From the time we’re children, stories influence us – be it fairy tales, comic books, or literature classics, we all have memories of powerful stories. Even as adults, we seek out stories to educate and entertain us in the form of TV, books, or movies. Stories create a connection, helping us all to relate to common threads of life. The characters and plot lines become familiar and real to us. They can make us laugh or move us to tears.
When we hear a powerful story, it can actually trigger a physical response. Our brain releases cortisol as the action builds, along with oxytocin that creates empathy for the characters. And at the end of the story comes a hit of dopamine, which creates an emotional connection and provides a framework for understanding.
Stories make it easier to remember important lessons and influence behavior like: there’s no place like home (The Wizard of Oz), the misuse of power (Animal Farm), moving on in the circle of life (The Lion King), or the power of redemption (A Christmas Carol). These days, you often find stories at the heart of marketing for popular brands, from Charity Water to Red Bull, from Dove to Burt’s Bees.
One example you’re likely familiar with is the Farmers Insurance commercials featuring their ‘Hall of Claims,’ where a professorially advisor guides a visitor through a museum of bizarre incidents. (One of my favorites is the ‘rooftop parking’ episode where a little boy sees his imagination come to life.) And in case you’re wondering, yes, the ads are all based on real claims, although some may be enhanced for dramatic effect.
So how can exhibit marketers tap into the power of story?
Follow these lessons from your days in English class:
- Show, don’t tell. Use visuals and create an emotional response.
- Keep it simple and draw on common themes: the quest/mission (take attendees on a journey of discovery), overcome the monster/evil (slay their greatest challenges), or root for the underdog (like a “little guy” client who was up against a giant and ended up creating disruption in the industry). Incorporate real case studies whenever possible.
- Create a story arc that incorporates conflict and builds suspense, provides an entertaining twist, and leaves them wanting more.
So back to my Farmers Insurance example, if I were to help them create an exhibit (which I haven’t), I would suggest they literally create a ‘museum’ of strange claims, much like what they show on their commercials. Attendees would be entertained by all the stories spotlighted throughout the booth. It would pique curiosity and prompt conversations. It also would provide a way for their staff to expand on the various stories that resonate with any individual attendee. It also shows there’s not much they haven’t seen – and handled.
One thing to always remember when crafting your exhibit story: make the buyer the hero, not your company. They want to know how you can help them, not how special you are. Let them see themselves in the story.
With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. As an exhibit marketing strategist, she travels the country consulting and training on how to create experiential exhibits that produce significantly higher numbers of qualified leads. She’s led workshops for events ranging from local consumer expos to some of the largest trade shows in the U.S. She hosts the Trade Show Insights blog/podcast, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image, the Exhibitor Education Manifesto, and the ExhibitorEd Success System. Exhibit Design That Works (the first book in the YES: Your Exhibit Success series) debuted in July 2017. She’s also the founder of the Exhibit Marketers Café, an online education community.