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Exhibit and Commercialize That Crazy Idea With the right strategy and planning, expos like CES can help you drive interest in your business, get your geek on and push profits.

By Randy B. Hecht

Find more articles from this series here.

The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held each January in Las Vegas, is among the rock stars of the business circuit. Each year, CES introduces innovations and trends that you can mine for information about emerging business behaviors, practices and expectations. Exhibiting can put you in the company of attendees most likely to see the genius in your product and service brainstorms—no matter how far outside the CES mainstream they may be—and help you build the network necessary for market success.

Exhibitors outfit their booths at CES with all sorts of attention-getting electronic gizmos. As Jason Aramburu's experience shows, it's not just for gearheads. The founder and CEO of Edyn was looking for ways to attract attention to his smart gardening system, which includes a sensor, water valve and an app designed to help consumers garden more easily and successfully. With his space on the show floor, he highlighted a "mini-landscape" in a box.

That little patch of green installed within the booth helped the Edyn team hit pay dirt: they won attention, press and a CES Best of Innovations award in the "Tech for a Better World" category. Winning accolades in that category was especially meaningful in view of Aramburu's twin goals, "to use technology sensors to bring data to growing food," and to launch ventures that have "financial impact, but also social and environmental impact."

Keys to Boosting Your Presence

Hitting that level of performance requires a clear vision of what you expect from attendance and a strong plan for meeting those expectations. Exhibiting successfully is no small undertaking, and CES veterans advise that you begin by identifying and getting in touch with the contacts you need for your business in advance of the show. Your support network can include the CES Operations Team, which is available for assistance as you work your way through registration, planning and decisions about your exhibition space. There's also a show planning section of the website and an online Exhibitor Dashboard to keep you on track with logistics and deadlines.

When you're marketing a consumer electronics product or service that has international sales potential, exhibiting at CES can represent an enormous savings of travel time and expense because everyone you need to see will be at the show, says Shelly Palmer, managing director of Palmer Mass Media, an official CES tour partner. Equally important, he adds, is that attending will give you a "lens through which to view the immediate future and the relatively close future."

Aramburu decided to exhibit at CES after getting a positive response from a crowdfunding campaign that helped him assess levels of consumer interest in his product. Those crowdfunding supporters were predominantly early adopters and gardening enthusiasts, but "at CES, the focus is much more generalized: consumer electronics enthusiasts," he says. "We needed to know that our product would be interesting to that market and that we were ready to access that market. We also really had to train our team on how to highlight the benefits of Edyn to a market that might not be familiar with gardening."

Jason Aramburu, Founder and CEO of Edyn
Image credit: Edyn

Edyn's approach to CES strategy mirrors Palmer's advice to entrepreneurs and small-business owners who are preparing to exhibit for the first time. "You need to strike a very specific chord with the constituency you're going after," he says. "Being at CES is like having a business card on a wall of five million business cards. It's a good place to be, but it's only what you make of it."

Optimizing CES ROI

Keeping that in mind will help small exhibitors maximize the prospective return on their CES investment. "The value of CES for any individual company has more to do with their business plan and their business goals than it has to do with anything else," Palmer says. "Leverage CES for what it is. Get there with a plan. Get there with a decided understanding of what constituency you expect to attract, and then do your best to attract them."

Aramburu's team did that by positioning the company's products as aids to aspirational gardeners. The pitch was that if you've always thought of yourself as someone who would like to be a gardener, Edyn could help you get good at it sooner. "That seemed to be the most exciting to a lot of people, that by using our product, they could have very little experience and get going quickly."

Exhibiting also provided affirmation of the products' viability and market potential. "Coming out of CES, we really felt like we had the attention of the market, and we knew that we could carry the product beyond [a crowd funding campaign]," he adds. "That was really the biggest benefit for us." By identifying clear CES goals and creating a strategy for achieving them, small exhibitors can use the show to transform their companies from upstarts to up-and-coming consumer electronics contenders on the global stage.

Find more articles from this series here.

Randy B. Hecht covers finance, management and expansion topics, including cross-border commerce, to help small businesses optimize their long-term performance and market potential.

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