To those of you who are not currently involved in the exhibition scene, consider this article my personal and professional wish to win you over. I’ll share a couple of important tips on making an impact at your show and advise you on three key issues you should address in the build-up to the exhibition: your stand, your purpose, and your respect. Here’s hoping you enjoy it.
Why turn up to an exhibition?
Exhibiting is a fantastic way to build professional relationships with those whom you share an industry. Everyone shares the same interests but they approach them from many different angles. These different perspectives may be minute, but they’re all significant, and they can prove extraordinarily helpful in how you do business in the future. Face-to-face communication still matters, and it will never cease to be important. This is because…
People are nice!
As humans we are predisposed to help. It feels good. Exhibitions consist of hundreds of men and women who feel genuine enthusiasm for sharing their knowledge in the hope that they’ll get some in return.
It’s not easy to pick up these titbits of information on a forum or email conversation, where immediacy and intimacy tend to be sacrificed in favour of detail and professionalism, so we must always remember that we are dealing with people. Exhibitions are where great minds and great businesses congregate, and they are brilliant locations to deal with individuals on an individual basis; by exhibiting, you will keep in touch with the human side to all your dealings.
So, how do you exhibit properly?
An exhibition stand
It’s as easy to succeed at an exhibition as it is to fail. The first factor that determines this is, as always, money.
At any venue visibility is key, and it is easy to get lost in the crowd. To alleviate this pressure, you spend money on the best space you can afford, and then you put the best stand you can afford in it. I’ll spare you exorbitant details but there are two main options – to dazzle them with brilliance, or to appease your business with efficiency.
If you have a lot of money at your disposal you will choose the first option. Custom-build stands are exciting, professional and dominate space. They’re also very expensive.
Not every business can afford to throw money at brilliance. If you need to give a bit more thought to ROI and budgeting, you’ll probably end up with a modular stand. These aim to get your brand and your message across as strikingly as possible, without making your business look shoddy.
The best way to look professional is by getting the highest quality graphics possible. You should probably scout around for panoramic graphics (flowing images that are not ruined by metal poles splitting them up). You’ll like to have seating areas, monitors and lighting in a good modular stand, anything to increase the visibility and credibility of your brand.
If you do this properly, you’ll have an audience as big as the ‘custom’ stands, but will have saved a huge amount of money. But remember, you get what you pay for at an exhibition, so do your research before deciding on any system.
Think of custom-build stands as landmarks in London. If you’re visiting for the day you’re going to visit Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. Why? Because you couldn’t ignore them if you tried. With a modular stand, however, you’re more like Harrods. You’re not a landmark, per se, but people know where you are and they know you can offer something worthwhile.
Sorry for the science lesson, ladies and gents, but it’s very important to know that there are different ways to exhibit. The end goal is always the same, though; make them visit, and make them care.
Purpose and visitation
The next stage to exhibiting properly is to have a purpose. A very short story: I attended the TFMA (Technology for Marketing and Advertising) show recently and was dismayed to see, at one stand, two guys sitting down, their laptop (also sitting on a chair) plugged into a plasma screen to show a logo, and nothing else. No brochures, no extra chairs for visitors, and no enthusiasm.
This is the absolute pinnacle of failure, ladies and gentlemen. Don’t let the exhibition pass you by.
You are representing a business in an atmosphere that encourages conversation and imagination. You have a great product/service and you need to make an impact. Set out goals and find a way to measure their progress. Have a guest-book on your stand, some giveaways or a stack of a thousand business cards. Count your human impact at the end of the day.
Within that human impact you should now be aiming to make a professional impact (exchanging details with other companies’ representatives). The conversion of footfall into profit is something I can’t advise you on, that’s for your business to calculate – but never leave an exhibition without knowing if you’ve reached your targets.
Your purpose should also be introspective. Ignore your company’s goal of impacting others for a second, and ask yourself this: How can I learn from this show? Exhibitions are a great place to be rewarded for proactivity.
For example, if you have enough people manning your stand, you should send them out to talk to others. Not only can you help direct people to your stand, you’ll also be able to converse with others in their comfort zone (their own stand). You can talk about their product/service at their place, then bring them back to yours for your own business. Consider it business speed-dating, and you get the idea.
Thousands of people will pass through major exhibitions and you should see them all as potential goldmines of information. When I say ‘respect’, I mean that there is a personal and professional responsibility to give everyone the opportunity to say something that could be of value to your business.
Another short story – my new marketing assistant accompanied me to the TFMA show I mentioned earlier. My business has been planning some new video content recently, and we ended up discussing these ideas with a girl who was representing a company that produces clay animations. She said, “The good thing about using clay is that we can literally mould our ideas to fit your own.” My assistant asked her if she said that often. She said it was the first time, and he encouraged her to use it as part of their marketing strategy.
It was my assistant’s second day on the job. He potentially had a huge impact on how this company marketed their animation service, just by chatting candidly to a stranger. It goes to show that you can be the best business in the world, but the ways in which you talk to other people will affect your ability to make friends much more than your logo ever will.
And Finally…Enjoy it! Exhibitions are not an obligation, or a responsibility – they will only ever be an opportunity. It is better to not turn up at all than to have a bad exhibition, so treat your stand, audience, and brand with the respect they deserve; if you do that, I guarantee you will be a success.
Alan Jenkins, Managing Director, Quadrant2Design
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