The Power of a Themed Trade Show Exhibit

December 01, 2016

Should you incorporate a theme in your next trade show booth? If the theme can make the experience more memorable for your prospects and embody your brand, the answer is a resounding yes.   But first, let’s ask the most important question: Does a themed event help drive sales leads? According to Meetings and Conventions magazine, 71% of meeting planners typically incorporate a theme for major events and conferences, and 45% agree that a theme enhances a special event.  So where do you go to find ideas?

With help from Candy Adams, otherwise known as "The Booth Mom," following are some of her ideas and our 10x20 custom boothsown.  “Whether you completely revamp your exhibit program or keep it simple and add a few elements here and there to reinforce a theme, make sure the final product is clearly understood from the aisle, relates to your key message, and increases your message's memorability,” she advises. Here are three standout theme ideas from The Booth Mom’s article in Exhibitor Magazine, entitled “What’s in a Theme?”

Arts and culture

It's safe to say that most people have stepped foot inside an art museum at some point in their lives, making art-related themes a safe bet. This theme can be as simple as displaying your products as works of art, such as hanging them on exhibit walls under picture lights or as complicated as recreating a gallery-like setting.

Location, location, location

Location-based themes are simple to pull together in a jiffy. One company created an outdoor camping environment by placing potted plants and trees atop its green booth carpet, and completed the look with a fire pit, wooden benches, and a tent. Take it to the next level and add plush stuffed animals such as raccoons, moose, and other woodland creatures. Then opt for jeans and camo T-shirts for your booth uniforms. I've also seen amazing city-themed exhibits. I usually tie the city theme to the show locale because it's easier to source local items.

Food for thought

Food motivates people, especially at a trade show where good food can be hard to come by. So why not use some tasty vittles to draw hungry attendees to your exhibit? I always like a good sidewalk bistro, which is easy to recreate. All you need are two or three small, round tables with umbrellas, checkered tablecloths, and a coffee cart rented from the show caterer. To add a bit of marketing to the mix, print product information on table tents and place them on the tables, and order branded cardboard sleeves or coffee cups. If you have the budget, splurge for prepackaged biscotti with labels that have your company name or logo on them. Have your staffers hand them out to attendees while they wait for their coffee, and use the opportunity to relay key messages and chat about attendees' reasons for visiting the booth.

A few ideas of our own are inspired by the exhibits we have designed for our customers and the customer experience they are looking to create.

A new perspective on product launches

At the giant International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago, Dreamfarm, which makes and markets unusual kitchen gadgets, wanted to emphasize their new products with the theme, “new and incredibly useful.” The whimsical brand reinforced the newness of their inventions in the exhibit design by using carpet that looks like grass with pedestals of new products sprouting out of it, all within easy reach of attendees to touch and feel their out-of-the ordinary kitchen tools.

Customer service on the trade show floor

A customer service theme can help guide the interactions of your booth staff with attendees. Last month, driving home from a wedding in Florida, we stopped for the night in a hotel in Nashville. (Side note: If you have not been to that great city, you need to go.) The hotel was nothing fancy. We chose it because it close to the highway. What got our attention was the very friendly staffer who checked us in. He wore a button on his shirt that declared, “I’m #2.” This, of course, prompted me to ask, “So WHO is #1? He promptly replied with a smile, “YOU – my best customer!! I am here to serve you because you are the #1 person in my life right now! How can I make your stay the best it can be? “ I was extremely pleased with this campaign, which made me think, “Why not incorporate that focus on customer service into a theme at a trade show event?” In this case, all it took was an attention-getting button and customer service training, but the same thing could be echoed in the exhibit graphics.

Fun and games

People love toys, games and sports. Maisto International chose a racing theme to highlight their high-end toy cars at the New York Toy Fair, complete with a checkered flag on the floor. Even if your product is not sports or game-related, you might incorporate a few things to play with that represent different sports of the season, depending on the time of the year and the location of the show. Or you can invite visitors to participate in a game in your booth or through a video presentation, if your exhibit space is large enough. Just make sure the games support your brand.  

A good cause

If your company gives to a good cause, engaging attendees in that cause will make people feel good about themselves and others, which is always a good bet. For example, you can promise a charitable donation for every attendee who listens to a speech or video presentation. Or, to reinforce that yours is a company that listens, you might hand out ear buds to booth visitors.

Tie the theme to your brand

How do you make sure your theme suits your brand?  According to the Booth Mom, “In fact, branding is a key element of any theme you choose. So don't just pick a theme and run with it. Consider ways to integrate your key messages, product and company names, or benefit statements directly into the theme.”

For Champion Logistics Group, we created a simple, high-impact booth for their debut at the Exhibitor Show in Las Vegas, where they were looking to generate leads from exhibit firms for their trucking services. To emphasize their strength in the Las Vegas market, the booth featured a Las Vegas backdrop and a classic car, where visitors could pose for photos, which were later emailed individually with a nice follow-up note about the company’s services.

“At most trade shows, exhibitors need to create a booth that stands out among a crowd of competitors and draws attendees' attention,” Adams notes. “They should make the experience memorable and unique so people can't resist coming in to learn more. And when the industry allows, exhibitors could stand to incorporate a little bit of fun.”

What’s in a brand?

Many companies think their logo and their colors are their brand, but branding goes well beyond that.  You need to identify your business goals, marketing objectives and target markets to determine how to best portray your brand image and gain exposure at a trade show environment. 

According to Jim Joseph, author of “Defining Your Brand: The First Step in Your Marketing Strategy,” published in Entrepreneur: “At first glance, defining your brand may seem easy, but it takes some soul searching, decision making and data gathering… When defining your brand, put as much clarity as possible into how the brand and business is described, so that you can build a specific brand experience to match it. Here are three key steps to help you get there:

  1. Make an inventory of your skills. List out what you are especially good at and what you want your customers to think of when your brand comes to mind. Your unique set of skills will form the basis of your brand definition.
  2. What are your customers' needs? From your list of skills, identify those that your customers particularly need. Think through the kinds of things you do that your customers will come to you for. You should define your brand based on your ability to fulfill such demands.
  3. Focus on what differentiates. It's important for your brand to be different than other similar options available to customers. Of course your brand experience will ultimately differentiate you, but being unique starts with deciding what attributes set you apart from others. Your goal is to be different and better than your competition.”

A brand new theme

Once you have identified a theme that fits your brand, where do you incorporate it? EVERYWHERE!! Your booth graphics can be easy to swap in and out for each show, as can collateral materials. The key is to make sure you effectively communicate your theme and message in everything you do focused around the show.

Now that we’ve walked through the options for themes and the need to suit your brand, we can return to the question of whether a theme will help drive more business. The answer is IT DEPENDS.  IF you have the time to invest and communicate a theme for your event, it can help your booth display stand out from the competition and build business over time.  As the saying goes, if you build it, you still need to get them there!  - 

themed trade show events




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