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Let Your Brand Shine at Tradeshows

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • Why tradeshows are key to a company's communications strategy
  • How to let your brand take center stage at your next tradeshow
  • Four steps to maintaining brand consistency at tradeshows

Public relations professionals spend much time and effort helping clients establish a brand identity. They think about how customers will perceive the brand, what image to portray, and what the business stands for. The brand identity they help develop is built upon with every decision made and every product or service launched.

A company's communications strategy also plays a key role in reinforcing brand identity. For many, that includes logos, brochures, online presence, public relations, advertising or packaging. But what about tradeshows? Think about it. How often have you attended tradeshows on behalf of your client, noticed an exhibitor, and wondered: What exactly does this company do? What are they trying to communicate?

You're not alone. After more than 20 years of working in the tradeshow industry, I've seen that the disconnect often stems from treating tradeshows as individual events rather than integrating them into an overarching brand-communications strategy. But the sheer power of tradeshows to cost-effectively connect with hundreds—even thousands—of customers and prospects makes them an important  way of showcasing your client's brand.

Taking the time to strategize before embarking on a tradeshow program—and, in particular, exhibit design—is the most effective approach.

Here are four ways public relations professionals can help clients effectively maintain brand consistency at their next tradeshow.

1. Lead with your brand

Having a professional, engaging exhibit is important, but aligning it with your client's strategy and priorities is even more important.

Go back to those key attributes that define your client's brand. Is the client eco-conscious? Innovative? Dependable? Make that the primary inspiration for the exhibit design.

Let's take the eco-conscious attribute as an example: at its core, it's about conserving resources and minimizing waste. The booth design could reflect that by using lightweight, eco-friendly materials such as recyclable aluminum or energy-efficient LED lighting. And the marketing collateral might be printed on recycled paper or other earth-friendly materials.

2. Get all key stakeholders involved early, and communicate clearly

Engage your exhibit partner well in advance of the show to discuss overall strategy, and let the partner help you formulate the best way to let your client's brand shine. Discuss the key messages you want to convey and how you can bring them to life. Strategy meetings should include advertising and marketing stakeholders to ensure messages remain consistent across all communication vehicles.

3. Identify desired goals

Essential to any strategy discussion is identifying the ultimate goal for your client's brand at a tradeshow. Are you looking to reinforce your client's image, or launch a new identity or product? The answer will influence exhibit design—including overall structure, traffic flow, and graphics—and attendees' perception of your client's brand. For example, if the main goal is to educate attendees about a brand, the exhibit should include demo areas and perhaps a theater for presentations. If the focus is on closing sales for a product, include an enclosed conference room for private conversations.

4. Use effective messaging

There's a lot of competition at tradeshows, and many companies think creating an exhibit with a "wow" factor is the ticket to generating traffic. Although you certainly want your client's exhibit to be visually effective, it's critical to make sure the brand doesn't get diluted in the process. Instead, focus on creating clear, concise messages that support your client's brand attributes and resonate with the target audience.

Also, don't focus on just the technical features of a new product. Identify how those features can resolve a key business issue for the attendee.

Here's the bottom line: Looks matter in exhibit design, but using the booth to clearly communicate your client's business value is what will turn prospects into new customers. Though clients may think a booth is all about them, it's really about the audience they're trying to reach.

* * *

The most successful brands are those that maintain a clear identity, offer powerful and compelling experiences, and deliver the right message to the right person. Taking steps to strategize and build consistency across all communications channels, including tradeshows, will go a long way toward building the credibility and awareness needed to drive your client's business.

Editor's note: This is the first in a four-article series on tradeshows. Subsequent articles will appear periodically in issues of MarketingProfs Today.

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Rob Murphy is the chief marketing officer of MC2, a global exhibit and event marketing company. Check out the MC2Talks blog and find MC2 on Twitter (@MC2_Exhibits and @MC2_FastTrak) and Facebook.

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  • by Melissa Tue Dec 21, 2010 via web

    I see how a booth could convey eco-consciousness but dependability? I just don't see how dependability could be the inspiration behind a booth design.

  • by Casie Tue Dec 21, 2010 via web

    We recently had a table at a pretty big WOM conference and I couldn't believe how many tables there were that just had pieces of paper and disinterested people sitting at them. I would put that at the top of the list for letting your brand shine - make sure you have people who will help you shine.

    Nothing worse then seeing someone who looks like they'd rather be doing anything in the world than talking to you.

  • by James Bryce Smith Tue Dec 21, 2010 via web

    Casie, i agree. We dont allow our people to sit down. No blackberries or laptops either. If they need a break to phone, eat, email, rest, then it must be off the stand. setting targets and monitoring progress during the day is key to success.

  • by Lauren Hall-Stigerts Tue Dec 21, 2010 via web

    Great summary of key factors for exhibiting at a trade show. I'd also like to see this extended beyond exhibits. The strategies of one of my companies is to focus on sponsorships and brand-awareness initiatives that don't involve a booth, which is a pricey endeavor that doesn't reflect our image anyways. (We don't even have salespeople to staff the booth, and that's the way we like it!)

    How can this extend to sponsorship activities at the trade show? I'm sure there are ways you can apply these methods to cocktail receptions, Internet connectivity cafés, and branded giveaways that go in every attendee's bag.

  • by Harry Hallman Mon Jan 3, 2011 via web

    I have to disagree with Melissa about a booth design not being able to to portray dependability. Have you ever noticed how old bank buildings were designed and constructed? Concrete, marble, big and strong looking. This gave the customer the feeling that the bank was well backed and could withstand almost anything. In other words, it was dependable. Most were built in a era before the Government backed your savings.

    A trade show booth can also "speak" to the customer of a company that is dependable. It is up to the trade show builder to figure out how.

  • by Pam Alvord Tue Jan 4, 2011 via web

    Why does marketing innovation seem so absent in trade shows? So many marketers pull out the same old tired booths and printed materials, failing to engage their audience from the time they register, beyond the trade show floor, to the weeks/months after the show.

  • by Rob Murphy Tue Jan 4, 2011 via web

    Thanks to all for responding to my article. Good comment from Melissa questioning how to represent dependability through exhibit design. Harry Hallman’s comment is right on track. As designers and builders, we tend to specify materials that signify permanence when representing a company seeking a “stability” message. We avoid fabric and light weight portable elements in favor of properties that speak of a solid legacy like darker veneers, solid walls, embedded light boxes and monitors. There are a couple examples on our web site. If possible we address historical issues and make the visitor understand the ongoing success a dependable, stable entity can proclaim. In addition, we suggest staying away from any activities or promotions that could translate as a gimmick or cute. We strive to keep it real and if possible – impressive.

    Thanks, Lauren for raising the issue of extending this thinking off the show floor – the same rules apply: Stay consistent in message and stay the course for meeting your objectives. Make every event on or off-site carry on with the plan. Changing message and approach because the venue is different will only confuse and obscure your prospects and your goals – as well as make much more work for you! It is so much easier if there is only one plan that can be applied universally.

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