Make a Stand - Improving your event visibility

Howard Frost, Spurgo

Imagine, if you will, that you are about to go shopping and on your shopping list is something for breakfast. You arrive at the supermarket and find that in the huge retail space, the only product available is cereal. There are hundreds of different types of cereals all over the store but effectively your choice is cereal or nothing from this store.

How do you choose?

Well, assuming you like cereal, you might choose from a number of different standpoints;

  • What catches your eye
  • The nearest option
  • The biggest box, or the smallest
  • The one that looks to be good value
  • The one that you have seen some sort of promotion for
  • The one that other people have recommended to you
  • The one that you’ve never heard of but looks interesting

And many others.

How you make your decision can be influenced by hundreds of inputs that the cereal manufacturer has made into your life or other inputs that you have received from a wide range of sources.

This analogy can be readily applied to events and exhibitions. Just as our hypothetical supermarket only sells cereals so the exhibition that you go to, say to find a particular business expertise, will potentially offer and wide range of companies offering the same or similar services - how do you choose? Again the above choice influencers may come into play.

Now look at this from the other side - you are that cereal manufacturer or business service supplier, how do you stand out?

  • Do you know why your customers come to you and can you show this on your stand?
  • What is THEIR perception of your company - how would THEY describe you?
  • Do your promotional strategies support this perception?
  • What was it that helped your customer make their FIRST leap of faith to work with you?
  • Why do they continue to work with you?

Knowing the above will help you greatly in most aspects of your promotion but, on top of these, exhibitions can be fickle. There are some basics to be observed.

  • Are you in the right location?
  • Is your stand clean and attractive?
  • Does your stand have some form of stimulus to help the visitor formulate a query or even catch their eye (more on this later)?
  • Do the people on your stand look attractive?
  • Do you have something unique about your service that you can promote?

All big asks for many companies and while most people can put ticks against many of these factors, getting all of them is difficult.

The first couple of aspects of being seen involves a bit of planning. Have a look at the exhibition layout when choosing your stand. Imagine the sight lines across the show with plenty of interrupting clutter around others’ stands and how visible your stand will be to those just entering the show. If you go back to the supermarket example you’ll probably be aware of electronic gates as you enter the supermarket. Set inside the main doors. This area between the doors and the gates is the deceleration zone - designed to get you out of the hurly burly of the outside world and force you to slow down and be able to consider the offers within the store by not walking at pavement speed. Many stores use this open space at the front of their stores to do this. Exhibitions also have this space, sometimes coupled with a plan of the exhibition to help visitors. The question is, can your stand be seen while people are considering their options or when they are rushing by? How are you going to slow them down or catch their eye? As far as attractive is concerned, this is a very subjective issue. The stand that looks formal may only attract formal type customers. Equally, the fun stand that looks like a real party is going on may be highly reflective of the service but may not be the ideal “look” for the buyer of that service.

At an exhibition, a delicate balancing act has to be achieved between presenting your company as the ideal supplier of a solution as well as being a comfortable space for the buyer of that service to enter. Be aware of proximity, too. I’ve seen all sorts of stand that scream “come and look at me!” from across an exhibition hall but when standing near them, the gizmos used to get me across the hall also serve to make me want to get away from the stand when I’m next to it. Again, balance is required. Working on your clients’ perceptions, design the stand that they would not only find easily but also want to be part of.

Next, help the visitor. If they’ve stopped by your stand (on purpose) then they want to find out about you just as much as you want to find out about them. Give them some clues in the form of physical pieces for them to ask about on your stand (perhaps an example of your product or an award received) or, if your business is about words, tell them on banners using both words and images so that they can connect. You have probably seen this a lot already with posters like “ask us about xxx”, “find out more about xxx”. This stimulus, simple as it is, works because the question is already placed in the visitor’s mind. Also, if your business is about something that lends itself to a good visual, make sure that your visitor can see the visual. Remember, large exhibitions attract potential customers from all over the world. The big sign in English that says what you do may mean nothing to someone from the Far East but a picture gets across the message straightaway.

So, what about the people on your stand. I’m not talking about having supermodels on your stand (unless you are perhaps in that industry) but are the people there appropriate to what the visitor’s perception is of what they might encounter? Have your staff been briefed on why you are there and what they are likely to encounter. Have you been through a few potential role playing situations with them about different kinds of customer and different needs that you might expect. How are they going to handle them? Do your staff look like they might be able to help customers? Do they look experienced/fun/serious/technical/energetic and is this congruent with the customer’s likely needs? Most of all, do they look approachable? I can remember seeing one company, many years ago that I was interested in but there was only one person on the stand and he was standing, with his arms crossed on the edge of the stand (which had a plinth, thus making him tower over the visitors). Believe me, he looked about as approachable as a bouncer at a nightclub so I moved on and placed business elsewhere. Equally, obsequiousness has had me cringing at exhibitions so it is important to get the tone and balance of your welcome just right and talking to your existing clients will help you - and doesn’t cost anything.

The final aspect of your stand is to try to visually differentiate your service from the others. Many use facts and figures to do this: best, fastest, biggest, smallest, most environmental, etc. Some use various phrases such as “Award-Winning” or direct the visitor to their particular skill set, “suppliers to the big four banks/accountants/software companies, etc” or “specialist in charity or local authority solutions”. Whichever skill sets you have, make sure that these are highlighted but also make sure that they are not excluding other skills you might have. Also, use the language of your visitor, not your own. Whether it be managed or maintenance solutions or facilities management, make sure, through talking to your clients, that the language you use is that of your customer or prospect, not necessarily how you refer to it internally. The difference is that they will get it instantly rather than you having to explain each time to every visitor.

In summary, imagine that you’re the supplier that has managed to sneak in bacon into our hypothetical cereal supermarket above and design your offering accordingly.

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