Trade Show Displays: why the audience demands more

After spending more than a decade of my professional life attending all forms of trade shows and association events, I am perplexed by the consistent lack of evolution in what a trade show display is (or could be.)

I believe that a functioning trade show display is not a display, but an experience.

It begins with this initial problem:

All companies are not brands.

  • Brands are bigger than a company.
  • Brands evoke a feeling, invite a relationship, give a promise.
  • Brands make themselves something different.

Something different does not fit within the confines of a 10×10 trade show display.


Why am I saying this?

As communicators that are responsible for relaying our brand message at the event floor, event teams need to keep in mind that people do not come to trade shows to find out informational bullet points on a glossy brochure… they come to the event to experience satisfaction, leadership, innovation, and many other ‘feelings.’

One of those feelings is collaboration and community: the need to be included within a group of professionals that is doing things the right way.

The right way does not include:

  • setting up a generic drop cloth on your pop-up table
  • having employees sit down and look at soda cans
  • having booth staff that can’t hold a basic conversation
  • alienating your customers before they have the chance to be customers

The right way does include:

  • trying new and inventive technology and techniques
  • displaying character (trust, reliability, and reputation)
  • offering guidance and insight (whether it drives the bottom line or not)
  • defining success through failing gracefully (rather than falsely claiming perfection)

I realize the bullet points listed in “the right way” may cause some professionals to ask a lot of questions or even cringe at those thoughts. So many marketers try to create a fictional 10×10 box (or 40×40 if you are a big corporation) and claim perfection for everything within it. They create a fictional stage that seems like a musical on broadway… with proper lighting, stage tricks, and actors.

The truth isn’t always as sexy as fiction, but it does hold something that is impossible to falsify: integrity, honesty, transparency.

A business who can fail rapidly and has the character to pick themselves up gracefully will earn the respect of the audience. They may take a lump or two on the head, but in the long run they will have displayed something that can’t be forced into a 10×10 booth.

Why am I writing about the on TSSM?

A lot of our inquiries are from all sorts of companies wanting to explore digital tactics to enhance a trade show display.

One of the core problems with using social media and digital tactics is that it is NEW and applying the concepts tactically requires a commitment to leadership qualities and ‘failing gracefully.’

Why do I need to be able to ‘fail gracefully?’

When you enter a marketplace and attempt to disrupt an industry, you are introducing elements that haven’t been present before.

In many cases this idea revolves around the core products and services you offer at a trade show. When new media is applied on top of the existing level of change, you create dozens of unexpected ripples in the event.

Knowing how to spot these ripples and to have the character to fail quickly gives you the benefit to rapidly move through multiple benefit scenarios.

What is a benefit scenario?

A benefit scenario is best described by this example:

Imagine you are a retail store with two competitors. All three businesses decide to have employees stand at the intersection and lay claim to a corner.

They try different things ranging from glowing signs to singing clowns. Eventually someone moves into the open corner and a version of musical chairs ensues where everyone tries to identify ‘the perfect corner.’

After a few days one thinks that they have the secret sauce to winning.
The next day one of the other companies copies what they are doing and ‘one-ups’ them.
This goes on for days, weeks, and years.

Eventually all three businesses go bankrupt.
They didn’t realize the intersection was a bad place to be.

The winning forth business never openly engaged at the intersection with competitors. The fourth business never claimed success or even talked about what they were doing.

They simply failed at a dozen different intersections until they found the perfect one without any competitors.

Digital is about discovering new intersections

The digital evolution of events has forced competition for attention and interaction at temporary intersections (in many cases, literal intersections at the trade show floor)

New media allows organizations to analyze, research, apply, and evolve quickly. It accelerates the ability to learn, to fail quickly, to fail often, and to find success faster. At the end of the day it allows trade show displays at events to become both physical and digital manifestations that engage audiences where demand is highest and the competition the lowest.

The big question is whether or not you are capable of maneuvering your process to take advantage of the market opportunity.

What does this mean for your trade show display?

Before spending all of your budget on designing the ultimate visual experience, give some serious thought about where your audience is converging at different intersections.

You have to think physically and digitally, as well as emotionally. Your trade show display (i.e. experience) needs to meet the core demands of your target audience and enable them to locate you in a marketplace full of noise and empty sales promises.

Trade Show Social Media