Finding a fitting solution

Exhibitors striving to deliver a consistent message from one event to the next face a number of hurdles, but by sticking to the same basic principles a brand can overcome these problems, says Ian Whiteling

Consumers might not be listening, or watching, but this does not stop marketers from trying everything they can to grab people’s attention using traditional media channels. Whether the message is consumer- or business-focused, the sheer volume of advertising communications means customers are expert at filtering out what doesn’t interest them, or even switching off altogether. And the ability to ignore irrelevant information has been developed by trade and consumer show visitors too.

“Branding” may be a word that is tired from overuse, but it is overused precisely because branding is so vital. And the value of “putting your customers first”, may be another well-worn cliché, but that doesn’t stop it from being true. However, there are still many businesses that do not get to know their target market, so they fail to deliver products and services that hit the mark.

Live events are one of the most direct ways of bringing brands to life, but they are rarely given the credit, or budget, they deserve.

“In most forms of advertising, the customer owns the point of communication, being able to turn the page, change television channel or even just switch it off,” says Tony Castrigno, head of exhibit and environmental design at events company MJM Creative. “No opportunity to communicate the brand message to a consumer is greater for a marketer than the face-to-face engagement available at events. In fact, 71 per cent of business leaders in both the UK and the US recognise the customer experience as the next key battleground in winning the hearts and minds of the consumer.”

Of course, to achieve a high level of engagement with visitors, it’s not enough to simply slap a logo on a board. The exhibition stand should be the physical extension of a company’s brand. It must remain as true to the brand as any other marketing channel.

Spending gently on Bentley

“Stand branding is important because an exhibition stand is a personal primary contact point,” says Sebastian Paul, group account director at live brand communications agency PCI:Live, which counts luxury car brand Bentley among its clients. “It is particularly important for companies such as Bentley that don’t spend much on above-the-line marketing. The stand projects the brand to existing and potential customers, as well as dealers in Bentley’s case. It is a very important touch-point within the buying process. It’s a way of delivering the Bentley message.”

PCI:Live has worked closely with Bentley over the past two years in order to fully understand the nature of the brand and the best way to project this image through its exhibition stands. “We developed the overall creative concept first, then designed look and feel, materials, finish and graphics. There was a need to strike a balance between the main brand and the products and also between display and hospitality,” says Paul. “People visiting the stand will expect to be treated in a certain way. New customers want their aspirations met, while existing customers want reassurance that the brand’s values are intact.”

Bentley is owned by Volkswagen, which allocates a set space to the brand at each show. The problem is that this can be between 200 and 600 sq m, which places Bentley in a quandary common to many exhibitors: having worked carefully on branding an exhibition stand, how can these values be maintained consistently across different sized stands in a variety of venues? PCI:Live’s answer for Bentley was to develop a modular stand that would be tailored to fit the demands of each show.

Same look, different place

“It creates a consistent look and feel each time, through the use of the same finishing materials and messages,” explains Paul. “As size decreases there is less room for products and a smaller hospitality area, but all other elements remain consistent. For the Bentley show programme, a modular solution is essential. It is consistent in appearance and transportable, so that it can be moved between shows relatively quickly and easily.”

The modular nature of Bentley’s stand also allows different event objectives to be taken into account. If a show involves the launch of a new or updated model, for instance, a larger product area can be built for that particular event.

One advocate of the modular system is Bic, which uses global stand design company Nimlok to prepare its exhibition presence. Bic often needs a very large stand at one show and then a scaled-down presence at the next. “For any company that participates in a variety of different types and sizes of shows, a modular booth is the answer. It’s more cost-effective than buying a different booth for each show,” says Bic global vice-president Paul Lage.

Another Nimlok client, Hamon Homes, needed distinct meeting areas for each of its six subsidiary companies, with seating, a slide projector and a projection screen for PowerPoint presentations. An “umbrella” stand was created to accommodate all subsidiaries, featuring a tower with prominent Harmon Homes branding. The stand could then be broken down into separate exhibits for the individual subsidiaries at other events.

The use of technology to convey brand values can also help consistency across different show environments. “Digital media is very flexible,” says MJM’s Castrigno. “It can play on a personal touch-screen monitor, or be projected in large scale across a stand wall or screen, creating a kind of ’digital billboard’ depending on the space available.” This technology also allows an element of interactivity to be included which can enhance the brand experience.

Familiarity breeds results

Although many companies use external agencies to help with stand design and branding, IT company RM, which exhibits at more than 50 events a year, uses an in-house events team and finds this helps with brand consistency. “They are experienced in delivering events, however small or large, making use of their skill and knowledge and the available in-house exhibition branding,” explains corporate communications manager Fiona McLean. “We are able to design our stands using this equipment, adapting to size available but not incurring any further costs.”

RM has found that the key to consistent branding throughout its intense event programme goes beyond having an appropriately designed, scalable stand capability. It places just as much emphasis on clear aims and training.

“For every event we attend, we have a clear set of objectives that are communicated to everyone involved,” says McLean. “All staff on the day must attend a stand briefing and debriefing and for every exhibition we attend, a follow-up and review is completed. Everyone involved in our events is clear about the messages we want to deliver. It doesn’t matter if an event requires two people to staff it or 20, the same messages and branding will be projected.

“RM ensures a professional appearance at all times using the required exhibition equipment and showing the necessary products and literature. Even if the event is small we expect low-key professionalism, not a low-key amateurish look.”

Lars Hemming Jorgensen, creative director of design and branding consultancy Large Design, agrees that people are a key part of the image a company projects at an event, and, if properly trained, can help maintain brand consistency regardless of the environment.

“The people manning a stand are a vital part of the branding. Many employees don’t man stands regularly, so they need to be properly trained for the job, and these must fit in with the business objectives of the exhibition presence.

Are we boring you?

“Body language is very important. In nine out of ten shows I attend, I see stands manned by people in old suits, looking bored and displaying nervous habits. It’s important to try to pump up the energy the stand is giving out by making sure staff are on their feet, ready to greet people.”

Jorgensen believes that staff’s clothing is crucial, as they need to be identifiable as someone who is manning a stand, otherwise visitors feel awkward about approaching them.

Jorgensen also claims that good pre-show publicity can introduce a brand to a company’s target market before the event begins. This can help with consistency as well as drawing visitors to a stand.

He says: “Sending out carefully designed invites to a stand before the event that fit the brand objectives of a company means that many people will plan to visit even before they arrive.”

“Our client, WildRepublic, sent out teddy bears that played a message. This was perfect for the company, which strives to differentiate itself from its foreign competitors by producing high-quality educational toys that are both unique and fun, not the cheap generic copies produced by many other toy companies.”

This kind of original approach helps to cut through the marketing fog that businesses and individuals are subjected to. It can prompt visitors to take their first step on a journey through a company’s brand experience, which is what every exhibition is all about, no matter what its size or location.l

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