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July 28, 2012

CHANGING TACK:Exhibit hall to exhibit mall

When it comes to engaging a distracted audiences, retailers are ahead of the game. So what can the leading retail marketers tell the exhibition sector? Barbara Palmer, senior editor of Convene, PCMA's member magazine, investigates.

As managing director of the North American office of Proximity ShopWork, the shopping division for global ad agency BBDO, Laura Davis-Taylor is one of the retail industry’s most influential marketing strategists. And what she does for her retail clients is highly applicable to trade-show floors — which, as she sees it, face the same selling challenges as stores.

“I classify them both as ‘distracted environments’,” Davis-Taylor says. “Super busy, super cluttered. Lots going on.” And they both face the same uphill battle: getting and keeping the attention of buyers in environments saturated with competing messages. “Amid all the noise,” Davis-Taylor adds, “everybody wants uniqueness – something that makes you stand apart and helps you get beyond the sea of sameness.”

So what’s her advice for companies and organisations when it comes to designing a trade-show booth? “I wouldn’t think of it as designing a trade-show booth at all,” she explains. “I would think of it as designing an experience. Brands have to break through competition. And that’s not just visually. You can break through visually and get nowhere. You’ve got to break through visually and emotionally.”


Shopping malls: The ultimate distracted environment?
So what call exhibitions learn from them?



Sensing the Sale
The idea that emotion is key to selling isn’t new, of course. Advertising that relies on subtle and not-so-subtle suggestions that buying certain products will make us happier, sexier, and more successful has surrounded us for decades, in increasing numbers. (The average resident of a city will encounter 3,000 to 4,000 advertising messages in a single day, according to Davis-Taylor.)

What is relatively new, however, are brain-imaging techniques like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures patterns of electrical activity in the brain and maps their locations. The technology can pinpoint the regions of the brain that are activated by advertising messages, yielding information about whether specific marketing messages are triggering rational or emotional reactions, or combinations of both, and how effective they are at doing so.

These tools offer what amounts to the ability to interview our brains, brand expert Martin Lindstrom writes in his best-selling book Buyology: Truth and Lies About What We Buy. By accessing our brains in the “nanosecond lapse before thinking is translated into words,” brain-imaging techniques can tell us “the naked truth … unplugged and uncensored, about what causes us to buy,” writes Lindstrom, whose work has given him a seminal voice in neuromarketing, as the field of neuroscience-backed marketing is called.

In Buyology, Lindstrom relates the breakthrough results of a 2003 experiment that used brain imaging to analyse the reactions of research subjects participating in a version of the famous Pepsi Challenge, where Pepsi and Coca-Cola went head-to-head in blind taste tests. When test subjects tasted the soft drinks without knowing which was Coke and which was Pepsi, more than half said they preferred Pepsi, a response that was backed up by the measurement of activity in the part of the brain that is active when we find tastes appealing. But when test subjects knew which soft drinks they tasted beforehand, more than 75% said they preferred Coke. Brain activity also shifted, according to Lindstrom, showing that the test subjects’ brains were engaged in a “mute tug-of-war between rational and emotional thinking”.

Despite the rational preference for Pepsi, Coke won out because of all the positive associations the tasters had developed with Coca-Cola over the years — the “sheer, inarguable, inexorable, ineluctable, emotional Coke-ness of the brand,” Lindstrom writes. Because emotions are the way in which our brain encodes things of value, “a brand that engages us emotionally – think Apple, Harley-Davidson, and L’Oreal just for starters – will win every single time.”

Since 2004, Lindstrom has worked with researchers to conduct his own neuromarketing experiments, many of which have zeroed in on the role that our senses — vision, taste, touch, sound, and smell — play in creating human emotions. Because, if triggering emotions in consumers opens doors into buying behavior, activating the five senses is like getting a set of keys. “As human beings, we’re by far at our most receptive when we’re operating on all five tracks,” Lindstrom writes. “By appealing to our five senses, brands create strong memories in consumers. And this leads to stronger bonds between consumers and brands.”

Pioneering shopping-behavior researcher Paco Underhill, who has used scientific methods to analyse consumer behavior for more than 25 years, also identifies appealing to the senses as a growing trend. “I think one of the things that we are seeing in retail is the appreciation of use of all five senses,” he said. But it’s not without its challenges in a trade-show environment, where light and noise can be tough to control. “You can hand out Hershey’s Kisses,” Underhill said, “which is fun, but there probably should be a more creative way of dealing with all of those issues.”


Engaging the senses can help your brand stand out from the crowd


That Certain Feeling
One show floor where the strategies of sensory selling can be readily found – and sniffed and tasted – is at IMEX, the global exhibition for incentive travel, meetings, and events that has been held annually in Frankfurt for a decade. More than 150 countries are represented at the exhibition, where individual trade-show booths can cover nearly the area of a city block and rise two stories high. At this year’s show nearly every booth featured digital images, with photomontages and videos looping and flickering on plasma screens of every size.

Many hoteliers exhibiting at IMEX 2012 sought to recreate a version of the physical experience of being in a hotel lobby, with multilevel booths furnished with banks of plants, pillow-strewn sofas, low coffee tables, and chandeliers. DMOs and CVBs brought the flavours of their destinations to the show floor — sometimes literally, as at the Colombia booth, where a barista pulled one thousand fragrant shots of espresso on the show’s opening day. Attendees visiting the Texas booth were met by a life-sized plastic horse and cowhide-patterned stools.

At the Malaysia booth, sponsored by the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau, exhibitors hosted a cocktail reception that featured a version of a centuries-old spice market. Booth staff, dressed in traditional attire, spread cloths on the floor and swapped merchandise, including pepper and other spices, for paper currency distributed to visitors, in an elbow-to-elbow cacophony of color and sound. It was intentionally cramped, an exhibitor explained to an attendee, to make the market feel more authentic.

In retail, when people physically get their hands on something and become engaged in some way, there is a lot more conversion, Davis-Taylor said, with customers turned into buyers. Trade-show booth exhibitors, she said, can “do so much more than just hand out brochures, if you think about [exhibits] in terms of experience design.”


Don’t Change That Omnichannel
Perhaps the biggest problems with trade shows as sales environments, Zeppa says, is that too many of them are treated by their organisers as entities unto themselves, when instead “they should be part of an overarching relationship strategy with their target audience, before and after events, and across different mediums.” For retailers, the key term now is “omnichannel,” Newman said, which seeks to integrate interaction across multiple channels. “It is not just about mobile – although mobile is huge,” she said. “It is really about how everything from your online, in-store, and mobile experience comes together.”

But being social – and socially networked – is not just about brands blurting out messages. Rather, it’s about brands engaging with consumers. “Consumers today have less tolerance for the ‘everything is beautiful’ marketing spiel,” Zeppa explains. “They are going to hear a message from a brand and then validate it with groups of individuals that they may not know, but they trust more the brand itself.”

Davis-Taylor agrees. “You are going to do better when you get people to share,” she says, because sharing is an innately human behaviour – and thanks to mobile devices, people are more accustomed than ever to sharing information. “If I am at a show and can share [the things I like] with my compadres, why not?” Davis-Taylor says. “I mean, seriously. Talk about a good way to get booth traffic. Seems like such a no-brainer to me, but I think a lot of [exhibitors] don’t know how to do it, or the people who are in charge of the show aren’t giving them the platforms to do it.”

And isn’t talking, shopping-behavior expert Underhill asks, the whole point? When his consumer behavior research and consulting firm, Environsell Inc, exhibits at a trade show, it employs all of its own best advice about engaging attendees. “We recognise that the purpose of the booth,” Underhill said, “is often to have a 10-minute conversation.” 


This is an excerpt from an article written by Barbara Palmer is senior editor of PCMA's magazine Convene and edited by Pete Roythorne. Click here to read the full article

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