Three seconds starting from now! One, two, three. That’s it. That’s how long it takes for a visitor to accept or reject your exhibition stand. Just three seconds to bring your sales people into direct, face-to-face contact with a new or existing client.
Once they are there, of course, you’re laughing because you are perfectly placed to achieve your goals and can exploit the most effective sales and marketing tool available – face-to-face contact. In terms of marketing, exhibitions are as direct as it gets.
Exhibitions must always be seen as an ingredient – like their culinary counterparts, they work best as part of a mix. Attracting visitors doesn’t begin and end with promotion. At the risk of seeming obvious it begins with the decision to exhibit and, if you get it right, continues through to the next show.
First of all, there is the decision to exhibit. What is the aim of your campaign? What other media are you using? Whatever the answers, the exhibition activity must be an integral part of the overall strategy. When exhibiting dovetails with everything else it adds an extra dimension to your campaign.
Attracting people to your stand means offering a compelling and visual message. Think of an exhibition stand like a book – it needs a narrative or it won’t work. What is your story and how are you going to tell it? Keep it simple. Are you launching a product? Raising brand awareness? Are you selling? Is it a PR exercise? Whatever you decide, a stand has to convey your message in three seconds. So once you’ve agreed it, stick to it.
Many people believe that the size of a stand is the cornerstone of positioning. Big brands often use large, flamboyant stands to state their case. However, this doesn’t mean the middle ground is any less effective. A stand is only going to be effective if your message is well articulated through good stand design. If you are not in the big league, take heart from NCH Action for Children, which chose to exhibit at a consumer show last year. It knew why it was there and what it wanted from the exhibition. The NCH’s limited budget bought a two-metre-square stand, from which it conveyed a simple message. Added to this equation were well-briefed personnel and the right visitors – mission accomplished.
Big brands tend to go for a larger size because they think they should – but if there’s no story to tell, coherence is lost and no tangible results achieved. The old adage about size holds true in exhibitions – but it’s not how big it is that matters, it’s how you use it.
Refining mission and position will help attract visitors, but how are you going to measure the success of both stand and exhibition? Now is the time to consider (and then put in place) an effective measurement strategy. This is not as complicated as it sounds.
When you know how well your stand has worked, you’ll know what improvements can be made to attract more visitors and achieve greater results next time.
Honing your event activity into something that works well across your whole campaign can deliver unparalleled benefits in the long term.
Research the exhibitions in your field. Find those that are aimed succinctly at your target market. Find out whether they attract the right visitors. Select a stand that’s well placed to benefit from good visitor flow and consider advertising in the show catalogue.
To maximize awareness at the event, it may be wise to look at on-site sponsorship opportunities. Examine everything the organiser has to offer and then look at what else you can do to bring prospective clients to your stand.
If you want to let people know you’re taking part in the show, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. It’s much more efficient – in terms of time and money – to use the one that’s already gathered momentum: the publicity machine of the event holder.
Whatever media you have in place – direct mail, advertising, PR, TV, radio – make them work harder. A little enhancement and adaptation of these activities can be used to tell new and existing clients that they can meet you face to face at the show. Focus on the weeks running up to the event, keep your message fresh and use the organiser’s promotion as a springboard for your own – they will be happy to give you a schedule that you can work with.
Response mechanisms are tailor-made for exhibitions. Send letters that encourage potential clients to book an appointment on the stand. Invite them to take part in a competition that will be decided at the show – not only will you know who’s coming along but you will also capture data. If you do write, use direct mail and include the show pre-registration flyer – you can often ask the organiser to overprint a quantity of flyers with your logo and stand number.
Put your PR manager or agency on the case. Keeping your mission high on the agenda, let the press know that you’re exhibiting and make sure you include a logo that’s suitable for reproduction.
Find out from the show’s public relations department which titles and broadcast media are previewing the event and make sure they know about you, too. Wherever you are based, tell your local business press that you are exhibiting and why.
If you happen to have a concurrent TV or radio campaign, assess the feasibility of adding a “see us at” tail to your voiceover (remember to include the show name, dates and venue – omit just one of these and you’ve lost the plot).
Whether you use every strand of your existing marketing activity or just the most pertinent ones, at worst you’ll be spreading your message and at best you’ll help increase overall visitor numbers and be actively sought out by visitors to the event.
Having done everything you can to plan the exhibition and attract the right people to your stand, there is one fundamental point that too many exhibiting companies overlook – stand personnel.
Too often, stand personnel are briefed badly, if at all. If you’re using temporary staff, don’t abandon them. Make sure that a company representative is always there. Whoever you use, explain to them why they are there and what they need to do. Show them how to make visitors welcome. Explain how to ask leading questions (as in not asking “Can I help you?” because the answer is very often “No.”) Make sure you have a system for recording visitors to the stand (name, company, contact details, e-mail address and nature of enquiry.)
When briefing stand staff, outline your objectives and always make sure you stress how much it’s costing the company to exhibit. You’ve made an investment and unless they really understand what you’re doing there and why, you are wasting your time.
Remember, if your visitors feel wanted and valued, if they get something from being at your stand, they’ll leave with a good impression. You’ve started to build loyalty.
Your job doesn’t finish with the show. If you know who visited your stand, write and thank them for coming. Send them the information or product they’ve asked for and keep them up to date during the year – then invite them back next time.
So begins the cycle of successful exhibiting because, when you do it well, marketing doesn’t get more direct than this, even if it’s put to the test in three seconds.
Trevor Foley is director general of the Association of Exhibition Organisers