The problem with any marketing-speak is that words come into the lexicon, and through overuse, lose their meanings. Exhibit marketing has its own set of terminology and verbal shortcuts. One phrase that runs the risk of losing its meaning is “exhibit experience.”
Let’s forget everything you have ever read in the business press about “experiences.” One of the most useful exercises for those of us who plan exhibits is to think of pleasant retail environments—not just the look of these stores but the feeling you get when you’re in the establishments themselves. What’s your favorite? Least favorite? Best Buy? Anthropologie? Sephora? Toys R Us? Home Depot? Your sister-in-law’s boutique that she opened with kick-starter funds? What makes you comfortable or uncomfortable when you’re in these places? Product displays? Helpful but respectful salespeople? Wine and cookies? Chatting with other shoppers? Total chaos? Complicated access? “Bathrooms are only for staff?” Apple cinnamon-scented candles?
Put yourself in your attendees’ place
Use your own “experiences” as a guide to the experience you create in your exhibit. On the positive side, you want attractive product displays, helpful, respectful—and knowledgeable staff. You want your exhibit to become a destination, perhaps with hospitality, where attendees can connect with your company and their peers. Negatives? what makes you want to run away?
Now consider: what are your customers’ experiences with your brand? Don’t confuse “brand” with “corporate identity.” Brand, it has been said, is what people say about you when you are not in the room. Your brand is “owned” by your customers based on the sum total of their experiences with it. Our goal is to give exhibit visitors a positive experience with our brand so that they say good things about us when we’re not in the room—which translates into buying or prescribing our products and services as well as having happy memories of meeting us on the show floor.
How do you plan the experience?
So let’s get back to planning that experience. One thing you can learn from your favorite retailers is that they know their customers, what will work (and not work) with them. You have a big picture of the customer base that characterizes your industry, but dig down a bit. Are attendees at your show predominantly male or female? How old are they? Much has been written about the different generations who are currently in the workplace; is your experience something that transcends generations?
Define the experience
Once you understand your attendees, your customers, begin to define the experience you want them to have with your brand.
- What do you want them to know?
- How will you communicate that knowledge?
- How will you show that you are listening to them?
- Maybe you won’t use the apple cinnamon candles, but how will you appeal to their senses?
- Do you have something for them to touch?
- Will there be an auditory component to your experience—and if so, what will it be?
Create positive feelings to accompany knowledge
The knowledge you want to impart is half of the experience equation, but the other half is what you want them to feel about your brand. Good staffers who are helpful and educated go a long way to generating good feelings. Data suggests that approximately 85% of what booth visitors remember is based on their interactions with staff members. Been to Nordstrom’s lately? Think about the way you were treated. Put that up against the checkout counter at the grocery store where two employees are complaining about work while bagging your groceries. You know what I mean. Will you have a place for visitors to sit down, perhaps have a cup of coffee or a snack, so they can have an informal chat with your product team? Use catering wisely, and make it a unique experience, not simply a copycat set up.
Invite your customers to experience your brand
Once you have your experience planned, work with your team to determine how to get customers to your space. Pre-show mailings? Ads in journals? Banner ads? How much can you spend on this category and what are your best options?
And after the show, thank customers for visiting and suggest a next step. Again, good retail salespeople will always follow up a positive customer interaction with a note, often handwritten. You’ve experienced that—and how does that make you feel? At the very least, you feel as if you had a good experience.