Can ‘cutting costs’ lead to greater expense? Avoiding 7 major pitfalls with your exhibition stand

September 10, 2017

Many distinct factors come together to create an effective exhibition stand. But if we don’t understand why each aspect is important, it can be easy to assume that cutting corners is possible with no consequence.

Not the case.

Exhibitions are ranked the second most valuable sales and marketing channel for B2B organisations: attendance can help increase brand awareness, strengthen relationships, generate leads and drive sales – but only if you attract, then hold, the attention of those busy, overwhelmed and tired attendees.

Consequences of cutting corners with your exhibition stand

Your exhibition stand is charged with attracting and holding that all-important attendee attention. Which is why getting it wrong, and cutting costs, just ends up leaving your company more out of pocket.

Here are seven of the biggest pitfalls of “cutting costs”, and how to avoid them.

1. You ignore the uniqueness of your brand: The Centre for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) found that for 88% of respondents it was building brand awareness that was the most popular benefit of face-to-face interaction at trade shows. It follows, then, that telling your brand story in an authentic, consistent and compelling way is central.

That’s why an effective exhibition stand aligns to your brand. This in turn resonates with visitors, who are more likely to become longer-term, higher-value customers in the future. It’s about attracting the right sort of people – the people whose problems your brand exists to solve.

It’s about attracting the right sort of people – the people whose problems your brand exists to solve.

Simply renting a one-size-fits-all stand cannot capitalise in the same way. It might seem like a cost-saving, but it’s really just an additional cost, both on the day and in the future.

2. You just turn up on the day: To the untrained eye, an exhibition is a one/two/three+ day event. But anyone who’s enjoyed real exhibition success can tell you that’s very far from the truth. Probably 90% of the work happens before you arrive on-site. A huge factor is reaching out to potential attendees, extending invitations to important contacts, and publicising your attendance.

Pre-event advertising can seem like an easy cost to cut – especially when many exhibitions have no problem attracting big numbers. But it’s not just about numbers. You want the right people to attend – the people who are relevant, interested and excited to engage specifically with you (not the other 5,000 exhibitors). You’re aiming for the people who generate leads, enquiries and sales; the people who become brand ambassadors; the people who drive your exhibition success.

Imagine if 500 of the people you engage are already warm leads. That means a better conversion rate, and more time spent talking to people who will have revenue impact for the business. Nobody likes to hear “we didn’t know you were there, or we would have come by and said hello” from a high-value prospect the day after the exhibition.

3. Your stand doesn’t make a great first impression: Don’t assume your presence is enough. It’s not, especially when you’re competing with hundreds, even thousands, of exhibitors. This year’s Arab Health hosted over 4,000 exhibitors; Intersec had 1,300; and Gitex is expecting 4,500 in October. So whether you’re in safety, pharma, automotive, technology, biotech, beauty, or any other industry, you’ll be competing for attention with every important brand in your space.

As the book Exhibit Marketing and Trade Show Intelligence notes, “when someone walks past your booth, you have about 3 [seconds] to get their attention”. That’s really not long. Attendees are overloaded; if you don’t make an impression, you won’t get visitors to your stand. If you don’t get visitors to your stand, you can’t convert those into leads, sales, and long-term customers. So, how do you ensure your stand makes an impression? The author notes “uniqueness” as the golden rule of booth design. In other words, cookie-cutters won’t cut it.

Read more: 6 ways to attract visitors to your exhibition stand

4. Your stand doesn’t retain visitors: So you make an impression during those three seconds and attract visitors to your stand – but that isn’t enough. You need to keep visitors at your stand. The longer they stay, the more likely they become qualified leads, or even customers – plus they’re spending less time with your competitors.

The longer they stay, the more likely they become qualified leads, or even customers – plus they’re spending less time with your competitors.

Which means your stand needs to be interesting enough to hold, not just catch, their attention. One fantastic way to do this is with technology – virtual reality is hugely popular right now. This obviously has a cost attached though, so these additional features are often the first to go if you’re keeping costs low.

Perhaps they shouldn’t be. Consider the statistic from Exhibit Marketing and Trade Show Intelligence – that 58% of visitors will wait less than 60-seconds at your stand without engagement. Six percent won’t wait at all. This means you need something to immediately capture their attention, when your exhibition reps might be otherwise engaged. Technology can plug that gap, holding people’s attention for that extra few minutes until you can attend to them, and turn them into a lead.

Even if you don’t embrace technology like virtual reality, basic things like music, screens, Wi-Fi – even coffee machines and somewhere to sit – can add an important extra element. Those extra features can help you attract, and convert, more visitors. So there’s keeping things simple, then there’s keeping things too simple.

5. You don’t take enough people with you: If you’re trying to cut corners, you might decide to limit the team members you bring to the show. Lost time, travel costs, possible accommodation; these things add up.

But according to the Centre for Exhibition Industry Research’s Cost Effectiveness of Exhibition Participation report, the average cost to identify a lead outside an exhibition is USD 443 compared to USD 96 during an exhibition. So taking advantage of these low costs is key while you’re on-site – if you take five additional team members for a three-day exhibition, assume each of those five will have five conversations per hour – so 25 hourly conversations across the team. Assuming an 8-hour day puts you at 600 conversations over the three-day show. That’s a lot of money saved when compared to identifying a lead outside of the exhibition space.

6. You don’t book your spot early: If you’re unsure about exhibiting, you might hold off on reserving space until you’re certain. Sources suggest that renting floor space represents around 28% of your total exhibition budget, so it may seem logical to wait.

But it’s actually counterintuitive, because most trade shows offer a discount for early registrants. And if you do wait, you might discover there’s no space left in the heavy footfall areas, where you’ll get more visitors and more leads. Or, worse, discover there’s no space left at all. The most popular exhibitions book out far in advance – so you need to get off the fence and commit to attendance early, or you might miss the opportunity altogether.

7. You try to do it all yourself: Many businesses decide to manage the exhibition process in-house, and that can work. But you have to be willing to invest the time to get it right. There’s a big difference between attending an exhibition and maximising ROI from your exhibition attendance. If you get it wrong, trade shows can easily turn into a business expense – not a business-generating tool.

There’s a big difference between attending an exhibition and maximising ROI from your exhibition attendance.

Professional exhibition teams involve multiple area specialists with many years’ experience honing their craft, from exhibition designers to project managers to financial planners. If you choose not to outsource then you need to ensure you can wear the many hats involved, so nothing gets neglected. If one piece of the puzzle falls apart, so can your ROI. 

Exhibition attendance – you put less in, you get less out

Done correctly, an exhibition can deliver real, measurable ROI – which is why USD 24bn is spent annually by companies on exhibiting. And it’s why 99% of marketers find exhibitions deliver unique value not available through any other channel.

Those statistics tell a story of an incredibly valuable, profitable marketing and sales channel – and certainly not an area on which you should cut costs. As is always the case, you have to speculate to accumulate.

You put less in, and you’ll certainly get less out.