For exhibit and event professionals  

Maintaining Brand Consistency at Trade Shows

January 4, 2012 By Caroline Meyers, Editor eConnections

Four tips for creating a clear identity on the show floor
by Rob Murphy, Chief Marketing Officer, MC2

Brand marketers invest a significant amount of time and effort to establish a brand identity. They think about how their brand will be perceived by customers, the image being portrayed and what the business stands for. The resulting brand identity is built upon with every decision made and every product or service launched.

A company’s overall communications strategy also plays a key role in reinforcing brand identity to customers and prospects. For many, this means logos, brochures, an online presence, public relations, advertising or packaging. But what about how a brand is portrayed at trade shows? Think about it. How often have you been to a trade show, seen an exhibitor and wondered: What exactly does this company do? What is this company trying to communicate to me?

Unfortunately, you’re not alone. After more than 20 years working in the trade show industry, I’ve seen that the disconnect often stems from companies treating trade shows as individual events instead of integrating them into an overarching brand communications strategy. But the sheer power of trade shows to cost-effectively connect with hundreds — even thousands — of customers and prospects makes them an important avenue to showcase a brand.

Simply taking the time to strategize before embarking on any trade show program — and, in particular, exhibit design — is the most effective approach. Here are four tips you can use to effectively maintain brand consistency at your next trade show:

1.    Lead with your brand.

Having a professional, engaging exhibit is essential, but even more important is making sure it’s in alignment with your company’s strategy and priorities. Go back to those key attributes that define your brand. Is your company eco-conscious? Innovative? Dependable? Make your company’s key attribute the primary inspiration for your exhibit design. Let’s take eco-consciousness as an example, which at its core is about conserving resources and minimizing waste. The booth design should reflect this, perhaps by using lightweight, eco-friendly materials such as recyclable aluminum or energy-efficient LED lighting, which can reduce energy use by up to 90 percent. Using earth-friendly materials like cotton for graphics, or video or transfer drives in lieu of printed marketing materials, are other easy-to-implement options.

2.    Get all key stakeholders involved early and communicate clearly.

Engage your exhibit partner’s people well in advance of the show to discuss overall strategy, and let them help you formulate the best way to let your brand shine. Be open about the key messages you want to convey, and discuss ways they can be brought to life. Strategy meetings should include advertising and public relations stakeholders to ensure that messages remain consistent across all communication vehicles.

3.    Identify desired goals.

An essential part of any strategy discussion is identifying the ultimate goal for your company at a trade show. Are you looking to reinforce your company’s image? Launch a new identity or product? The answer will impact your exhibit design, including overall structure, traffic flow and graphics, and how your brand is perceived by attendees. For example, if the main goal is to educate attendees about your brand, the exhibit should include demo areas, product samples and perhaps a theater for presentations. If the focus is closing sales for a product, include an enclosed conference room for private conversations.

4.    Use effective messaging.

There’s a lot of competition at trade shows, and many companies think creating an exhibit that gets passers-by to say “Wow!” is the ticket to generating traffic. While you certainly want your exhibit to have a visual impact, it’s critical to make sure that your brand doesn’t get diluted in the process. Instead, focus on creating clear, concise messages that support your brand’s attributes and will resonate with the target audience. Also, don’t just focus on the technical features of a new product. Make it clear how those features resolve a key business issue for attendees. Here’s the bottom line: When it comes to exhibit design, looks are important, but using the booth to clearly communicate the business value your company’s products or services bring to the table is what will turn prospects into new customers. The reality is that while you may think a booth is all about your company, it’s really about the audience you’re trying to reach. 

The most successful brands are those that maintain a clear identity; offer powerful, compelling experiences; and deliver the right message to the right person. Taking steps to strategize and build consistency across all communications channels, including a presence at trade shows, will go a long way toward building the credibility and awareness needed to drive your business.

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.

Editor’s note: This article and others upcoming in this series will soon be available on the Marketing Profs website.


  • I always found that a useful item to have at a trade show is a pop up banner. It allows you to present yourself quickly and efficiently without seeming like you are forcing yourself on other. I found that South Cheshire Print offered the best balance of quality and price.

  • This article is right on the mark. It always amazes me to see established brands that choose not to carry their branding through to the trade show floor. Or to see brands that speak to a trade audience with consumer materials and messages. To be successful, a trade show presence must adhere to marketing “rules” and guidelines. This takes thought and planning the same way a consumer advertising or promotion plan does.

  • Exhibit managers must not only be on top of the myriad of exhibit details but also police brand communication. Much of the brand message needs to come through the exhibit design itself. Then everything else from collateral, to pre-show emails to giveaways provides support. It’s helpful to have a third party, like an exhibit house which specializes in exhibit branding, to maintain that continuity.

  • The idea of treating a trade show as a small part of an overall promotion of your brand, is a very good one indeed. Maintaining consistency about who you are and what you do is something every company or brand should be doing.

  • This was great! It seems like there are always people at tradeshows that really let their brand down by not being prepared and establishing a clear identity before coming to their trade show. It’s not only hard to watch, but sad to watch since the event was intended to promote their product and can instead really end up being a waste of time and a terrible expense for the company.

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