For exhibit and event professionals  

Small Exhibit, Small Impact?

August 1, 2011 By Caroline Meyers, Editor eConnections

Plan for a big impact no matter what size your exhibit space!
by Rob Murphy, MC² Chief Marketing Officer

Bigger exhibits — larger than 50 by 50 — can have definite advantages over those with smaller dimensions. Often, they have more opportunities to deliver an experience, create a perceptual change and have the space to conduct business.

But not having a large exhibit or large budget doesn’t have to limit how effective your exhibit is. Smaller displays can deliver like the big spenders — if you utilize some of the factors that influence exhibit design and attendees and use them to your advantage.

Make the space work for you

The factors that affect real success on the show floor are multifaceted. But in general, you would have to put a high priority on brand awareness and its consistency in your program. If nothing else, people need to recognize your presence. When visitors come into your space, they should walk into your company’s world and culture. This is not difficult to assess. Simply stand back and ask, “Is this us? Is this our brand guide come to life in 3-D space?” Think Apple stores. Think McDonald’s. Think W Hotels. You know where you are instantly. Exhibitors need to work to make that connection. If your branding is ill-defined in a physical space, now is the time to clarify it and set some parameters.

Second, you must communicate your company’s product/benefit. When designing your exhibit — especially for a show where the competition is omnipresent, you must articulate your benefit, such as price, consistency or innovation. This is essential — especially when your brand is not universally known. Consider reflecting the benefit in your exhibit’s design. For example, if you’re selling high-tech, follow through by reflecting that in the design. On the other hand, if price is your main benefit, you may want to limit the exclusive treatments or expensive materials, and you may need more selling space or closed conference rooms. Whatever your attractor is, make sure the design accommodates and reflects the lure and potential market reaction.

Use every inch wisely

To determine how to increase your exhibit’s functionality and impact, first, you must understand your company’s goals. Why are you going to the trade show? What results are you aiming for? Who makes up your target audience? How many visitors do you plan on processing per hour? How will you isolate them? What do you need to show? You need to address all these issues and more because they affect design through space allocation, graphic dimensions, number of products, demonstration space, reception space, multipurpose functionality, meeting space and more.

People space, and the amount you allot for it in your exhibit, is extremely important and often overlooked. You must always imagine the space functioning while packed with people. Many exhibitors often don’t leave enough room for people because they need to meet the demands of their internal clients who want to bring more than needed. Everyone at the company probably has a long list of things they want to show, and that creeps into the most essential space in the exhibit — where the attendee resides. Start with designing space for visitors and then start portioning out space for your internal clients.

Instead of displaying hard products, consider representing them with graphics, video, online models or physical mock-ups. This is especially smart in small exhibits — under 20 by 20 — where you may be challenged to fit your staff, let alone visitors. Many times a representation can convey more than the real thing. You should always consider how to represent your offering in the most telegraphic way. Trade show attendees usually don’t invest time in drilling down on data. You may only have a few seconds of their time, so make the best effort to simplify and sharpen.

Keep in mind that an important part of the reason for going to the show isn’t just meeting new people but maintaining the clients you have, meeting them, assuring them they should continue doing business with you. This consideration will affect your exhibit design too. Where will you speak with your VIP clients? How will you make them feel special? You need an area where you can talk to them privately. Or you can avoid the space issue by giving them something special, such as an off-site suite, golf outing or special dinner.

Ergonomic issues are next. Make your area compact and comfortable but not so comfy that people don’t want to leave. Design fixtures that are easy to interact with. Avoid sharp edges where people come in contact, and make sure areas are properly lit. Lighting can make any exhibit come alive for very little money. Never let your staff sit in the guest seats! And speaking of staff, don’t waste space by bringing too many people or the wrong people. Invite only those who really know what they’re doing in qualifying, engaging and disengaging your visitors.

It is a rare exhibit that isn’t challenged by storage. When designing, you need to make storage a first priority — not an afterthought as is the usual case. When considering storage, I usually suggest doubling what you think you need. There are always things that don’t make your storage list, let alone the three people on your staff who are leaving for the airport and have dragged their luggage into the booth.

Make your exhibit easy for visitors to find — and stay for a while

On a busy show floor, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. The correct graphics can help solve that problem. Plan for a graphic system that follows a logical sequence. For instance, if you have a high header, use it for visitors to find you! Do not use it for some tag line or obscure promotion. Secondary to this space is where you should put your message, your selling proposition or your corporate tag line. Then, identify important elements and put them in the order in which you want visitors to see them. Prioritize by creating a list and ranking items in importance. This list will dictate prominence. Logically, you want to drill down to your product or service and to feature benefit details.

Don’t ignore lighting to lure in visitors and keep them in your space. Lighting is the affordable magic that can happen in your exhibit. It delivers the wow factor, the theatrical quality, even if your product or service isn’t exactly a “wow.” And it allows you to put emphasis where it’s needed. Well-planned, controlled lighting makes things pop and directs visitors’ eyes where you want them to focus.

To set a special tone for your exhibit, you may consider using music. It’s subliminal, it can create a vibe of your choice, and you can use it to put visitors in a better mood, make them feel at home or get them excited about being in your space. Just be considerate to your neighbors and make sure you don’t have to shout over it.

Smells and odors can help with this too. They set up a sensory openness you can manipulate. Casinos have already discovered the power of these. For example, when you enter Mandalay Bay, you encounter that spicy smell. It works perfectly with the decor. Go to a different casino, and you’ll find another scent, one more associated with its theme.

Interactive electronics serve a number of purposes. With them, visitors see the breadth of your offerings, reducing the number of items you need to display. And they can enjoy or learn from them on their own or if they’re hosted. Plus, they can keep visitors occupied while the people in your booth are busy elsewhere. These are great vehicles for teaching, gaining attendee information, running contests and polling opinions.

For the greatest benefit, use your electronics wisely, as the primary vehicles for telling your company’s story as opposed to just demonstrating technical data. We’re all attuned to being entertained visually, so people will engage if you tell a good story. Leave visitors with a lasting impression. It’s your opportunity to prove you’re part of a great company with thoughtful, smart, innovative people, and not just the maker of the world’s fastest electric toothbrush.

Don’t let the size of your exhibit limit your expectations. Remember these factors when beginning a new design or altering an existing one. Big impact can sometimes be accomplished with a number of small adjustments.


About the Author

Rob Murphy is the chief marketing officer of MC2, a nationally recognized leader in the exhibit and event marketing industry. He has been a vital member of the MC2 team since the company’s inception in 1999. Rob is located in the Chestnut Ridge, NY corporate headquarters of MC2, where he directs all marketing efforts for the company, including the Exhibitor FastTrak seminar program and new sales initiatives.

For more information, visit www.mc-2.com or check out the new blog, MC2Talks, at http://MC2Talks.mc-2.com/. Follow MC2 on Twitter @MC2_Exhibits and @MC2_FastTrak and fan MC2 on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MC2Exhibits.


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