Interactive brands stand out from the crowd

Innovative brands are taking advantage of advances in technology to make their mark at trade shows by turning their stands into interactive spaces that create high levels of engagement.


The days when audiences were largely content to walk around trade and consumer shows collecting leaflets and business cards are over, say event organisers. Advances in technology and increases in ticket prices have led to higher expectations on the part of consumers, which has enabled innovative brands to stand out from the crowd.

When Luke Collings, event director of the Cake & Bake Show, set out to create a new event celebrating the popularity of baking, he admits to having been lucky in terms of timing. But it’s not luck that has made the new show a sell-out, it is because it allows visitors to get stuck in and get involved with the exhibitions.

The Cake & Bake Show is designed to be interactive, with classes covering baking techniques together with competitions, demonstrations and tutorials.

Collings says he was inspired by Golf Live – an event that he enjoyed attending because it offered interactive elements, such as the opportunity to try out clubs, have a lesson with a pro and take part in a Q&A with golfing greats.

Not only did Collings spot the growing popularity of baking among quite a diverse demographic, he also understood the importance of engagement at trade and consumer exhibitions. As a result, he decided to work closely with clients on stand design. “I wanted to make the Cake & Bake Show experiential,” he explains. “We’ve now sold out and we’re seeking additional hours at the venue in the evening.”

This is one of the reasons that Mark Brown, marketing manager for baking at General Mills, is using Cake & Bake to help relaunch the Betty Crocker brand. “This is the first trade or consumer event of any decent scale for us in the UK,” he says. “It’s about making baking accessible, giving visitors the confidence to do it in public. Putting ovens on stands and providing expertise is expensive, but I think any event’s main hook has to be entertainment.”

Suzanne Borrell, communications director of What’s on 4 – the organiser of BabyExpo which has been running since 2007 ≠ says that the need to engage the audience quickly was one of the first key lessons for her as an event organiser. “We learned quite swiftly that you need to offer short, sharp demos and break up seminars with something fun,” she says.

There is a large stage area at the BabyExpo and free demo slots are offered to exhibitors as a way of attracting visitors. But Borrell admits there have been instances when an individual tries to sell products on stage rather than providing something that people really want to engage in. “It can be acutely embarrassing,” she says. “It can’t be a series of ads.”

Karen McKenzie, a franchisee of Gymboree, a children’s activity class and entertainment provider, says the benefits of face-to-face meetings at events and the opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of what Gymboree offers is very valuable. “Our product is about helping babies and young children become more confident. The message is quite hard to explain with the likes of radio advertising,” she says.

Exhibitors at BabyExpo use interactive elements to draw in the crowds

At BabyExpo, Gymboree will be running a play area with ‘parachute time’ for children and Borrell says that the opportunity for parents to see their child delight in a toy or to hear about its educational benefits often converts into sales. It’s all about showing how a product works and giving visitors an opportunity to try it for themselves.

“We know our customers, especially at the retail shows, come to see products,” adds David Langrish, head of marketing, technology and learning divisions at events organiser i2i. “They want to touch them, to feel them and see how they work. The interactive element is critical. My number one tip is that you have to be prepared to show how your product works. And it has to be live as opposed to scrolling through screen shots.”

Paul Grant, managing director of PSP Publishing, which owns the Girls’ Day Out and Scottish Golf Show brands, agrees. “You need to create a positive vibe,” he says. “There will be a large stage for fashion shows at Girls’ Day Out. Stand space is more profitable but it’s the demonstrations and the things that he people don’t expect that they talk about, such as the Botox demonstrations and model searches.”

Social media, too, is now a key vehicle to connect with consumers and get them talking about a show before, during and after the event. “We run a competition to win an opportunity to blog at The Look Show,” says Tara Steadman, senior marketing manager at Look magazine. “This is always really popular.” Social media wasn’t so key in 2010 when the show launched but now it’s “critical” to connect with the audience, she says.

The Look Show is sponsored by Smashbox Cosmetics this year and at the centre of this partnership will be a virtual shopping wall where consumers can purchase products using an augmented reality phone app from Blippar. Stephen Shaw, opportunities director at the image recognition platform provider, admits that the barrier to the success of the app is the physical download and stresses the need for a compelling call to action.

“You’ll be able to use Blippar to find out more, watch ‘how to apply’ videos, find your nearest stockist or to buy on the day. Rather than just having brochures or static images on a wall, the use of technology along with elements like the fashion shows and the makeovers all help to amplify the message,” he explains.

Shaw adds that when Blippar was chosen by UK Trade & Investment to exhibit at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas as an example of what British start-ups can achieve, they opted to hand out iPads that allowed visitors to interact with the technology for themselves. “It’s about showbiz,” he says. “We’re lucky that our technology is really engaging. We only had a small stand but we were rammed.”

Interactivity does not need to involve technology to have impact and lead to successful outcomes. “Sometimes interactive elements become over-complex or over-engineered,” says Borrell at BabyExpo. “It may be that an exhibitor spends too much on the stand. Baby shows need to be fun and approachable and often stickers and balloons are all you need.”

And brands must think beyond just trying to sell their own product. When Activia Yogurt had a stand at the Vitality Show, organised by Vos Media, it put together an advice clinic talking about nutrition.
“It was a one-to-one session offering advice about health and nutrition. This had little to do with yogurt but it was an opportunity for visitors to talk in confidence with an expert,” says Damian Norman, managing director at Vos Media. The stand always had a long queue and had to bring in more staff for consultations, he claims.

Yet no matter how much theatre, personalisation and automation show organisers can achieve, it’s the human element that lies at the core of any successful event. Without approachable and well-trained staff at your stand, your augmented reality app, RFID wristband and smart data capture are all highly unlikely to represent a good investment.

Case study: Auto Trader


When Auto Trader sponsored the Goodwood Moving Motor Show, it created three interactive stands that were designed to raise brand awareness and allow visitors to engage with the title. The first stage of the activity centred on the official Goodwood mobile app that Auto Trader devised. At the heart of the app was an augmented reality game that allowed visitors to take part in a virtual race round the circuit, with the prize of a new car on offer for the winning entry.

At the second stand, visitors could have their photo taken and imposed on an image of their dream car. These images could be printed out and uploaded onto Facebook. The third stand housed model cars that visitors could pick up and swipe on a large touchscreen in order to find out more about that particular model.

“My chief executive was unsure initially about adults being interested in model cars but the stand was rammed,” says Jonathan Williams, Auto Trader’s group consumer marketing director. “There’s something nostalgic about them. And it was what I call ‘living room interactive’ – as opposed to one-on-one engagement involving people playing with their phones. We’ve found that decisions about cars are often family oriented.”

Williams stresses the need to be brave at events and says that individuals can become brand advocates for life after thorough engagement, although he suggests that, next time, Auto Trader would be more to likely focus on one technology rather than the delivery of three different types, which adds various levels of complexity.

“People that came to our stand were amazed,” he claims. “It’s part of our brand strategy to show how innovative we are. But I wouldn’t want to deliver a greater depth of technology even if our budget was endless. You’d see your cost per engagement rising and ultimately you’d be eroding your returns.”



Dave Whitlow
Marketing director
Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports

Marketing Week (MW): How important do you think it is that indoor exhibitions offer interactive elements?

Dave Whitlow (DW): People need to be comfortable spending time at a show. If people can only stand and watch it isn’t perceived as good value. We’ve been at The Ski & Snowboard Show every year since 1985 and this year it’s taking place during the school half-term so we expect a more family-friendly environment. Families will want to immerse themselves in the whole vibe. They will want their kids to have elementary ski lessons and so on. There is so much competition to entertain people in London. I think interactivity is the key sell to this year’s show.

MW: What kind of interactivity will your stands at the Ski & Snowboard Show 2012 offer?

DW: We will be bringing a large-scale retail offer to the show but alongside this we’ll be offering specialist boot fitting on a larger scale than consumers would find in-store. We will be bringing some of our better trained staff along. But the visitor experience at the show itself is key. Visitors want more than just a retail offer. It’s a day out.

MW: How effective do you find exhibiting at shows in terms of return on investment and does interactivity have an impact on this?

DW: Over the years, it’s been challenging. Numbers have been declining. Last year we questioned whether it was worthwhile. But we shared our fears with [Ski & Snowboard show organiser] VOS Media and worked with them to become partners in the success of the show. It has been challenging to our budget in the past but now the show has been reformulated. The challenge for VOS Media is making the show appeal to families. The 18- to 25-year-old demographic has been hit particularly hard by recent economic problems and the show has been in danger in recent years of becoming a soulless retail experience. The extra features VOS Media are offering are vital to us being there.



Damian Norman
Managing director
VOS Media

We’re tailoring this year’s Ski & Snowboard Show to families. Kids can try ice-skating, meet Pingu the penguin, post a letter to Santa, learn how to ski and design a snowboard. In total, there are over 10 interactive elements. We’ve also had coconut shies where people try to knock the snowman’s head off to win a beanie hat. The hats cost 24p to make and it was £1 to take part, with all proceeds going to charity. From memory we raised over £4,000. You need to be creative and ask yourself: ‘What’s the objective?’

Features and interactivity don’t need to be expensive. Just put yourself in the place of the consumer. The coconut shy was packed – people like to throw things. The idea came from a village fête. It works because people, especially guys, are competitive. And they like something to do – then they’re engaged.

We see some exhibitors booking stands who won’t get return on investment because they don’t set themselves up right. They’re reading the paper or they’re on the phone. They’ve got a room full of skiers walking straight past them. You need to make sure you capitalise on the opportunity and make it a sensible use of your marketing budget.

Activia Yogurt last year ran an advice clinic at the Vitality Show [which VOS Media also organises]. It was a one-to-one session offering advice about health and nutrition. This had little to do with yogurt but it was an opportunity for visitors to talk in confidence with an expert. For Activia, it was a brand awareness exercise. There were always at least 30 people in the queue. They had to bring in more staff because the consultations were so popular.



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