Exhibitions can generate a huge number of leads.
They’re large-scale sales opportunities that capitalise on the advantages of face-to-face. They’re brand awareness events, opportunities to recognise, re-engage and retain your existing customers. Events at Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) generated AED12 billion in value retained in the economy in 2015 – over 3 per cent of the emirate’s total GDP.
But unlocking those rewards isn’t just a matter of pulling in the crowds. To take full advantage you need to be seen, heard and remembered. You need to create an experience. If you’re not willing to invest the additional time and effort to make your stand attract attention, it’s not worth taking a stand at all.
Below we explore the six best ways to attract visitors, including making great use of visuals, keeping your brand authentic, and bringing your stand to life with cutting edge technology. These six best practices will help you tap into the huge revenue potential of the exhibition landscape.
So let’s get started.
1. Be authentic to your brand: If there’s one thing that’s fundamental in the marketing arena it is authenticity. Effective exhibition design has to start from and be consistent with your brand. Otherwise, however startling your visuals or stunning your design, they will ring hollow. And that can elicit apathy – or worse – from exhibition attendees. Shock tactics may attract eyeballs to your stand but it’s playing with fire. Scandal does achieve increased brand awareness, but that can easily become negative brand equity, which then has an adverse impact on your future sales.
Plus, think about what you’re trying to achieve. Exhibitions and trade shows are especially good for on-the-day results: positive interactions, quality leads, even sales. Brand awareness is a tangential benefit, but your primary objective should be to engage attendees, not just to achieve visibility. Gaining eyeballs at the cost of engagement is to be avoided, and you won’t get either unless your stand is authentic.
2. Maximise your reach beforehand: As all exhibitors know, the amount of work that goes into an exhibition far exceeds the days of the show itself. Generally, around 90 per cent of time allocated for an exhibition is spent on preparation, and unless you’ve done the back-end work you’ll struggle to generate results on the day. A critical part of that back-end work is reaching out to the people who might want to attend.
In particular, contact your clients, both past and present. Consider offering an exclusive gift to those who attend on the day, both as an incentive and to reinforce your gratitude for their continued support. That might seem counterintuitive, as exhibitions are often seen as mainly an opportunity to garner new business. But think about the potential for account growth and retention: ‘Exhibitions also serve for existing loyalties to be affirmed and a much-expected thank you to be warmly expressed’ according to Marketing: the Complete Awakening by Pando C. Papantoniou. So focusing exclusively on new business at the cost of longer-established clients is a mistake.
3. Create a visually arresting display: Vibrant graphics and vivid visuals are hugely important in an environment where you’re competing with thousands of other exhibitors. The UAE exhibition market is fiercely competitive. This year’s Arab Health Conference boasted over 4,000 exhibitors and nearly 100,000 attendees. Gulfood, meanwhile, had 95,000 attendees and 5,000 exhibitors at its 2017 food event. The opportunity is huge, but so is the competition. Even smaller, more niche exhibitions have a similar ratio. Last year’s MENA Mining Congress might have had only 2,000 visitors and 150 exhibitors, but each exhibitor was still competing tooth and nail for the attention of the 2,000 attendees.
This is where your exhibition stand design can make a huge impact. The right visuals have a deep effect on people’s cognitive processes, both conveying your product’s meaning and recording your brand in their memory. Gianluigi Guido’s book The Salience of Marketing Stimuli gives a good overview: Summarising the psychological and scientific research to date, Guido notes that what stands out in an environment receives more attention, and is more easily recalled. He goes on to observe that brightness, movement and complexity are the factors most able to generate attention – with bright colours, moving items and complex formats being the most noticeable.
So, leverage these principles in your exhibition stand design, to garner more attention and recall from your attendees. But don’t sacrifice substance for style. Maintain authenticity and consistency rather than being flamboyant for its own sake.
4. Make your exhibition stand a refuge: Ideally, an exhibition or trade show is a place for a like-minded community of people to gather, educate and inspire one another about their common interests. In practice, it can feel more like hard work. Attendees often show up because they should be there, but they can be tired, harried and not especially engaged: ‘I’m only here because I have to be’. If you can coax them out of that mindset and into a genuine, interesting and relaxed mentality, they’ll be more receptive to engaging with you.
One way to do that is to make your exhibition stand a refuge from the seething mass. Create a setting that attendees will genuinely want to enter, because you’re offering respite from the hectic schedule of ‘exhibition-ing’. For instance, you could just offer a comfortable seating area with free, high-quality coffee and Wi-Fi – no hard-sell required. Add in a well-crafted piece of branded content playing in the background, and you’ll get people watching and absorbing your message almost effortlessly. Plus, you’re setting up a positive brand association. As the famous quote goes – widely attributed but still valid – ‘they may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel’.
5. Bring your stand to life with cutting-edge tech: Like any marketing medium, impressions alone aren’t enough to generate results. What you’re aiming for is engaged impressions, because engagement drives action. That’s the difference between leads either walking past your exhibition stand, or stopping, interacting and remembering you. It’s an emotional connection you want to make, because emotions are at the heart of sales.
So how do you make your stand engaging? One of the best ways, hugely popular at the moment, is the use of augmented or virtual reality (VR). These futuristic technologies are still new enough to generate hype, creating a user experience that’s inspiring, memorable and engaging.
For example, if you’re a real estate company you could show off your properties using VR devices. Not only will this generate interest around your exhibition stand, it will re-create the experience of one-to-one viewings but at scale, proving itself a cost-effective sales tool. Plus, consider the longer-reaching benefits in terms of brand perception. Many brands today want to be considered cutting-edge; making use of innovative technologies helps align your brand to that vision.
6. Pick the right people: When you’re exhibiting, your stand isn’t the only thing you’re displaying. Having the right people there will attract more visitors, and better engage them. Each lead is a potential customer, and each representative they engage with from your organisation is a potential salesperson.
Two important principles here were described in Cialdini’s famous book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. The first one is likeability. The mantra ‘people buy from people they like’ is firmly rooted in Cialdini’s studies, and he highlights two elements of likeability that are particularly relevant: physical attractiveness and similarity. It might seem obvious, but good-looking people have an advantage in social interaction, a principle which has been exploited by the advertising industry for decades. Also, you want to have people on your stand who will resonate with the exhibition attendees. If you’re exhibiting at Monster Truck UAE, you wouldn’t staff your stand with the same people you’d send to Beautyworld Middle East.
The second main principle cited by Cialdini is authority; and he highlights the influential Milgram study as evidence that people are generally most receptive to those in positions of authority. So, if you want to wield influence amongst exhibition attendees, send someone who appears, dresses and speaks with authority for that crowd.
Exhibiting at an event can be a huge boon to your business, but there are certainly some best practices to follow if you want to take full advantage. Holding the attention of attendees among hundreds or thousands of competing organisations isn’t an easy task. As with all effective marketing campaigns, the most important thing is a user-centric ethos: finding ways to create a more attractive, more engaging and more memorable experience for your consumers.