One of my favourite marketing mavens has a sticky situation on her cute paws where some of her brand mangers want an upcoming trade show stand packed and stacked with all their latest gadgets and thingos (technical term) whereas our Ms Maven wants a clean looking stand that invites delegates to come into the space and chat with the brand managers.

To help Ms Maven have some clout with her argument that a lean, clean stand will deliver the business more opportunities to dive deep with existing and potential customers and therefore open to the door to future business, I went on the hunt for some data or research on the stacked stand vs. the clean networking space.  I might have been looking in all the wrong places (I did get waylaid on the awesome gofugyourself.com and the themiddlefingerproject.org sites, to be fair) but I did not find a comprehensive article arguing the toss either way.  So I decided instead to use this conundrum and let it form the basis of my blog this week.

Based on current trade show stand data out of the USA (from the Centre of Exhibition Industry Research) I was able to glean the following stats:

  • In 2011, 95% of exhibitors wanted to reach / identify new customers or sales leads whereas 80% wanted to either launch or promote new products or services.  From this data we can see that the face-to-face marketing (read: the ability to exchange information and present problems and challenges that require solutions in person) that exhibitions provide outweighed the need for product demos and displays.
  • The average spend on an exhibition stand in the USA (and this takes in every shape and size from the small inline booths through to the Brandzilla stands that take up entire exhibition halls) is shrinking.  In 2009 the average spend was $18.5K and in 2011 we were rolling back to $17.7K.  And I suspect that the dollar figure has shrunk further now as exhibitors are under pressure to do more with less.  By cutting the amount of product shown on a stand, you cut significant transport and storage costs.  The space that would have been given over to numerous displays could be configured more cost effectively with a hospitality or presentation area.  The majority of product displays are passive; they are unlikely to be powered up, operational and are shown out of context on an exhibition floor.  The use of space for networking, meetings and presentations on a stand guarantees active participation.  You can hold seminars, launches, host a keynote address, stage a happy hour and the good news with events and activities like these you are drawing people to your stand and encouraging their participation.  No longer are delegates simply moving through your stand space “looking” at widgets.  They are talking to your sales staff, they are participating in hosted buyer events, and they are asking questions of the special guest presenter that you have invited onto your stand.  One of the main aims of any exhibition should be capitalise on the unique face to face marketing opportunity that trade show displays provide by actually creating events and activities that will allow this to take place.  And added bonus to the networking focused stand is that delegates tend to spend longer on this type of stand as they will hang for the presentation, launch, hospitality and so on.
This stand is stacked with widgets!

This stand is stacked with widgets!

Lean, clean stand based around on stand networking

Lean, clean stand based around on stand networking

Further data I found backing up some of my main points above was drawn from the 2013 Economic Outlook survey and detailed in Exhibitor March 2013:

  • 25% respondents anticipate overall marketing budget will increase in 2014, 52% will maintain.  So my take away from that data is 75% of exhibitors will either maintain or reduce their marketing spend in 2014.  Or, exhibiting companies and their marketers will need to continue doing more with less.  If you want a hot tip of increasing your trade show marketing spend, you need to prove the return on investment in displays to your financial department, your board, your mum or whoever’s hand signs the cheques.  It is always hard to quantify people who cross your stand space and simply look at widgets and displays.  Contrast that against being able to do head counts and data capture on attendees to on stand events, participation in demos and launches and so on.  The benefit of a lean and clean stand that is focussed around networking is really beginning to sell itself, don’t you think?
  • 18% of companies will be reducing their exhibit space (over and above exhibit promotion / exhibit properties / show services).  With almost a fifth of companies shrinking the floor space they traditionally take at trade shows, now, more than ever, close scrutiny needs to be applied to every item, display, widget and thingo that is earmarked for inclusion on the stand.  Does the inclusion of this item fit with the overall objectives?  How can we use it to tell a story, create some buzz or leverage off it pre and post show?  And seriously what if we bucked the trend, ditched the item and did something different….what then?
Racked and stacked!

Racked and stacked!

Lean and clean!

Lean and clean!

You know, I get it totally.  There are many trade show booth staff that feel more confident and comfortable talking about the widget as it is a natural way of starting a conversation. You can stand in front of your “thingo” and wax lyrical about its benefits.  But the tethering yourself to a particular thing is dangerous as you miss so many other opportunities to hear about your customers other needs and pain points that your company can assist and even solve.  My most helpful tip I can offer with opening up a conversation on a trade show stand between exhibitor and delegate is start your conversations with open ended questions like “Tell me about….”, “What are you…”  These are such more user friendly that the standard questions that elicit a “Yes” or “No” answer. And once you have the delegate opening about their challenges they are facing or what they are really wanting to see or experience on the trade show floor, you are off and running.

So my latest musical crush is the Arctic Monkeys.  I had been indifferent to them but having heard sterling stuff about their new release “AM”, I dropped some cash on it, stuck it in my car’s CD player, pointed my car in the direction of my parents joint on the Central Coast and then lost my mind.  I listened to the opening track “Do I wanna know” sixteen times on repeat.  Yes, it was that good.

See you next week!