a conversation, and that’s where your sales people should be prepared to engage with those choosing to rest at your booth.

Aside from the quality beer, pretzels, and coffee that’s always served by Schletter, I saw some unique editions to the food offerings this year. Kaco New Energy offered homemade cupcakes with their blue logo as icing. On the healthier side, Astronergy was enticing passers-by with perfectly ripe bananas—very popular, I’m told.

And then there was Andy Black from Ongrid Solar, who stopped me and offered a live, hand-shucked oyster. Delicious, but I did miss the Mignonette sauce.  I would have stopped to talk to him, but he was already talking with a client.

For my marketing mind, delicious food and drink are a great way to be a host for the weary solar conventioneer. Allow them to eat, drink, sit and engage in a friendly conversation with your booth staff.

Press Kits? What Press Kits?

There were 600 hundred exhibitors this year, and each was entitled to send over press kits to the press room where the attending reporters can see the new announcements. Yet the press kit table was nearly empty. Ther may have been about a dozen press kits in all.

I’m not sure if this was a missed opportunity or a sign of the technical solar marketing times. That is, news is delivered most often through email these days, so is it necessary or redundant to kill trees or purchase thumb drives? I’m not sure.

In some ways, better safe than sorry. You can always collect the thumb drives at the end of the show and replace old news with new news for the next convention.  On the other hand, if you’ve done your due PR diligence with the published press list, then perhaps the show press kit is a dinosaur.

Oh, and if you are going to give a press kit, no CDs please. In the next year or two, most laptops won’t have CD drives. Use thumb drives or paper.

Next week, we’ll talk about an UnThinking solar marketing strategy from Yingli. Until then… UnThink Solar.

Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” is a solar marketing and communications consultant and the author of Solar Fred’s Guide to Solar Guerrilla Marketing. Sign up for the Solar Fred Marketing Newsletter, or contact him through UnThink Solar. You can also follow @SolarFred on Twitter.