What’s the big idea? Does your exhibition stand have a story to tell?

March, 22 2018

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Exhibitions and exhibiting have a lot to offer a business. Besides the product promotion opportunities, there’s huge potential for winning new customers, catching up with old ones, reaching out to new partners and making an impact on the competition.

Achieving that potential relies on having a stand that grabs attention, sets expectations and tells your brand’s story. It’s the place where all your other efforts come together – so you need to get it right.

There’s a lot to consider when putting an exhibition stand together: the design, the people, the build, the means of engagement and the metrics for success.

But before any of that, you need to answer one big question.

Why are we at this exhibition?

Start with ‘why’

The design process starts with that question, and the answer should always begin with ‘to’. To win friends and influence people. To generate leads. To win awards. To collect data.

You get the idea.

If you don’t have a practical, concrete, measurable goal, it’s time to rethink your whole presence at the event. It may be that you don’t need to go at all. More likely, though, you’ve lost sight of your real purpose.

Starting with ‘why’ means rediscovering and reaffirming that purpose, and building a point of reference for every other element of the stand.

Your goal will generate and refine your themes, creative ideas and stand story. At every stage, you’ll be able to ask whether your ideas, processes or approach are serving your goal. If not, you can redirect or get rid of them.

Brand alignment – art and science

Exhibitions are fundamentally a marketing channel, which, ultimately, makes them all about your brand. Your presence reflects how you communicate your values and lead people to ask the questions your products and services answer.

That means your stand and brand need to be aligned, right down to the smallest detail. Everything from colours to seating to staffing will affect how your brand appears to newcomers.

It sounds obsessive, but these little things send powerful messages. Uncomfortable seating signals that you don’t care about making people comfortable. Off-colour displays say you don’t care about consistency. On an unconscious level, these oversights will bias attendees against you. They’ll remember your stand wasn’t a pleasant place to be or, even worse, they won’t remember you at all.

Brand strategy is a blend of art and science. The science is understanding the big question – ‘why?’ – and how to achieve the right answer. The art is the creative process that goes into linking the two. Exhibition stand design isn’t about ‘making it look nice’. Every element must be aligned with your brand, sending the right messages and telling the right story.

The stand story

Stands that look good attract attention and technology draws crowds, but it’s your stand story – taking visitors from curiosity to conversion – that gets results.

If attendees pass by and comment on how beautiful your stand is, that doesn’t mean they’re going to remember your product, pass on their data or even register who you are. After a moment of initial impact, your stand must take them somewhere.

This is easier in some industries than others. Pharmaceutical brands, for instance, don’t have a big, imposing product to hog the limelight. A two-tone tablet on a plinth isn’t as eye-catching as a new Audi.

As a result, pharma exhibitioners have to think more deeply about the message they choose to convey because their product doesn’t speak for itself. As a rule, the best of them focus on what their product will do for the patient’s pain or discomfort, i.e. how it’ll make them feel, which makes for a more compelling story than clinical terms and trials.

Even if you do have an innately exciting product, your big idea should be the first and last thing you think about when designing and building your stand. What do you want to achieve? What message will get you there?

If you’ve begun by asking ‘why are we here?’ and your answer includes some form of measurable goal, you’re headed in the right direction. Knowing what you’re working towards means you can identify the message that will get you there. This message is what every aspect of your build should be working to convey.

Then you’re ready to start building.

For powerful examples of brand storytelling, explore our stands for the International Diabetes Congress.

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