What lies at the heart of a great technology exhibition stand?

May, 13 2019

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Las Vegas is garish and glitzy enough as it is, but every January, things get that little bit bolder and a whole lot brighter. That’s when the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) rolls into town bringing the biggest names in tech to the ‘city of sin’ to show off what they’ve got and what the competition hasn’t.

Alongside the IFA in Berlin, CES is the industry’s chance to pull out the big guns and set the stage for the year ahead. And with an average of almost 4,500 exhibitors trying to attract the attention of over 180,000 visitors, it’s vital that tech brands use every trick up their sleeves to make an impression. For the tech sector, that often means trying to be bigger, shinier and louder. But impact is about more than that.

To gain some insight into the stands that outstrip the competition, we quizzed Rapiergroup’s Creative Director, Chris Litchfield, on his favourite tech stands of the last five years - why he feels they are significant and what the industry has to learn from them.

Panasonic at IFA 2018

What is so incredible about this stand is how ‘un-techy’ it was. The black frame structure and strong graphic elements really built a sense of identity, but it was how they presented their products that really set Panasonic apart here. Based around a series of interlocking rooms that situated their tech in a range of everyday scenarios (from a barber shop to a kitchen to a living room), the stand allowed people to think about their lifestyle first and technology second.

Chris said: “Panasonic created these vignettes that allowed people to meander through the space and soak up the environment into which the product had been placed. It’s essentially using tools from advertising, where you buy into a lifestyle, but it was done in such a tasteful and accessible way”.

This example proves that brands don’t need to dazzle us to make an impression. Indeed, sometimes it’s more powerful to put people first and turn them into brand advocates, rather than trying to impress them with what the latest gadget has to offer. Chris adds: “Historically, at technology shows the industry trend had always been to show off technology as life-changing, leading and influencing us. Now, however, we’re all so familiar with technology and the concept of being connected. The Panasonic show was a really nice example of technology being integrated naturally into human life.”

Sony at CES 2018

Tech events are often bombastic affairs, with blinding LEDs, bass-heavy music and incessant chatter. Many brands choose to lean into this sensual overload but Sony took a different route at CES 2018. Their booth fused subtle wood-grained textures, simple architectural forms and warm lighting to create a ‘homely’ respite from the noise and chaos of the show floor, positioning the brand as both innovative and approachable.

Chris said: “Stand design in the States can be rather traditional and formulaic, so you’ll see a lot of pretty aggressive and noisy designs. What was interesting about Sony at this show was that they bucked that trend and embraced nature, so that the whole space had an inherently human feel. This stand shows that you can take a different route and be just as impactful, while also doing something that has a moral conscience to it as well.”

This moral conscience came from the fact that the exhibit (which was built largely of unfinished lumber) was deconstructed and donated to Habitat for Humanity after the show - a particularly bold move for an industry that can be quite wasteful. With sustainable events very much on the radar of event organisers in recent years, Sony were making an important point about waste and environmentalism without being blunt or heavy-handed.

Samsung 'City' at CES 2018

For this stand, Samsung came up with a novel and striking way to demonstrate how the Internet of Things connects and improves our day-to-day lives. Structured as a pseudo ‘city’, divided into three distinct districts (Innovation, Home and Lifestyle), the stand design had an emphasis on transformation, and told real-world stories about how connected life is becoming the norm.

Chris said: “What I think was significant about this stand was the completely dynamic architecture. The whole façade of the stand used engaging displays and technology that told stories. Once again, the stories seemed to put life before the technology itself.

This stand is a perfect example of using appropriate content on large-scale display technology so that something that initially appears rather ‘techy’ becomes incredibly human. Samsung used display technology to tell stories on a massive scale. Chris adds: “Once again it shows that large-scale display technology does not need to be aggressive. It can tell a deeply personal story, and that’s incredibly engaging to this kind of audience and this kind of product.”

Samsung at IFA 2016

This may be a couple of years old, but with the power of hindsight it feels well ahead of its time - signalling a shift towards brand and event experiences that continue to this day.

Chris said: “We’ve talked a lot about the seamless blend of life and technology and experiences based on that, but here, what I see is a stunning and seamless blend of life, art and technology. The emphasis here was on colour, with a central display of exquisite stained glass and a series of lights refracting off a set of suspended crystals to create something that broke free from the world of the product display and moved more into the realms of the art installation.”

This display explored how brands could be mining for deeper emotional connections with their stand designs to create an experience within an exhibition space that is involving and evocative - like going to a museum. Chris adds: “What I think can be learned from this is to not be afraid to mix digital and physical and art together - this is a story of ambition.”

HTC at MWC 2015

Focusing solely on their latest flagship M9 phone, guests were warmly welcomed and encouraged to explore the phone and its 20-megapixel camera for themselves. The unusual and dramatic lighting once again brought to mind the effect of being in a high-profile art installation, but the effect was far more subtle than Samsung’s ambitious stained glass display.

Chris said: “What I thought was so nice about this, is that in amongst all of the noise of the Mobile World Congress, HTC decided on a simple and elegant display based on one handset. They created a bold and colourful suspended light installation with the phones set up on a plinth you could hold up to the light installation as a showcase for just how good the camera was for its time.”

There was nothing particularly ’new’ or showy about this concept and the technology behind it wasn’t particularly impressive, but the simplicity and the elegance of it really stood out. Simple, but engaging. Chris adds: “What can you learn from that? That you don’t have to try too hard sometimes and that a simple idea can often be the most effective.

Deutsche Telekom at IFA 2018

From the beautifully simple to the beautifully outrageous - this stand was complete and utter madness, and it drew significant visitor attention at last year’s IFA. The stand mixed a bold colour scheme aligned to the brand, and an overall multimedia experience that included a number of social media stars and musicians drawing visitors in. The whole thing showcased the mobile network’s numerous digital and technological innovations. They used modern, fresh colours and smart materials to create a very theatrical ‘urban’ setting with playful shapes and an array of unique visitor experiences.

Chris said: “It is crazy, but what I like about it is the simplicity of their strategy. If you go to any technology show and you see pink, you just know who it is, and every year they create a different world. For this stand at IFA208, we saw the same story - the connectivity of life. And whilst it might be a lot to take in, the Deutsche stands are always popular and the audience is always engaged.

This is a brand that knows their customers and engages with them in a really creative and entertaining way. As a result, every year they’re getting more customers and higher engagement levels. Chris adds: “What you can learn from this is that if your identity is that strong then you have room to be playful without losing that identity.”

What Have We Learned?

Tech might never have been more competitive, but what all of these wonderfully inventive stands have taught us is that a tech stand doesn’t necessarily need to be all about the tech as long as it puts the people first. It’s time for brands to step up their exhibition stand design game and think about the wider experience to draw visitors in, converting them into the ambassadors that will keep the brand message alive.

The most successful stands are the ones that understand the human element behind the tech we use every day and use what’s unique about their brand and their products to tell a story that visitors and other exhibitors alike can really invest in.

Ultimately, if you’re not communicating with a story, you’re not communicating very well at all and an exhibition stand can be an incredibly powerful storytelling platform in the right hands.

Click here for more information on the Rapiergroup team and what their world-class conference experience could bring to your next event.

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