Freefall Display

When assessing the motley crew that visits an exhibition, it is not difficult to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Those weighed down with giveaways are probably only here for the beer; those struggling under forests of paper and looking intense are more likely to be visiting the show to learn about the subject and make contacts.

Recognising freeloaders is one thing, keeping them off your stand and attracting focused, relevant people is another. There are many ways to attract visitors to a stand. Special promotions and freebies may be one, but unless these are carefully chosen and integrated with the stand design and corporate image, exhibitors risk putting out all the wrong messages.

Promotional items should be used with care, if at all. Derek Lunt, director of 2LK Design, says: “If, through the stand’s design, you build an atmosphere that is warm, welcoming, and reflects brand values, you can overcome any problems that could arise with attracting the right people. Giveaways should be linked with the corporate branding. If they become the main feature, the stand is not doing its job.”

If the stand is designed as a whole, like a campaign, the after-effects can be just as long lasting. At the Networks Show in Birmingham, Intel wanted to monitor visitors, to compile a quality database. It also gave presentations using the Bunnymen characters who featured as part of the company’s TV advertising campaign, so passers-by would make immediate associations with Intel.

2LK designed the stand around a presentation theatre and gave all visitors a questionnaire related to the product demonstration. Those who filled in the cards received a Bunnyman. “We set our objectives and built the stand as a whole,” says Lunt. “And we achieved our goal. We collected between 2,000 and 3,000 cards for our mailing list, and the techies who participated derived cachet from the Bunnymen, because you cannot buy them.”

Infogrammes is a distributor of video and computer games and has, in the past, exhibited at European Computer Trade Show (ECTS), which has proved to be an excellent vehicle for promoting the company’s products. The fair has always been aggressively competitive but last year, exhibitors’ attempts to get visitors onto stands included graphics, semi-clad women, videos, complex and ostentatious stand designs, and loud music. The cacophony became an obstacle.

“The noise and distractions from surrounding exhibitors were all-enveloping,” says Stephen Hey. “It became difficult to show our products to trade and the press. We did not get a return on our investment.”

One element of Infogrammes presence went as planned, though: “At ECTS, we handed out one of the most useful giveaways to visitors at a trade show – robust carrier bags,” says Hey. “Everyone was walking around with ours.”

If giveaways are too tempting they will supersede the profile of the product they are supposed to be promoting, as Air Miles discovered. The company gave away 30,000 Air Miles at an Incentive World recently, and saw visitor numbers to the stand double from 440 to 880.

But it turned out people were more interested in the prize than the product. This is not altogether surprising. Air Miles was handing out one award of 10,000 miles, three of 5,000 and a further five of 1,000. When you consider that just 1,000 miles would buy two flights to Paris, Jersey or Brussels, it becomes clear why the promotion overtook its objectives.

“Although we doubled the number of visitors, only 40 per cent of leads merited following up, and 20 per cent of those were conversions,” says Chris Simpson, head of client marketing for Air Miles. One of the points on the visitor question naire, asked whether they were only interested in the competition, and many people were honest enough to say yes.

“Exhibitions are part of our trade marketing strategy. But there is serious competition to attract the attention of the key decision makers who visit a show,” says Simpson. “And you have to monitor the quality of visitors. If the standard is det eriorating, you have to decide whether that is because the show is going downhill, or whether you are not attracting the right decision makers.

“Probably only four out of ten people who came to the stand were of marketing manager level or above. Many were account executives from agencies, but today’s executives are tomorrow’s directors – you have to weigh these things up.”

Simpson says exhibitors should decide which sector of business they are interested in and the number of staff whose time they want to invest in the exhibition. “This year we are writing to key prospects and inviting them to the stand. It is more efficient for the sales team to meet them together than it is to make separate appointments,” says Simpson.

Perceived company image and strong branding are two of the greatest draws at an exhibition and can be created effectively by a campaign leading up to a show.

Companies invest huge sums of money to ensure they come across as more distinctive and sophisticated than their rivals. All organisations are sensitive to their competitors, especially at a trade fair, when rubbing shoulders in a confined space.

A good example of this is Hitachi’s stand at CeBit in Hanover. The company wanted to do something different. It chose a closed environment and visitors, who were chosen from the company’s database, received an invitation prior to the event.

Visitors had to present their card to get onto the stand and were asked a number of questions in advance of the presentation. They were then taken to a multimedia display, before enjoying hospitality and being subjected to one-to-one interviews.

Although Hitachi had fewer visitors that year (1996) than previously, they were more accurately targeted, and the company got better value out of CeBit than it had any previous year.

“The mailing campaign started six months before the event,” says Geoff Searle, business development manager for Hitachi. “Companies are putting more thought into pre-event briefing; multimedia is increasingly used to enhance lead generation, and corporates are now looking at ways to enhance how information is acquired from clients and what is done with it. A business card attached to a form is no longer enough.

“Attending exhibitions is a serious investment and companies want to capitalise on that,” he says.

Printing machinery manufacturer Heidelberg has difficulties keeping visitors off its stand at IPEX because it is market leader. The company’s sales team distributes invitations to the stand to larger customers, to inform them what new equipment is on show. Sales director George Clarke says: “If there is nothing new on the stand, it will not draw people in. We have vast presses running and use music to introduce presentations, so that visitors know what is happening.

“At the last show, we had a web offset press running up to 75,000 copies an hour,” says Clarke. It had to be assembled, with pipe work, at our local plant, tested, disassembled and reassembled at the exhibition. Seating around the demonstration area was limited: “There is nothing worse than a half-empty theatre,” says Clarke. Heidelberg had an elevation over the stand, holding 250 seats for entertaining.

Curiously, no one mentioned perfectly formed but flimsily dressed young ladies as a possible way of getting visitors onto a stand, once a popular draw. Clarke says: “We stud- iously avoid scantily clad young ladies. We have to take our customers more seriously than that.” But that did not stop an offshoot company of Heidelberg using fleshy temptations: pole dancers dressed in gold – product of a golden age, these days.

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