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Lean, Green, and Digitally Seen: The Exhibit Booth of Tomorrow

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Katherine Zimoulis
Katherine Zimoulis

VP, Content Marketing

Visionary designers predict virtual and smart booths that will supercharge human interaction

As an exhibitor, imagine arriving on the show floor to see your booth constructed from a large, mobile 3D printer, designed to your specifications and made from eco-friendly materials. Paper-thin foldable LED screens, virtual reality headsets, and a small 3D printer complete the tricked-out space incorporating next-generation beacon technology. During the event, individual attendee engagement is deepened as the visuals, messaging, and mood in the space change based on his or her unique needs and communication style. You spend most of the day in meaningful conversations with attendees and walk away not only with qualified leads, but demonstrable ROI — all thanks to this supercharged exhibit booth.

That’s only one possibility for the exhibit booth of the future, envisioned by a team of our experience designers coupled with what we know today and predict for tomorrow. What are some of the other variables and elements of tomorrow’s booth, and how does what’s trending now shape those ideas? Let’s take a look.

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Get smart

Picture a future in which the booth itself takes the guesswork out of exhibiting. Our designers could see a scenario in which booth design is automated — plug in information about your brand, your goals, and your exhibit footprint, and receive a completely custom booth, tailor-made to your organization’s design and marketing objectives. Tap into experience designers (like the ones we brainstormed with) for some of the more human-element sensibilities and, rest assured, you will knock it out of the park every single time.

But the intelligence does not stop there. Thanks to the digital transformation and the rise of cloud computing, technology could be integrated into the booth seamlessly — which means exhibitors would have easy access to complete data sets providing metrics and ROI stats to prove the value of exhibiting. Not only that, but the data provided will help fuel real-time personalization, dialing up booth variations and engagement factors based on attendee data and biometric feedback.

The key to success in this imagined future state is that people will want to trade their social currency, like Black Mirror — but used in a positive way to enrich the experience even more. Also, exhibitors will need to think carefully and work closely with show organizers to address any privacy issues when it comes to sharing and leveraging attendee data, providing clear opt-in and opt-out options. 

Go green

During the brainstorm, we talked about how sustainable business practices and a long-term view could make serious business sense in our imagined future forecast. So what does that mean for the exhibit booth of the future? We can imagine much greener solutions — from 3D-printed booths to booths made completely of recycled and recyclable material as well as wireless power available in ample quantities to fuel any exhibitor needs.

There will be an exploration of other more sustainable materials as well. The concrete floors of a convention center can be challenging from a noise-control perspective (not to mention a detriment to exhibitors’ and attendees’ feet the world over), so imagine the development of evolved flooring materials and where they could take us. The materials could be eco-friendly, soundproof cork matting, or similar recyclable components that offer better noise control and can be customized with different colors like carpets are today.

Finally — stick with us here — imagine booths made from edible materials. We already know it’s possible to 3D print food. Why not use that technology to create all or part of a trade show exhibit booth and then donate the materials to wildlife groups or animal shelters? This social responsibility is already happening in the plastic industry where biodegradable, edible grocery bags and six-pack rings are not only helping, but saving wildlife.

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Co-sponsored exhibit booths

Another idea that resonated with the group was the concept of co-sponsored exhibit booths. Imagine pairing up with like-minded organizations with a larger footprint to create pop-up experiences unlike any other. By sharing responsibilities, exhibitors can double down on personalization and engagement tactics like creating hyper-localized content, custom to the people visiting the booth, or creating artisan-style experiences to unlock attendees’ creativity and makers’ minds.

What’s more, this shared experience could help exhibitors harness the power of people en masse to do things like generate action through advocacy, co-create art installations, or organize crowdsourced sessions.

The non-booth booth

Next, we had to ask: would exhibit booths even exist in the future? The group agreed that, yes, exhibit booths will continue to play a crucial role within a brand’s marketing mix well into the future. However, what would it look like if we erased the structure of the booth and explored other avenues? This won’t be right for every organization, but we feel very excited for the engagement that virtual reality and augmented reality could offer, providing immersive and personalized experiences in a compact footprint.

Also expect to see more ancillary events sponsored by brands (like what we see at SXSW, but in hyperdrive) as well as surprise guerilla tactics. Examples include amped-up restrooms, souped-up parking lots, and nontraditional celebration venues like rooftops or airport hangars.

Within the booth, we also explored the idea of tapping into robotic booth staff. Robots could be loaded up with all the brand and attendee information as well as provide custom introductions and referrals to the human staff, thus reducing the need for booth staff to be all-knowing (allowing them to focus on being all-charming). This robotic shift can lead to increased engagement and a shorter sales cycle as more energy is dedicated to face-to-face marketing.

Of course, time will tell how each of these ideas shall come to fruition. But one thing is certain — humans by nature will continue to seek out meaningful interactions, and there is no better way to connect than through live brand experiences. Exhibitors that can harness the need for community will win every time — today and tomorrow!  

Miguel Conner, Charlie Davis, Sean Hampton-Gross, Byron Terrell, Chris Prante, David Croy, Mikhail Arzumanov, Dewey Mosscrop, Hyesook Lyu, and Alex Sorell contributed to this article. 

For more perspectives on our Global Outlook, download the insights paper: Tomorrow, Today: The Future of Brand Experience.

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