Welcome to the Exhibiting Revolution

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“Brand awareness.” “Generating buzz.” “Experiential marketing.”

Everybody’s talking about these popular business topics today, but how many trade show exhibitors are really putting them into practice?

Although trade shows have existed since the days of the Medieval fairs in Europe or the traveling caravans in Arabia, it’s easy to see that today’s shows are far more complex. It’s no longer about simply showing your wares and closing a sale on the spot with a slick sales pitch. Today, the focus has shifted to using your exhibit as a three-dimensional marketing tool to create and define your unique brand — a living personality for your company.

Attention spans have become increasingly shorter. Generations X and Y (which now number more than 100 million) have grown up in the age of media and are used to thinking in sound bites and video clips. They’re looking for instant gratification. They want a total experience that’s interactive and invokes all of the senses. And if you really want to impress the online generation, you must create an experience that is cutting- edge and fun, as well as educational.

On the other hand, our high-tech world needs personalization. Show organizers have been fearing the onslaught of virtual shows, yet traditional trade shows continue to thrive and many are expanding. Why? It’s because computers and technology cannon replace the physical experience and contact at a hosted event. Business is built on personal relationships between individuals.

So how does an exhibitor or show manager hope to compete in this “brave new world”?

First, you must think of the exhibit as an extension of your overall integrated marketing plan. When done right, a trade show encompasses nearly all other marketing tools: direct mail, advertising, incentives and promotions, sponsorship, sampling, telemarketing, public relations, and that elusive word-of-mouth (also known as “buzz”).

In an environment where it’s getting tougher to stand out on features, price or any of the old criteria, exhibitors must create a strategic message and a dynamic brand or personality for their exhibit. Companies should strive to constantly reinvent themselves, much like Madonna has done to stay at the top of the music business. If you take pride in doing things the same way you’ve always done, you may soon find yourself left in the dust.


(Note: While this article is reprinted nearly word-for-word from the introduction to Build a Better Trade Show Image, it remains just as true today as it was when the book was published in 2002.)

© 2002-2012 Marlys K. Arnold  (from the September 2012 TradeShowTips Online. To receive tips like this in your inbox every month, please take a moment to fill out this request.)

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About the Author:

With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. She travels the country consulting and training both exhibitors and show managers, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image (2002), host of the Trade Show Insights blog-cast and creator of the ExhibitorEd Success System and the Exhibit Marketers Café. To request an “Extra Shot of Exhibit Success” go to www.exhibitmarketerscafe.com.

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