Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Using space to tell your story

Over the weekend just past, I had the opportunity to visit the King Tut traveling exhibit here in Dallas. It was a great sensory experience and really brought the artifacts and story to life.

Keep that in mind when you design or lay out your trade show exhibit.

The Dallas Museum of Art transformed itself for this exhibit. I am fortunate to have seen some of these artifacts when they first traveled the US back in the late 1970s. A lot has changed in what they show and how they show it. The three key things I came away with as an exhibit person were these:

  1. Use light to your advantage
  2. Be consistent and clear with your message(s)
  3. Don't clutter the space
Using light. Each artifact in the displays was lit carefully and correctly based upon it's material and place in the story. Glass or plex cases surrounded artifacts to not only protect, but enhance (with light) what was being shown. The absence of light was also used and floors, walls and ceilings were black or dark colors to not distract from the photos or artifacts.

Consistent messages. The displays were arranged in such a way as to tell a story. It was a chronology of sorts so that you understood Tut's family origins and the history of what he dis politically and culturally. By the time you reached the "burial chamber" you knew who he was and what he brought with him. And where he seems to be "going" into history yet written.

Clutter. While there were thousands of artifacts found in the burial chamber, only a select few (and those Germain to conveying the tightly-formed story) were used. Photos of the actual excavation and discovery in 1922 were hung in key locations. Technology was used carefully and when appropriate.

If you get the chance to see this exhibit, please do. It's both a treat for the student in us all as well as the exhibitor that works within us.

Lesson learned: craft your messages and use light and space carefully and sparingly to reach your audience.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Assessing your trade show program

In conversation with a client yesterday, the topic of how to allocate marketing budget within business units (and to specific shows) came up.

How do you divvy up the marketing pie across markets so that you exhibit at the most effective shows?

My client is a savvy guy and is really taking a hard look at how money is dispersed. As an illustration, his company has three major business units and attends about 8 to 10 shows during the year. Budgets for shows vary widely, with one marquee show taking 50% to 60% of the total trade show budget (and the corresponding business unit commanding a budget 10 times larger than either of the other two). There shouldn't be anything wrong with this, except that, using even the simple "cost per lead" measure, several smaller shows account for more leads (10 times in some cases) and more sales (measurable, booked sales).

You could use the lead count measure, but you might be shortchanging the show. Perhaps the staff is not trained or the show wasn't promoted enough in advance to give them the right introduction to prospects on the show floor. Whatever, something is amiss in why this show commands the lion's share of the budget and company's attention. Particularly when smaller, less expensive (both dollars and staff time) draw more leads and close more sales.

You could allocate budget based on revenue generated by each business unit. In our example, it would be more balanced: the three units are a 50-30-20 split. So, instead of getting 80% to 90% of the trade show budget, the unit would get only 50%. This causes managers and sales people to be more strategic (and accountable) for their trade show decisions.

Don't forget that not all measures are numeric: your presence at a show speaks volumes to your marketplace, so don't forget the intangible measures and costs of going or not going.

The talk with my client ended with the oft-repeated "plan": take 3 years to get to know your program.
  • The first year is learning the where and what of the past and present and learning the marketplace.
  • The second year is time for fine-tuning--vendors, methods, simple image things.
  • The 3rd year is the time for more significant change. By then you know the market, can judge shows and their impact (both internally and externally) and can shape your path to the future.

Lesson Learned: be realistic and forward-thinking in choosing shows and managing your program. Don't go just to go and be fare to the markets you serve itnernally.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Booth attractions: Using celebrities...in whatever form

Having a "draw" at your exhibit is an important part of the lead-gathering process. Whether it's a serious presentation or a live-action dance team or entertainer, it's all about the lead--and the attention on the show floor.

The Buzz.

At the recent NACS show in Chicago, having a celebrity or key figure seemed to be the way to go. With MM/Mars and other NASCAR sponsors in the hall, they leaned on their relationship with their sponsored driver. Now, I've never met Kyle Busch in person, but I understand this cutout is near life size. Visitors to the booth shot photos of (and with) the cardboard Kyle and, with the other icons in the both (the MM characters, either in walkaround suits or plastic replicas), drew attention to the brand.

Other celebs and public figures made the scene, too. Once exhibitor built their whole exhibit around the election. The candy company did a mock vote with candy flavors and themed the entire booth and interaction at their exhibit around the election and the two major party candidates. No word on who won this vote, but the cutouts were proportional and a good attention-getter for a small (10x10) exhibitor. I imagine they did pres-show mailings and post-show followup using the theme.

Still others used live action icons. The jerky company brought out Bigfoot, both in carboard and costumed form. You could get a still photo with the real guy or you could pose with the cutout. Videos from their TV ad campaign played in the booth.

Chiquita Bananas did wonders with a small island booth. Simple display racks of fresh bananas in a structure keyed to their brand and colors was the backdrop. An actress/model, dressed as the 1960s TV ad icon worked in the booth, posing for photos with visitors and stocking fruit. The model was also well-versed and armed with the verbal messages that the Chiquita people wanted conveyed to their C-store audience. that's pervasive branding.

Still others relied on our memories and sense of fun. The Icee Bear, Myley Cyrus and the Blues Brothers all made appearances. Even the Chester's Chicken Rooster was walking the aisles. Free food samples and interactive characters brought attention to a myraid of brands in a busy space. But it seemed to work for them. And many of them did it right--integrating brand and message in a fun, memorable way. But always, always tie it to the gathering of leads and follow up.

Lesson Learned: integrate your brand message in a fun, memorable way and the prospect will remember you.