ROI — return on investment — is the guiding principle behind trade shows. Why else would companies continually invest more and more money into a larger, flashier and more enticing trade show display?
Simply put, when it comes to branding investment, an effective trade show display is one of the best ways to get your money’s worth. However, your ROI depends on how well you create your trade show booth. If you build a trade show display that doesn’t stand out, you may not see the results you’d hoped for.
That’s why we want to present you with the ultimate guide on how to create a trade show exhibit that will stand out from the crowd. We will cover everything from giveaways, flooring, technology, lighting, staffing and graphics.
If you’re ready to take on the challenge, follow this step-by-step guide.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
Turn up the Visuals
Branding, from your logo to your design scheme, is all about making a good visual impression. When it comes time to expand your branding as you build your trade show booth, you want to continue that same work.
Remember, you will be putting your branding on display in a crowded exhibit hall. That means you need to be bold enough to stand out over the other visual noise.
You also need to ensure the branding within your booth is consistent. If you happen to own a color within your business sector, use it centrally in your display design. If your logo has certain design elements that are especially recognizable, bring them into the architectural design. You want your exhibit to be a physical expression of your brand. However, while you want your booth to stand out, you don’t want it to be confusing or over designed.
One potential misstep common among first-time booth designers is the overly ornate exhibit. You want visuals that draw guests into your booth, but you don’t want to confuse them. You also don’t want people so focused on peripheral details that they miss the big takeaway.
Additionally, you don’t want to be vague, assuming that a simple logo will be recognizable. Some organizations may have a logo so recognizable that no tagline is needed. For those that aren’t, though, at least some of the visual display needs to tell guests what you’re about. A good rule of thumb is to use a single, simple staging image. This will help you tell a story without confusing people.
So to review, be bold, but don’t be distracting when designing the visuals for your trade show exhibit.
Keep Your Headlines Short
While you don’t want people questioning what you’re all about, you also don’t want people spending their time reading a treatise on your company. Keep your headlines short — maybe a sentence or two. You want to be clear and to the point.
Something to remember is that not everyone who sees your booth will walk into your booth. And while you will get the most value out of those face-to-face connections you make with people who enter your exhibit, you never know what a passer-by might take away from just a glimpse of your branding and tagline.
You also want to be mindful of your typeset. If you already have a font incorporated into your branding, this can be a great place to start — but you must keep it readable. An overly ornate or serif-filled typeface may be hard to read from far away — and remember, your tagline needs to reach people who don’t even step inside your exhibit.
Don’t Hide Your Company Name
You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but all too often, people fail to keep their company name front and center.
You want people to walk away knowing what your business is trying to accomplish, but they must know the name of your business, too. If you only make a quick connection with someone walking by and don’t have the opportunity to hand them a business card or a branded giveaway, you still want them to be able to search Google for your company name when they get home.
Don’t Skimp on Technology
As technology becomes more integral to our everyday lives, more and more people are going to expect to see it integrated within trade show booths as well. This is especially important if you work in the tech industry. If you’re talking about technology, you had better be able to use it effectively.
Even if you don’t deal in a tech-heavy product, though, there are many ways you can communicate to guests that your company and product are 21st-century relevant. Simply collecting contact information is one of the most important activities at a trade show. Why not do this through an app on a tablet rather than on a piece of paper?
You also want to make sure you’re promoting your social media presence. You can do this by incorporating a flat screen in your exhibit that displays your social media mentions and feeds. That way, as people comment on your work during the trade show, you are leveraging it as real life promotion within your booth.
So even if you are dealing with hard material products or a service that predates the internet, make sure to communicate that you are still technologically current.
Be as Interactive as Possible
One of the best ways to make your display memorable is to incorporate some interaction. If you are selling footballs, set up a football toss so guests can get their hands on your product. If you are developing the latest app, make sure to have some touch screens set up for people to see it in action.
Of course, in some cases, this is easier said than done. Here are a couple of guiding principles to keep in mind when you are setting up an interactive feature:
- You want people to linger
As people are passing through your exhibit, you may not have the staff necessary to make a personal connection with all of them. But if you also have some interactive elements, you can keep people in your booth long enough to get one of your staffers over there to connect.
Imagine a guest taking a quick, easy-to-use touch screen quiz that introduces them to your product. By the time a staff member gets there, they will have a sense of what your product is all about, but they will also have questions they want to ask. This is a great way to break the ice before making that important connection.
- You don’t want people spending the whole day there
Some trade show exhibits have started incorporating video games into their booths. This is perfect for getting a buzz going on the trade show floor — you just don’t want to the game to be so engrossing that you have a couple of people spending all their time there trying to set a high score.
Remember, the key to a well-oiled trade show operation is spending just enough time with every guest to make a lasting connection, while leaving plenty of time to meet with as many people as possible.
- Try demoing the problem you are trying to solve
Another effective interaction strategy is to present the problem your product solves. Maybe your product helps people keep themselves more organized. Give them a taste of disorganization so they can see first-hand how much less frustrating their life would be with your product.
If you can make the demo big enough, you can even succeed in drawing a crowd. For example, maybe you want to let a guest attempt to complete a task the old-fashioned way in a race against someone using your product. Not only will the participants come to appreciate your product, but spectators will witness the demo as well.
If it’s challenging enough, you can even generate buzz, causing people to come to your booth with the expressed purpose of trying out your demo game.
Don’t Forget Your Flooring
While you will ideally keep people’s eyes firmly focused on your product, you don’t want to forget to invest in flooring that pulls your booth together.
If you want to give your guests a sense of luxury when they enter your booth or you want to give the impression that your exhibit is like a storefront, faux wood flooring is ideal. If you want to use your flooring to pull the colors of your brand together, you can choose a bold-colored carpet.
You can even emblazon your logo on your flooring. This is a great option if you are in the sporting goods industry for example, as it can mimic the way teams place their logos at the center of the court or sports field. Depending on your sport, you can place the logo in the center of a faux wood floor complete with basketball lines or on artificial turf complete with a 50-yard line motif.
No matter what type of flooring you opt for when building a trade show exhibit, it’s an important detail that often gets overlooked.
Set the Mood With Lighting
As multimedia productions become standard on the trade show floor, a lot of very successful brands are turning to stage lighting and other lighting effects as a means of making their booths stand out.
One of the most popular options is to use colored lights to pull the brand and design of a booth together. This will not only make your brand stand out, but it will also create an environment that is separate from the rest of the trade show floor. When guests enter your booth space, they will immediately be transported into a complete visual experience that you’ve designed. Some booths have even opted for strobe or laser effects.
However, there are some concerns to keep in mind when designing a lighting arrangement for your booth. Certain lighting effects can be hazardous, especially if lasers accidentally hit people in the eye or if strobe effects are too intense, thus causing reactions from those with conditions like epilepsy.
Additionally, some trade show operators have begun to put strict limitations on lighting effects. That’s because less scrupulous businesses have used lighting as a means of bullying their neighbors — for example, directing light in such a way that it obscures the exhibit next door. Also, trade show operators want to protect the safety of their guests, so they may limit or even prohibit certain lighting effects.
As you are designing the light elements in your exhibit, make sure to contact the trade shows you’re planning on attending to get a sense of what sorts of limitations are in place. You want to avoid investing in a big lighting setup only to have it unplugged when you arrive at the show because it isn’t in compliance.
Use Effective Sound Design
In addition to creating visual effects, you can also use sound design to both attract guests into your booth and to create the proper atmosphere once they enter.
Picking upbeat music that communicates something about your brand is a common route, and it can get people to look in your direction as they are walking past. It can also give your staff a little more pep.
You might also want to use generic sound effects. If you deal in products designed to protect homes from inclement weather, for example, you can create a storm soundscape to help guests understand the importance of your products.
However, like lighting, you also want to make sure you aren’t violating any regulations set by the trade show organizers. Most trade shows have decibel limits for booth sounds. Plus, if you are so loud that you start to annoy your neighbors, they’re likely to say something to organizers — potentially hurting your reputation with both the trade show and your colleagues.
Similarly, you need to be sure you have the rights to any music you are playing. While you may love a certain song, you may be violating copyright if you play it all day long.
If you only want upbeat music and aren’t as concerned about who wrote the song, you can check out royalty-free music. There are some companies that provide these songs and require just a low flat fee. Once you pay, you are free to use the music however you’d like. They even provide songs that are meant to sound like your favorite artists, allowing you to get music that is copyright free, but that still sets a particular mood.
Use Scents to Make Guests Comfortable
This is one sensory experience a lot of companies forget to address. Good smells can make people feel at ease. If you work in the food industry, bring some of those pleasant aromas into your booth. If you work in home and garden, why not simulate the smell of fresh-cut grass?
This type of small detail can make a big impact, even if guests can’t put their finger on exactly why.
Staffing Is as Important as Design
While there are a lot of great ways to make your booth stand out, at the end of the day, you are trying to make face-to-face connections with partners and clients. The only way to do this is with a great staff. Don’t get caught with a state-of-the-art, technology-infused exhibit staffed by a disengaged employee scrolling through their social media feed on their phone.
Remember, while you will be at the show the whole time it’s open, many guests will only be there for a few hours. That means you need to ensure they don’t feel like they’ve missed out on your best work. That requires having a staff that can keep their energy up from the day the show opens until it closes.
You can do this a number of ways. If you have a particular person on your staff who is a champ when it comes to the meet-and-greet, you may want to invest in making sure they are committed and incentivized to be a part of your show staff. Remember, you are seeking optimal ROI, so paying them a little extra and giving them a generous per diem may maximize value in the long run.
You can also opt for a big team. That way your staff is always fresh. If you have a lot of young interns on your team, just getting to go to the trade show is a great incentive. It’s also ideal to bring enough people along that you can give everyone some time to explore as well as work. After all, you may even find that a happy and enthusiastic intern wearing a branded polo and wandering the floor talking other businesses is a great way to promote your booth as well.
Generate the Buzz Any Way Possible
While a great booth properly placed in a high-traffic area will get you far, there are some other ways to get people talking about you even before they walk past your exhibit:
- Reach out before the show
It can be beneficial to begin reaching out to your target audience a month or two before the show. By doing this, you can help ensure you have a stream of people stopping in. Maybe you made a connection with an attendee the previous year but didn’t quite seal the deal. If you got their email address, this is a great way to get yourself on their radar again.
You can also reach out to other businesses who will be setting up booths. Because you will all be setting up before the trade show opens, you can get some of that valuable B2B networking done when the crowds are a lot smaller.
- Find business allies
You don’t want to trade information with direct competitors, but if other businesses are doing different but complimentary work, you are likely to have overlapping connections. Don’t be afraid to trade best practices and even contact information.
- Engage with social media during the show
While you certainly know the importance of social media by now, you want to be certain you are keeping up with your social media mentions and connections while you are at the show.
A great way to do this is to establish a brand-specific hashtag for during the show. If someone is tweeting about your booth, give them a thumbs up emoji in return. That kind of brand engagement can make people more amenable to what you are trying to accomplish at the show and with your company in general.
- Don’t forget giveaways
Trade show attendees love swag, so be sure some of that swag has your brand on it. According to the Trade Show News Network, the best trade show giveaways are relevant to your business, tailored to your audience and useful for attendees. That means you need to provide an item that makes sense for what you’re offering, is going to appeal to the people you’re trying to reach and is something that will get some use.
Things like logo-branded thumb drives, tote bags and coffee mugs are well-established hits — they have a wide appeal, make sense for most businesses and are highly useful.
Design With the Best
If you’re ready to make a big splash with your trade show exhibit design, look no further than APG Exhibits. We have been providing brands with the cleanest designs and state of the art exhibits for over 30 years.
Whether you’re looking to design a small booth or a massive freestanding exhibit, we have durable and eye-catching trade show architecture that is priced right. We even provide graphic design and artwork resources, so you can stay focused on your business rather than worrying about art and design.
Contact us today and get ready for some serious ROI with an innovative trade show exhibit design!