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April 7, 2008

STAND DESIGN 1: Is it really worth the money?

If you’re exhibiting at a relevant trade show, presumably you’re there because you’ve done your research and you know the visitors will be interested in what your company offers. You have a stand that displays what you do and is clearly branded with your logo and key marketing messages. It’s of a decent size and reasonably prominently positioned. With all these elements in place, why should you need to invest further in the design of your stand?

“Communication with the visitor starts 20 feet from the stand and an exhibitor has less than five seconds to attract the attention of a passing visitor,” replies Fiona Duffin, marketing communications manager at The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre (QEIICC) in London. “It is, therefore, vital that the design of the stand and use of lighting, movement and graphics work in synergy to reflect the right message to the audience.”

Equinox Design’s sales and marketing manager Carl Criscione agrees, adding: “The design of an exhibition stand encompasses much more than how it looks. There is a functional aspect to the stand, which must drive the design. It must attract visitors and allow stand personnel to engage with them, demonstrating products or explaining services.”

The key is to get the right blend of brand-friendly looks and functionality for your business, while being appropriate for your audience.

“Your company, what it does and what it is like to work with, even an outline of its philosophy is communicated on many levels by the first experience of your exhibition stand,” says Rory Sloan, head of production at experiential agency RPM. “Look like wallpaper and you will be overlooked, look loud and you may be bypassed.

"Yet good stand design goes beyond initial impact. Do you need to talk with your customers? Do you need to store giveaways? Do you customers like to use you as a base for their show visit? Is the information they require accessible? Good stand design facilitates this and more.”

Maximising ROI

So good stand design should work with your brand and sales messages to enhance your offer to visitors and help attract them to your stand. This means your sales team should be able to make more contacts, which should also be better quality as the key messages should have been put over to visitors more effectively, all of which should generate more revenue and maximise the return of investment (ROI) of your event presence – a vital factor when justifying your event budget to procurement.

What’s more, it’s rare to be the only company offering your product or service at any given exhibition, so it’s essential to make sure you stand out, which carefully thought out stand design will achieve.

Of course, not working on your stand design can have a more drastic effect that reducing ROI.

“Get it right and your stand will be awash with visitors,” says Amanda Simpson, marketing and communications manager at Warwick Conferences. “Get it wrong, and you’ll be left high and dry.”

Explaining further, Criscione adds: “Quite simply, a poorly designed stand will not work and at worst it could harm the perception of an organisation,” and the last thing you want is the investment you’ve made in exhibiting at a show actually having a negative effect on your business.

“Exhibitions are a unique opportunity to get face to face with a huge number of clients and potential clients, it’s the best possible way to convey a very positive message but conversely getting it wrong can be disastrous,” says RPM’s Sloan. “As well as being judged by visitors you are being judged by other exhibitors. It gives your competitors a real boost if your stand is poorly designed.”

Getting professional help

However, don’t panic, you don’t need to worry about designing your stand yourself, as there are lots of stand design companies who can help. Even if you have design and marketing personnel in house, it can help to get advice from experts experienced in specifically working in the exhibition medium.

“The obvious advantage of using design professionals is that they are experienced in this line of work and can, therefore, give advice on how best to communicate to your audience through the design of your stand,” explains QEIICC’s Duffin.

Meanwhile, Warwick Conferences’ Simpson says: “Good exhibition stand designers know the best configuration and materials, as well as the latest trends in design and the potential pitfalls. They can also work with your budget to ensure you obtain the best stand for your money.”

To find the right stand design professionals to work with, there really is no substitute for word of mouth or testimonials, so ask around, demand to see examples of work and make sure you talk to previous clients. It also helps if the agency in question is a member of a recognised trade association, such as the Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA).

Next week, Ian Whiteling looks at the costs involved in getting your stand professionally designed and measuring its effectiveness.

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