Participating in a trade show like the Comcast Mississippi Business & Technology EXPO 2007 is a powerful tool to put your business in the best possible light.
“So it is important to put your best foot forward,” said Terese Collins, owner of Collins and Associates (www.collinsandassoc.com), a display and exhibit solutions business in Biloxi. “When tied to your total marketing program, trade shows can be an effective and economical method of selling your business. Once you reach the show, there are three parts of a trade show that determine your success: personnel staffing the booth, the booth itself and the product or service you offer.”
Collins said the industry has changed in the past few years and more people —especially those who have to travel to a number of different trade shows throughout the year—are opting for display systems that are more portable, lighter weight, easier to put up and capable of serving several different functions.
Displays that work for the traditional 10-foot by 10-foot trade show space can do double duty for other types of presentations. Collins said retractable banner stands that have a display that rolls down into a cartridge can also function on top of a table.
“You can take it out and in three minutes you have it set up,” Collins said.
The retractable banner stands can be used for public events, PR campaigns, press conferences, or as a backdrop to speeches at local civic club events. Typically, the stands are 18 inches to three-feet wide and 80 inches tall.
It is important to carefully consider the objective of an exhibit before proceeding. Collins recommends asking yourself several questions before proceeding: Why are you exhibiting? What do you want to accomplish? What image do you want to project? How does the exhibit fit into your larger sales and marketing plan?
“All of those issues play into your decision about what kind of exhibit to design,” she said. “There should be one continuous idea that reinforces all of your other marketing messages. You want your exhibit to say who you are and what you do. If your grandmother walks into EXPO hall, she should be able to find you. If someone isn’t going to recognize your exhibit or name, your exhibit has probably failed you.”
Dr. Bill Smith, a marketing professor in the College of Business at the University of Southern Mississippi, agrees it is important to carefully target your message. Often people just build a booth and use it without really focusing on who will be attending the show and the objectives of the exhibitor.
Smith said booth displays could have three objectives:
• Build attitudes or increase awareness of your product, service or idea.
• Change buyer’s attitudes by showing why a new entrant into a product category is superior or how you have added something to an existing product that has made it more effective or efficient.
• Reinforce existing attitudes and relationships with customers.
Russell McKenzie, president of Skyline Gulf Coast (www.skyline.com), which markets in the area of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, said an eye-catching exhibit design is very important.
“A well-designed exhibit is so effective at cutting through the trade show clutter and getting your message to your target audience,” McKenzie said. “The average trade show attendee will spend seven to eight hours on the floor over a period of two to three days visiting an average of 25 to 31 exhibits. This leaves five to 15 minutes per visit. This gives you only five to 15 minutes to make a lasting impression that will give you an edge over the competition.”
He said graphics on trade show booths should be simple but intriguing. Use short copy, and give a sense of the product/service you offer. Trade show attendees walking down the aisle only have time to look at graphics, not read paragraphs. Go for impact over information. Big, bold images and concise copy rule the show floor. Detailed information can be dispensed via brochures/booth staff.
“Do your exhibit graphics say who you are, what you do, and what is your benefit to them?” McKenzie asks. “When you state those clearly, you’ll bring in more visitors — and more qualified — visitors.”
Another tip is integrated marketing communications. You want your exhibit to look similar to your Web site, direct mail and other advertising.
“Integrated marketing communications are more memorable than completely different looks in different mediums,” he said.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself and others in your organization as you evaluate the design of your next exhibit:
• Are your graphics easily read from 10 to 20 feet away?
• Is the exhibit theme easily read and presented with memorability in mind?
• Is the key point in your graphics prominently positioned?
• Are your tables the right height for the planned activities?
• Are the video screens/monitors large enough and at the right height for easy viewing?
• Is the demonstration area large enough for planned activities?
• Is the lighting adequate for easy viewing of the exhibit?
• Is there adequate storage space to eliminate a cluttered exhibit?
• Are the photographs and backlit transparencies easily read from 10 to 20 feet away?
• Is there adequate table space for lead-generating activities?
• Do the colors attract the eye? Are they pleasing to the senses? Are they memorable?
McKenzie said the job of an exhibit is to gain exposure, build credibility and find new prospects. Use the exhibit display to provide a quick glimpse of what your company has to offer.
“Your company’s design should be objective-driven and capture the attention of your target customer group,” he said. “Simplify your message. Even small displays can be classy expressions of your organization. Pay attention to detail, avoid clutter, use graphics effectively (remember trade show exhibits are like billboards and need to be read and understood easily and quickly) and realize when people stop, they want to talk to you. Staff your exhibit with a group who has the experience and ability to satisfy the needs of your company’s target customer group.”
He also recommends that promotional items should be given, not taken.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.