Feature—Why You Need a Traffic Cop in Your Exhibit: Mastering Traffic Flow by Design
If you are planning an exhibit, you should seriously consider taking a page out of Apple’s book. The well-oiled Apple retail store machine includes a combination of courteous well-trained staff and a logical flow that delivers a rich experience. You are greeted as you enter and directed to an appropriate sales assistant within seconds. The best thing about the whole process is the seamless way in which this all happens.
Similarly, running a successful trade show exhibit involves space planning, comprehensive customer service training, a marketing strategy and a logical flow to your exhibit. Attendees should be “shown the way” as to the intention of your plan – it’s OK to be obvious and it’s not a bad thing if attendees opt out. Too many exhibits are jammed with tire-kicking time wasters. Removing attendees who are not willing to commit to an encounter clears the way for those who do. Use this approach and your attendees will get the full experience of your offering and your brand that you intended.
Start here to get there
While you may believe that the entry and exit points of your trade show booth are fairly obvious, the chaos that can develop when attendees start filing in can result in confusion. Your attendees should have no doubt as to where to enter and exit your exhibit – and it may be good to let them understand what kind of commitment they may be in for. You need to plan for at least two or more levels of interaction – the basics being those who want to engage for a surface contact and those who want a deep dive. You need to understand immediately who is who and where you are going to guide them.
Some basic considerations: Where is the front and back of the exhibit? Where will you direct traffic once an initial greeting and qualification has been made? Where will you demonstrate your offering? Where will congestion likely take place? Where are you placing storage and how much do you need? What really needs to be physically on the floor and what can be represented through photos or video? Are you using conference spaces and do they need to be closed?
These critical questions need to be considered when working with your internal stakeholders and your designer. All of the solutions need to be tested against flow. Otherwise you may create a beautiful space for your products, messaging and demonstrations but not for your attendees.
Take time to “act out”
In our experience, one of the biggest mistakes trade show exhibitors make is not planning for people and dwell time. You need to know how many people you can process in a given time period. Analyze a typical encounter by “acting out” an interaction and timing it. Include group encounters as you are likely to engage groups as well as individuals.
Where you place your staff is critical when planning initial contact with an attendee. You may only have a small space so staff positioning is essential for “processing” attendee needs. Always plan for more “people” space than you think you need. Every floor plan you produce should have people in it as well as properties— actual top views of bodies to scale, usually within a 2’ x 2’ space,—to know where choke points will occur and flow paths can be created. Build the scenarios and run the clock. Creating these studies will aid formulating a mathematical model of your show, its goals and its ROI.
Use graphics to lead the way!
You can use a selection of images and graphics to display your products and services but they can also direct traffic and specify functional areas. Without appearing rigid, position images and directions in a way that promotes a sensible and structured flow of traffic. Use images to control behavior by creating a storyboard expressing the sequence and the desired result. Such a sequence might be: Category introduction, product lines, products, features, benefits. Every graphic you display should logically lead on to the next, providing attendees with compelling reasons for moving forward in your chosen direction of travel.
Prepare your staff well in advance
Once you have decided exactly where you want to position booth staff, you will need to fully brief the team about their responsibilities and your expectations. Your staff will be the face of your organization, so they will need to understand the flow of the exhibit and their essential role as traffic cops. Everyone needs to know who is working the exhibit and why. This will provide seamless hand-offs from greeters who may be “generalists” to “experts” in specific areas. Do not begin to mount a trade show plan without knowing who is on the team or what roles team members need to play. I know this runs counter to most programs, but having a well-rehearsed team is the most important component to a successful show.
Manage the numbers
Of course, you want as many people as possible to see the exhibit, but controlling traffic also means controlling the interactions. In most cases, this can be achieved by greeting and qualifying visitors, identifying real opportunities, creating a natural flow of these qualified folks into the proper channels. Brief your exhibit greeters to delay people as may be necessary and feed them in a timely fashion. Their job is essential in holding the prospect for the expert encounter.
Trade shows are exceptional opportunities for showcasing your company. They may be the best face-to-face experiences in your marketing plan and have proven to be great investments – if done right. Controlling and maximizing the interactions are essential in providing you with a strong return and a memorable experience for your attendees.