Alexis Exhibits

Trade Show Exhibit Design: “Think outside the box”

I have a friend who always seems to come up with a new, successful angle for every trade show. Recently, I asked her, “How do you do it?” The simple reply, “I always force myself and my team to think outside the box. I challenge everyone involved to do the unexpected and come up with new ways to attract attention and create excitement.”

I thought about this advice for a moment. It rattled around in my head. At first, I thought, “I always think outside the box.” Then I started to really evaluate what this common expression means. It is an appealing concept, but is it the right approach for every company, for every brand? And did I really always “think outside the box”? Yes, or at least my goal is always to come up with new ideas and “out of the box” solutions. I just never used that expression to describe my efforts.

What is the “box”?

The trade show’s “box” can be big or small. It can have lighting and dramatic banners. It is the expected trade show exhibit, staffed by smiling people representing a company trying to get leads, offering a free gift or a few samples or some sales material. The box is ordinary, stamped out, one after another just the same in different colors. The box is forgettable.

“Outside the box” exhibits

These are the exhibits that give an attendee a new perspective. These are the exhibits that make lasting impressions on the people who see them. To be effective they require more than just being novel, creative ideas; they need to be thoughtful and suitable for the target audience and the brand. Very few trade show exhibits truly rise to this challenge.

Should every company strive to do the unexpected?

As long as the exhibit is consistent with the brand position and brand values, and successfully promotes your products or services, the answer is, “Yes!” It is a real trick to balance inspiring creative with the hard-hitting sales message that this tough economy demands, but when you achieve it, the results can be stunning.

How to get “outside the box” ideas

The first step in creating a breakthrough exhibit is to build a team that shares that commitment. Once you have assembled that team, make sure that they consistently focus on really solving the marketing challenge that faces you in new and interesting ways.

Your trade show exhibit is like a billboard

There are a lot of similarities between a trade show exhibit and outdoor advertising. You are located on a pathway and people are racing by. They glance to the left and to the right. They have a lot of other things to look at. You only have a few moments to attract their attention. The challenge is very similar to designing a billboard to be placed on a busy Interstate highway.

The best billboards evoke an emotional connection.

They are usually entertaining and often use humor. To be effective billboards must be short, sweet, simple and to the point. Not surprisingly, many of the “rules” for great outdoor advertising design translate to the trade show floor.

  1. Be relevant or your exhibit will be invisible. Make sure your ads appeal to your target market. Use colors, images and words that will attract them and draw prospects into your exhibit.
  2. Bright and bold colors are more effective. Bright colors work well, but limit your pallet to two or three at most. Exhibits with multiple bright colors are visually confusing and that reduces the overall effectiveness. Even if you are marketing natural and “green” products, consider using clean blue or bright white rather than the more expected green-brown palette. Green and brown are very likely to recede into the background and have little visual impact unless you compensate for the color palette with other design elements.
  3. Visibility matters. Make your major exhibit graphics large enough to be seen quickly and from a far distance.
  4. Use words sparingly and make them easy to read. Use large, legible type. The best bet is solid backgrounds with sharply contrasting type. And unless there is a compelling reason for vertical type, orient your type horizontally – it is easier to read.
  5. Choose graphics that connect with your target. Select images that will generate the strongest emotion related to your product or service.

Trade Show Exhibit Design: Motion Captures Attention

Few exhibitors use motion to draw visitors to their trade show exhibit, and this presents an opportunity for the exhibitors who do make effective use of motion. Impactful motion can be created in 2-D with digital video or interactive displays, or in 3-D with people or other moving objects.

Effective 2-D Motion Techniques

Trade show floors are loaded with digital display monitors but they are rarely used to create motion. Most often they are used to show videos of products, digital slide shows or other programming that is meant to be watched from a few feet away. This can be an important element of a booth but may not draw someone into your booth.

To attract passersby place displays above head level and in a location that can be seen easily from at least 10 or 20 feet away. Using large display screens or an array of displays can help make a big statement.

If you want to attract people with something moving, the programming is what really matters. Program your display with attention-getting video or graphics. Use large graphic images, bright colors, stark contrast and incorporate motion.

Effective 3-D Motion Techniques

A few exhibitors have created trade show exhibits that incorporate the latest 3-D technology, but most 3-D motion elements used in trade show exhibits are people or objects that are in motion.

People are the most common 3-D motion elements. A product demonstration filled with activity and animated behavior attracts attention. A performer doing any kinetic activity – dancing, juggling, walking on stilts, and so on – can attract large crowds.

The other common 3-D motion elements are physical objects that move. A motion element can include banners, streamers or tension fabric structures that are well above eye level and in motion.

Effective Use of Motion

Motion elements are highly memorable and can leave a lasting impression with trade show attendees. The most effective way to incorporate motion techniques into a trade show booth is to make sure that the moving element reinforces the brand identity and the booth concept. As with every powerful communications tool, integration is essential to success and using motion elements as a gimmick just to attract attention without properly integrating the message can actually undermine your overall efforts.

Used wisely, motion can attract visitors to your trade show exhibit and has the capacity to build awareness and leave a lasting impression of your company and brand.

Putting the Show back into Trade Show Exhibits!

ExhibitorOnline published a case history about a trade show exhibit that brilliantly executed a complete 360 degree trade show exhibit. The exhibit was presented by PayLock LLC, a manufacturer of a self-release car-booting system called the SmartBoot at the International Parking Institute Conference & Expo (IPI) in Las Vegas.

Since the company’s 2004 launch, PayLock’s president, Cory Marchasin, hoped to snuff out traditional car boots. “My partners and I acquired a car-boot company in 2004, but rather than continue with this traditional technology, we looked for ways to develop a competitive edge and differentiate ourselves from the competition,” Marchasin says. “As part of our creative process to build a better boot, we decided it wasn’t actually the product that needed refining so much as it was the business process itself. Traditional boots and the process associated with them just didn’t seem to make sense anymore.”

PayLock decided to bury competing products with a funeral-based booth theme. Their exhibit including everything from in-booth caskets to after-hours wakes, PayLock’s “morose strategy used dead-pan humor to rub out the competition — and slay its own expectations in the process.” Here are a few highlights:

  1. The entire trade show exhibit and program was infused with product messages and tongue-in-cheek tactics to keep the laughs coming.
  2. Pre-show promotion: An obituary for the traditional boot ran in the show directory, available starting the day before the show opened.
  3. Two memory boards with images of the traditional boot and the paper permit paid homage to the Smart-Boot’s “deceased” competitors.
  4. Following the show’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, PayLock pallbearers hoisted the coffins onto their shoulders and led a processional to PayLock’s booth. A five-piece jazz band accompanied the processional, recreating a New Orleans-style funeral march.
  5. The two coffins were positioned near the back of the exhibit. Monitors above the coffins displayed the time of the next funeral presentation along with whimsical images during the eulogies.
  6. Tissue boxes, black carpet, and casket sprays adorned the surreal 16-seat in-booth funeral parlor.
  7. PayLock staffers read the eulogy, which explained the traditional boot’s fate through excerpts from the traditional boot’s journal. Attendees that read pre-scripted eulogies of their own were entered into a drawing for an iPad.
  8. After the funeral, the bereaved filed past the caskets to pay their respects and collect free T-shirts.

The exhibit was not a hit with competitors, but was very popular with show attendees, and, most importantly, generated a lot of qualified sales leads. The most impressive aspect of this exhibit was how it seamlessly integrated the company’s sales message into an unlikely and memorable branded event.

You can read the entire case history at, click here!

Trade Show Exhibit Strategies: Be the “Talk of the Show”

Become the “Talk of the Trade Show”

Every show has that one exhibitor that everyone talks about – the “Talk of the Show”. It is not always the biggest or most expensive booth, but it is often the booth that has the best marketing idea. Here are some ways that unlikely exhibitors became the “Talk of the Show”:

  1. Rare autographed merchandise that appeals to the target customer.
    Pick the right item and the right celebrity for your target customer and, if used as part of a themed exhibit and contest, your exhibit could be a show standout. Select a rare, one-of-a-kind item to be used in a prize drawing, add some related, less expensive items to make the contest more exciting. Then come up with a themed contest and exhibit to make the entire concept and booth an entertainment event.
  2. Film a live show and make attendee the stars.
    Most people love to see themselves on camera. Set up a Live Cam and Web Cam from the show floor and put on a show. Broadcast your “show” on monitors so people can watch their colleagues be stars. At one trade show, an exhibitor created a talk show set and broadcast live at the trade show and online. They had a “band” with a couple of musicians and recorded music, a show host and invited attendees to be their guests on the show. Guests could be interviewed about the product or sing favorite songs with modified lyrics that integrated the featured product. The program got the highest ratings at this show.
  3. A housewares magic act.
    Many exhibitors hire magicians or entertainers to attract exhibit traffic, but every now and then a company comes up with an act that breaks out of the ordinary. A ceramic knife manufacturer took a knife throwing act to a new level – pitting their ceramic knives against the competition. The knife throwing act demonstrated that while some ceramic knives shattered easily, the company’s knives were truly shatter resistant and could survive even knife throwing.
  4. Extreme Demos.
    If you have an extreme product, consider having an extreme demo. At one trade show, Taser offered to shock attendees, and hundreds took up the offer and ended up on the floor.
  5. Great food.
    If you are exhibiting at a non-food show, think about offering a crowd-pleasing, made-to-order food item. The trick is to avoid the commonly offered freshly baked cookies and coffee drinks. For example, at a tech show, Fios, Inc. of Portland offered smoothies – and had people lined up for hours. While attendees waited for their smoothie, the booth staff scanned their badges and introduced attendees to Fios e-discovery legal support services and software.

There are many ways to attract attention – prizes, demos, entertainers and free food are common – but when done in an unexpected way, it can make your booth the trade show exhibit that everyone talks about.

The Key to Tradeshow Exhibit Success: Location, Location, Location

When you’re planning for the upcoming year of trade shows, it’s important to remember that the location of your booth at trade shows can be key to getting the maximum amount of traffic. Lots of traffic can equate to a higher number of qualified sales leads, which you need to justify the expense of attending these shows.

The first step is to plan for the trade show early. When you book early, you’ll have more options to choose from for your booth location. If you wait until the last minute, you’ll be limited to choosing from whatever booth spots are not sold. The only plus of waiting: you might be able to find out in advance who your neighboring exhibitors will be. If a show doesn’t sell out, by booking later, the show organizers might offer that accompanying booth—if vacant—for free or for a greatly reduced price just to fill it.

If a particular show is a success for you, sign up and reserve your spot for the following year’s event while at the event or shortly thereafter, which might get you a better location and better deal too. Keep in mind that if you are a returning exhibitor, the event management’s sales folks want you back. Use this as a bargaining chip in your negotiations for next year’s booth rate and location.

So what are the prime locations when choosing your booth location? Let’s take a look at a few of the primo spots that exhibitors crave.

Close to the exit from the restrooms. You might balk at getting seated near the restroom at a restaurant, but tradeshows are an exception. Everyone eventually has to go to the bathroom and as they leave, they are often in strolling mode and more likely to stop.

Adjacent to food kiosks and/or Internet cafes. Be the first booth they see after they grab that cup of coffee, eat that bagel or check their email. Once their hunger is sated or their caffeine withdrawal has ebbed, they will be ready to give you their full, undivided attention.

Close to the entrance/exit of the exhibit hall. It’s guaranteed that everyone will have to walk by your booth multiple times a day. Be the first booth they see when they enter the hall, before they are worn out from hours of schlepping up and down the aisles.

End of aisles or on back walls. People often look to see how long aisles are and stop to get their bearings before they embark down an aisle. Seize this opportunity to grab their attention.

Best Lighting Solutions for Trade Shows

Proper lighting is an essential component of your tradeshow booth and can help increase traffic and create a favorable environment in which to pitch your company’s products. According to booth design expert, Bruce Baker, who’s published articles on booth lighting, a good lighting system that functions at peak performance will boost sales more than any other item you can purchase.

Your lighting requirements will vary depending on your specific promotional goals, display configuration, exhibit color and design, booth lighting fixtures, and space. To determine what type of lighting will best create effective, creative exhibit illumination, you must carefully consider the following questions:

  • What area or product in your booth will need to be the focal point?
  • What visual impact, impression, or message do you want to convey through lighting?

When you want to create a spotlight effect to highlight one particular area of interest in your exhibit, you might consider overhead truss lighting. If you’d rather create a more inviting, warm and welcoming atmosphere to make prospects feel more comfortable, you might select a soft lamp or ambient lighting.

Special illumination techniques can be used to create a more dramatic atmosphere that can possibly draw more attendees to your booth by setting it apart from competing booths. Determining the mood you want to create—exciting and dynamic or warm and inviting—will go a long way towards helping you determine the most appropriate lighting.

Other questions to ask when weighing your lighting options are:

  • What type of lighting is being supplied by the exhibition facility?
  • How much power will be available in your booth?
  • Would additional power be available, if your lighting needs require it?
  • How are light fixtures attached to your display?
  • How much can you spend on display lighting systems?

Once these questions are answered, you can go to your lighting supplier and find the best solutions for your particular needs. Good lighting can lead to increased booth traffic, additional sales leads, and possibly higher resulting sales, so choose wisely.

Trade Show “Power Graphics”

Graphics are a critical element of any trade show display. You could have the best promotion, best product and brilliant people in your booth but, if most attendees don’t notice your exhibit, it won’t matter.

There are many philosophies about how to create effective trade show graphics that persuasively break through the clutter. One solution is “Power Graphics” – singular images that have the “power” to make your exhibit stand out from your competition, attract your target customers and almost instantaneously communicate your key message.

What makes graphics powerful? Graphics that are singular and focused have power. Images and words combined to communicate your message and brand personality without needing translation have power. Graphics without unnecessary elements in the design, displays and sales presentations so that your target customers can actually experience your message, your brand and your products are the most powerful.

The images and words that you use depend on your marketing message but here are a few general guidelines:

  • Make sure your designers know everything that is important about your target customers – before they start work.
  • Select a design team that knows how to design exhibits. This is a unique design task and many great advertising designers have little experience with or understanding of trade shows.
  • If one image will communicate your message, don’t be afraid to let your designers build the exhibit around that one key image.
  • Keep it simple and uncluttered. The details belong in your sales material, presentations and interactive displays.
  • Make sure the key graphic can be easily seen from a distance. Avoid small or overly detailed images.
  • Think in 3-dimensions. Dimensional graphics create visual interest.
  • Incorporate words – in large, legible type. The most memorable images are often the combination of a few words and a graphic image.
  • Use lighting to make the “Power Graphics” the focal point of the exhibit.
  •  Avoid commonplace and generic images, for example, photographs of happy customers, standard product photography and stock photography that looks like stock photography.

Effective use of “Power Graphics” can make a meaningful difference in your ability to get the most out of trade show participation.

Top Tactics to Make Your Trade Show Booth Stand Out

Every industry has its norms. At a medical industry show, the show floor will resemble a tranquil sea of blues and whites, colors that convey cleanliness and reliability. At technology industry shows you’ll see lots of bright colors, bold graphics and eye-popping presentations on flat-screen monitors. While every industry has its norm, the reality is that in order to make your booth get noticed by attendees, the last thing you want to do is to blend in with competing booths.

So how do you differentiate your exhibit so attendees will be captivated long enough for your booth staff to engage them and deliver your company’s marketing message? In order to successfully achieve your company’s trade show objectives, whether that is generating sales leads or educating a new market about your products or services, the first step is to garner the attention of prospective customers.

Many companies exhibiting at trade shows make the classic mistake of trying to fit in with other exhibitors. Perhaps it’s your company’s first foray into a particular market or event. You want your company to look like it can play in the same sandbox with other big players in the market. The problem is fitting in isn’t going to help your company stand out amidst its competitors.

Here are a few ways in which you can differentiate your company’s exhibit:

Color: Avoid the standard color palette of the industry. Choosing a unique color scheme for your booth is a simple way to visually set your booth apart from other booths. Be careful, however, and do your research before picking a color scheme. Different colors convey certain messages that might not align with your trade show objectives or your marketing message.

Structure: Be creative here, and don’t settle for a standard exhibit configuration. If your competition typically uses a booth layout with formal meeting areas/rooms, go for a casual lounge feel instead. If competing booths are very geometric and angular, go for a free-flowing, airy feel with a fabric structure featuring organic shapes and soft, curvy lines.

Lighting: One way to breathe new life into an older exhibit is to enhance or change up the lighting scheme. Be creative here as well. Colored lights can add pizzazz and be a real attention-getter. Soft lighting can create a calm, intimate setting.

Product Displays: Don’t overcrowd surfaces with product displays. Again, take note of what your competitors are doing. Use creativity to highlight your products in a way your competitors aren’t. Again, the purpose is to get your booth to stand out so attendees will pause long enough to notice your products and marketing message.

Booth staff: It’s important to put together a “front line” offense when it comes to your booth staff. Don’t staff your booth with temp workers or new employees. Bring out your “big guns,” which typically means your product development folks who can speak at great length—not just about your products, but those of your competitor’s and industry pain points as well.

Trade Show Targeting – What Makes My Customer Tick?

Understanding the business concerns, issues and problems of your prospects and customers is paramount in crafting a marketing message. This message is a critical component of your trade show plan, as well as your business marketing plan as a whole.  However, it is not easy to tap into their minds.  This process requires market research to effectively derive their characteristics for purchasing.  During the last few years, the buying patterns have changed and possibly your customer persona has evolved into a totally different person.  Keeping up with the shifts and changes can be difficult.

One way to tune into the mindset of a customer base is using focus groups.  They can be quite effective in uncovering the thought processes and preferences of an audience.  If you are not familiar with this research form, let me provide some additional information.

What are Focus Groups?

Focus Groups are great at capturing the attitudes and opinions of a “selected” group(s) of individuals.  The moderator poses questions to the group affording the participants the opportunity to share their views.  It is important to remember that these groups are qualitative in nature and sometimes would need to be followed up with a quantitative research project to ensure statistical reliability.

However, the catalytic nature of focus groups can provide direction as to what the next steps should be in the evolution of the idea being tested.

In essence – you are testing ideas or communication messages to determine if they are on target or not.  Customer and prospect language or what they “hear” can be TOTALLY different from what you are communicating.  Being in tune with your audience can spell s-u-c-c-e-s-s.

Using Online Research to Probe the Minds of Your Customer

Rather than in-person focus groups, participants are recruited for the online experience.  Typically, 12 – 15 are secured and they commit to the process.

  • A research moderator posts questions over the course of several days as the conversation evolves and probes respondents for details and clarifications when needed.
  • Respondents can log in and answer each days’ questions whenever it’s convenient for them – some folks are online at the crack of dawn, some like to log in and take a break during work hours and others log in after dinner is done and the kids are in bed.  Being convenient means that respondents can take time to think about the questions and provide thoughtful answers.
  • Clients are able to log in and observe the discussion and leave private messages for the moderator regarding comments they would like clarified or suggestions for new topics.
  • They last over a three-day period which allows for reflection on questions answered and possible modifications to the moderator’s script.

The participants interact with each other and the moderator as they provide their valuable insights to questions posed.  In the process, all sorts of light bulbs are illuminated and most often a new, enhanced direction is revealed.

Mike Courtney from Aperio Insights shares these insights when considering online focus groups to determine your trade show messages.

Most likely there is a current marketing communications campaign going on within your company.  Does your audience really understand the campaign or is there some confusion on the message you are attempting to convey?

Or you can assess whether your prospects deem you as a trustworthy resource.  Or do they trust your competition more than you?

Have the prospect or customer “explain” your services or products to the moderator of the online focus group.  Are they accurately defining your offering?  Note: this question can be quite revealing as to how far off the mark your audience is to what your product does or what your marketing message is.

One other word of note – research can beget research.  The more you uncover – additional questions will surface.

As you research and make your trade show marketing plan, consider taking the pulse of your customers.  If you can translate their heartbeat (the business issues) into your marketing message, a match is made and most likely you will have a new customer.