8 ways to make your exhibition stands pay

July 20, 2017

There’s nothing quite like face-to-face interaction.

Exhibitions are one of the only places where you can truly get that with your client base – you can meet them, talk to them, learn from them. Before you can do all that, though, you need to ensure that your stand, the first point of contact, draws them to you.

How to do that? Well, there are a number of approaches, both psychological and design-based, that can help. These often overlooked details can really set you apart for all the right reasons.

1. Define your goals: Having made the decision to take a stand at a given exhibition, most exhibitors then forget about the most important aspect of that decision – their reasons for being there. According to UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, 71% of exhibitors fail to set objectives or strategies before heading to a show. They will still reap some positive results, but they’re not going to get maximum return on their investment.

According to UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, 71% of exhibitors fail to set objectives or strategies before heading to a show.

Exhibitions are expensive, so the first question you need to answer is what you hope to achieve by attending. If you’re not certain where to start, here are some typical, measurable objectives:

  • Boost your sales figures
  • Launch new products to a mass market
  • Strengthen customer relations
  • Create an e-marketing list
  • Gain more media exposure

You may find that one or all of the above apply directly to your business right now – so much the better. Either way, defining what you hope to achieve will help to inform and focus the design and content of your stand.

2. Visit the exhibition space ahead of time: You will be told the footprint of your stand when you book the space, but in order to get an accurate perspective of how it fits into the exhibition space as a whole, it pays to visit the venue. Do this before you embark on any design work. Sight lines, foot traffic, ceiling height etc can all affect the design of your stand, so make sure you’re aware of all the constraints before you start planning any designs. That includes any restrictions the show organiser might be enforcing.

If you have the option to choose your stand position, consider things like potential obstacles that could get in the way, the footfall in each area, and whether there is room for a demo beyond the confines of your stand. By taking the time to visit the venue, you will have a real advantage over your competitors.

3. Consider a modular design: The cost of designing and building an exhibition stand can be more effectively recouped if your stand is reusable. To this end, more and more exhibitors are choosing to go with modular designs – in other words, a stand that’s built up from multiple elements rather than one complete structure.

The advantages of modular stand designs include:

  • Lightweight – your modules ought to be as light as possible so that they can be transported with ease.
  • Freestanding – they should be able to be erected in any position, regardless of walls or other obstacles.
  • Easy to store – when you’re not exhibiting, you will want your stand components to fold away and be simple to store in as little space as possible.

Modular show stands tend to meet all the above requirements, but they aren’t the only solution. Take the time to look into your options and find a stand that suits your needs.

4. Don’t be a slave to technology: Technological advancements have opened up all sorts of possibilities for impactful and immersive stand displays but don’t forget the fundamental purpose of live exhibitions: to meet people in the flesh. Sometimes technology can get in the way of that all-important relationship building, so plan carefully.

If the tech requires a lot of attention, it’s likely to steal your stand staff’s attention from visitors. In his book Exhibit Marketing and Trade Show Intelligence, Professor Klaus Solberg Soilen illustrates the importance of attending to visitors at your stand as soon as they show an interest. According to Soilen, fewer than half (42%) of all stand visitors are willing to wait one minute for attention. Keep them waiting for three minutes and nearly three-quarters (72%) will walk away.

Fewer than half (42%) of all stand visitors are willing to wait one minute for attention. Keep them waiting for three minutes and nearly three-quarters (72%) will walk away.

5. Make sure your signage is legible: It takes a lot to stand out from the crowd of exhibition stands; it’s all too easy to disappear. And a very good way of making sure your stand gets overlooked is by using illegible signage. The human brain, when bombarded with competing information, responds by filtering out anything that is unintelligible or hard to read. While bright, iridescent colours may catch your eye in certain contexts, they are not conducive to eye-catching signage. Such colours work well on their own but they don’t make good backgrounds for text.

Instead, choose background tones that contrast with the text colour so that it stands out. You may want to try out various combinations before you settle on one that suits both your brand and your messaging. A professional designer will help you with colour selection, and with your choice of typography. As with colours, over-fussy fonts do not stand out in busy environments. A sans-serif font such as Arial or Verdana will be much more legible.

6. Entice people with colour psychology: As well as its influence on the legibility of your signage, colour plays a significant part in the way your stand brings in visitors. Different colours make people respond in different ways, and there’s plenty of research into the subject to inform your design decisions. A study from the University of British Columbia, for example, found that red backgrounds produce a more favourable response to very product-specific messaging or negative messaging (such as health warnings) whereas blue backgrounds were favoured for creative, evocative and aspirational messaging.

When it comes to the finer points of your stand design, a little research into the subliminal effects of colour could give you an advantage over your fellow exhibitors.

7. Play on all the senses: Exhibition stands don’t have to offer a purely visual experience. Research has shown that if you’re able to please all five of a person’s senses, you’re most likely to attract them to the stand and, crucially, ensure that they stay there a while. There are many ways to pull this off.

The appearance of your stand is the obvious starting point, but think about the use of aromas and sounds, the feel of the materials in your stand construction, flooring and furniture. And is there some way in which you could tantalise their taste buds? The more you consider the ‘visitor experience’ when designing your stand, the better you will be able to influence them during the show.

The more you consider the ‘visitor experience’ when designing your stand, the better you will be able to influence them during the show.

Another ‘sensory’ experience you might consider is a competition or activity – something that challenges visitors and holds their attention. This will distinguish your stand from the crowd of other exhibitors and create a buzz around it. Just make sure it’s an activity that’s relevant to your product and attracts genuine potential customers. As Klaus Solberg Soilen points out, ‘if you’re selling luxury cars, don’t set up a go-kart competition’. It will only attract wannabes.

8. Tap in to social media: Exhibitions provide the opportunity to blend direct marketing (your stand) with social media marketing. Everyone has a smartphone these days and that means they have the potential to reach out to hundreds of other people: around 50% of brands now use social media influencers to spread their messages. You should be looking to tap into that network during exhibitions.

Weave your social media messages into your stand design, using signage to encourage visitors to share a picture or hashtag associated with your brand, and you can raise your online profile for free. Your stand will start to reach more than just the visitors at the show, bringing an additional return on investment.

Set goals, strategise, succeed

These tips should have convinced you that there are plenty of considerations to take into account when planning an exhibition stand. Appearance is essential, of course, but aesthetic charm has to be blended with practical effectiveness and a logical connection to your product. When you take all this into account, you realise that the appearance of a successful stand is a combination of factors that appeal to the senses, facilitate engagement and fulfil your objectives.