Getting yourself noticed

Standing out from the crowd at an exhibition isn’t always a positive thing. Stands must be noticed for the right reasons, and not just because they are the biggest or flashiest attraction at an event. By Sarah Rayner

What kind of exhibition visitor are you? Do you coolly appraise the brochure, then purposefully make your way round the stands you consider to be the most relevant? Are you easily lured by the biggest or most eye-catching displays? Or do you browse the entire show, viewing exhibits from a comfortable distance, refraining from getting drawn into conversation?

“There are two types of consumer,” says RPM creative director Neil Hooper. “There are ‘browsers’ and ‘active participants’. The browser will view from afar, the active participant will probe for information and interact to receive it.”

Of course, individuals may fall into different categories at different times, depending on their reasons for attending. For a visitor with a raft of potential new business contacts at an exhibition, for instance, it’s an ideal opportunity to network, so he or she is likely to participate actively in the show. Whereas someone attending a show of rival businesses to get a sense of what their competition is up to is likely to be far more comfortable just browsing.

Putting the message across

Given such varied audiences, how should an exhibitor design a stand to attract the right audience? Jamie Zavoral-Brown, national sales manager at exhibition stand manufacturer Nimlok, believes it’s vital to focus on objectives for the show before deciding on the layout. Exhibitors should ask themselves why they are exhibiting and what message they are trying to convey. It’s also important to understand the profile of attendees and their objectives in order to meet their needs. Finally, exhibitors should consider the environment.

Zavoral-Brown explains: “If you are launching a new product then your focus will be on demonstration and display. Whereas if the purpose of exhibiting is to build your brand, then clear graphics with educated stand staff delivering your message are key. If your main objective is brand recognition, then placing the name on a revolving banner over the stand with backlighting would work.

“But the focus of the graphics on your stand needn’t necessarily be your name or the product or service you are displaying. The ‘show-stopper’ graphic can be anything you choose, but it should be unique and hold the visitors’ attention for those crucial few seconds when they walk past.”

But one visitor’s show-stopper may be another’s turn-off. It could be argued that representatives from big corporations are more likely to be attracted to other big players, for instance, but what can act as a magnet to them could repel those from smaller companies.

Think small for success

Derry Green, exhibitions account manager at creative agency FPP, points out: “Big is not always beautiful. Clients often book the largest stand they can afford thinking this will give them more impact. With little budget left for fittings, the stand is sparse in content and has large intimidating spaces where visitors can feel vulnerable. It is better to book a smaller area with a great idea and quality content than a large empty stand with no impact.”

Size doesn’t matter

Hooper agrees that size isn’t everything. He says: “A medium-sized stand of, say, 6 sq m, is often effective. It’s not too large to overpower or too small to drift into the back alleys of the exhibition hall.” But he emphasises there should be no barriers to consumers. “Access should be from as many sides as possible, and when a product needs to be sampled, then access to aisle traffic is essential. Distribution should serve straight into the consumer’s hands, not over fancy furniture.”

All this would seem to suggest that there’s little room for radicalism. So can designs that don’t conform to expectations work? “People attend exhibitions to be entertained as well as informed, and stands can be extremely effective in attracting attention,” says Green.

But Green warns: “While building a stand that doesn’t conform to expectations will get you noticed, if it’s too obscure for the chosen exhibition it could prove as much a turn-off as a turn-on. It’s crucial that all stand elements have relevance to the products, services or brands being promoted. FPP have used magicians on a number of occasions, but we’ve always ensured that the routines are heavily branded and involve the client’s product or service wherever possible.”

“Unconventional designs can work, but only if the exhibitor has really thought about it,” says International Confex sector manager Helen Bartlett. “But it is important to see it from a © visitor’s perspective. Obviously it’s good to get people to stop and have a look, but thereafter it’s down to the staff: if they are engaging and friendly then visitors will be more likely to actually go on to the stand and stay there.”

Bartlett has a similar take on stand size. “Larger stands do allow for longer decision-making,” she points out. But she believes this is only of use if an exhibitor engages with their audience, and cites The Harrogate International Centre as a positive example. “They had one of the biggest stands at Confex this year, but it was very inviting – the staff were friendly, it was easy to get information, the messaging was simple.” Yet the winner of Best Stand at Confex was The Energy Clinic, and its stand was small. So what singled it out as special? “A very simple, elegant design; short, sharp messaging, and open access with a good use of corner space.”

Don’t fence them in

Doubtless Green would approve too. “The layout should never discourage the visitor from entering the space,” he says. “All psychological or physical barriers should be removed – staff loitering on the edge of a stand with arms folded is a big a turn-off.”

Generally speaking, walls around stands can be intimidating, unless your objective is to attract a targeted audience or limit the amount of visitors. “Then a purpose-built enclosed VIP area may be the answer,” suggests Zavoral-Brown. He argues that long copy is off-putting too. “Messaging should be like an advertisement banner – not a notice board.”

Wembley Arena Conference & Exhibition Centre senior commercial and marketing manager Julie Warren advises picking your area wisely. “The majority of organisers will section shows into different areas of interest. Make sure your stand is in the appropriate section, otherwise you will confuse the consumer. And ensure your message is relevant. I have seen companies utilise stands that have clearly been originally designed for a different show. They’ve failed to rethink their communication and thus make the exhibition work for them.”

Be prepared

A little homework beforehand can easily prevent mistakes. Warren says: “Research the show thoroughly, work through your requirements, decide who you’re targeting, and aim an appropriate corporate message at them. Always be clear about what you’re saying. If the show doesn’t have a benefit, then don’t exhibit.”

Usually, when visitors first arrive, they stop at the front of the hall and look around. As they do, sequenced lighting, high-impact graphics, movement and unusual layout can all help break through a congested environment, while colour, shape and height can make a stand prominent in a sea of other exhibitors.

One example where height is used to attract attention is the RPM-designed Martini stand, which will be on display at the Good Homes Show and The Daily Telegraph Homes and Gardens Fair this summer. To attract 35- to 55-year-old women, the stand takes the form of an Italian Piazza with a clock tower as a focal point. As well as ensuring the stand is easily visible from afar, the clock tower encourages them to use the stand as a meeting point.

Hooper elaborates: “The key to effective design is to find imaginative ways for your brand to provide beneficial features through common needs such as seating, refreshment, entertainment or education. Martini’s ‘Italian Chic’ theme is the first draw; the display stands out as a good piece of contemporary design.”

Make your presence felt

He adds: “On closer study, the bright lifestyle and serving suggestion graphics, along with the chrome finish, combine to form an impressive presence – encouraging people to see what’s going on. By providing a seating area, we’re opening ourselves up to more visitors, as a place to sit is not normally provided by show organisers. Also, by facing the seating outwards, we’re inviting people to relax and have a drink without feeling they will be bombarded by hard-sell tactics.”

All good if you’ve got a big budget, but if you’re after more cost-effective ways of capturing attention, you might like to take a leaf out of Tequila/Manchester’s book.

Going for gold

Its ISP gold award-winning campaign targeted small- and medium-sized businesses through key trade shows with the objective of collating valuable information for Nissan regarding light commercial vehicle ownership and purchasing. The problem was finding a way to capture visitors’ interest, and get them to complete a questionnaire. The solution was point-of-purchase material in the style of tea vending machines, offering the incentive of a free “Just the Job” pint mug with tea and biscuits. A simple tactic, but one that resulted in about 800 questionnaires being filled in each day.

The truth is that it’s practically impossible to please all of the people all of the time, but the secret behind the most successful stands is that they exceeded the expectations of visitors. There is, however, one last factor not to overlook. As well as getting noticed once at an exhibition, it’s crucial to get your message seen beforehand.

National Incentive Show & Incentive World event director Sarah Porter explains: “Attracting attention should start long before the doors open. Targeting prospective attendees before the event with a personalised ticket, VIP invitation or incentive is vital to ensure prospective customers are motivated to visit your stand over and above competitors.” And motivating visitors is ultimately what exhibiting is all about. l

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