Working directly with exhibitors, I’ve watched trade shows — and their place in the marketing mix — shift and change. Setting up a booth to sell products has evolved into an opportunity to create an experience, in a small or large space, that truly connects brands to audiences. Offering an experience still promotes products, but does so in more meaningful ways. Watching that pivot from seller to experience-maker has been exciting for both exhibitors and attendees.
I see exhibitors of all sizes bring their brands to life by showing audiences who they are and what makes them special through personalized in-booth engagements. Visitors leave with an emotional connection because they felt and experienced the brand’s story. No matter the size of the space (or budget!), you can create experiences that build brand loyalty and sales. I’ve noticed that clients who shift planning toward brand experience are often the most successful at the show, so here are some ideas to get your booth party started!
Make an impression that lasts
As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So design an experience that makes an impact from the moment an attendee walks in your booth. Whether you have a 10x10 or a huge pavilion, your space is a live opportunity to immerse the audience in your story. Just make sure the connection is authentic and personal — that combo will create a link between brand and customer.
Creating a lasting impression means knowing your audience intimately. When brainstorming ideas for personalized in-booth experiences, mine your metrics and dig for data. What do your customers want most? What can you customize to meet their needs? What personal touches can you incorporate that are unique to your brand? When you answer these questions, and design an experience tailored to your audience members, they’ll leave satisfied and inspired. Plus, you’ll gain followers as well as customers. Most audiences today want to share experiences — good and bad. By shaping a positive narrative and interaction (bonus points for making it cool and shareable!), visitors will amplify their experience online via social feeds and reviews, sending value back to you.
When designing an attendee experience, consider the five senses. Take Disney. In movies or theme parks, The Mouse House knows leveraging sensory experiences forges lifelong bonds. (I’ll admit it — I’ve been obsessed with Mickey since childhood!) So put on your Disney hat, er, ears (!) and imagine what your customers could hear, see, smell, touch, and taste. You don’t have to have Lion King-sized budgets to get touchy-feely. Just give them a feast for the eyes and make sure there’s a product they can touch. A hands-on moment lets attendees test the goods in real time. And listen up — what could attendees hear that creates connections to your brand?
Thinking about smells in a booth may seem odd and on the nose, but aromas actually link to positive memories in the brain and can help you reach customers. Taste is a no-brainer — we all love free treats! But the trick is combining the food or beverage with an activity or interaction. These days, I see brands elevating the taste test with cupcake-decorating activities, hand-painting macarons, and even mixology stations where attendees whip up and sample their own tasty concoctions. Turns out, one in four marketers harnesses all five senses during brand experiences, so the proof is in the sensory pudding!
Freshen it up
When you plan show after show, it’s easy to go on autopilot. Hey, if it works, why change it? But going with the same idea, even a successful one, becomes stale fast. And in today’s world, audiences expect the unexpected. To prepare for that authenticity, get back to the data by tracking each show, evaluating performance, and getting audience feedback. See what’s working and what’s not working. Change up both to keep things fresh. When it’s backed by data and ultimately brings value to customers, it’s a good gamble.
Reach across the aisle
Rather than fretting about other exhibitors, reach out and make connections. When you interact and network with other brands and share the experiences you’re offering as well as observing theirs, you’ll often glean ideas and new ways to consider the attendee journey. Leverage what you learn to create an even better experience in your booth and at the show. In a way, exhibiting together can be another type of partnership — build off your show floor mates and make the event even better for your brand and attendees, too. Offering a unique activation in your booth interests other exhibitors just as it intrigues attendees. During last fall’s Expo! Expo! event, crowds of attendees (and exhibitors) experienced our interactive, user-generated light show and inquired about activations to get customers involved inside a booth.
As marketers and consumers, we all want the same thing: to create and encounter memorable experiences. Most often, at the heart of those experiences is fun. Fun is what pulls us in and makes us happy. Planning your booth and delivering the exhibit experience involve a lot of time and labor, but it’s a huge bonus to be part of the action on-site and witness the joy.