Following on from the interest in Neil's recent post about the approaching BIBA 2012 conference (google analytics is a wonderful thing) we thought we would continue with a look at exhibition design from a brand perspective and why it should be part of your marketing budget.
An exhibition show is potentially one of the more exciting parts of your marketing calendar – exciting because after developing your identity and brand guidelines you can focus on bringing your company identity off of the printed page or out of the screen. You are going to have to figure out how to bring your brand to life and represent it in a physical environment. Exhibition design is a chance to make that all important first impression of your company to a potential new lead and doing it well can mean the difference between gaining new business or being overlooked.
Why exhibit at all?
It can be a big chunk of your marketing budget, planning it is time consuming and it forces your staff out of their comfort zone and into the paths of the masses. Well that last point is the key isn't it – exposure. Exposure, new leads and relationship building all hopefully leading to increased business.
First things first - know your brand
You need to know what your brand stands for before you can ensure that your exhibition presence is reflecting your company consistently. If you've been through any sort of a branding exercise you should know the key values to communicate in order to represent your brand consistently. Your brand identity will of course include the basics... logo, colours, font, image library specifications, etc., but should also include more abstract concepts that represent your brand such as feeling, tone, emotion, etc.
Know why you are there
Consider and decide what your exhibition goals are before you start thinking about stand design. The most successful and suitable stands are born out of considered briefs detailing clear goals of what a client wants to achieve from exhibiting at a conference show.
Begin with an idea. There is a term in architecture, parti – or parti pris 'to make a decision' – which means the underlying concept. It is similar to the big idea in branding; the single thought which is the foundation on which everything else is built. Let's say that your big idea or focus for the stand is accessibility - this informs any decision along the design process by giving focus to a core thought to come back to. A parti is this focus of satisfying the original idea condensed down into a simple statement or sketch of what the aim of the project is.
Thinking about your stand in its simplest form helps focus the development process by prompting you to consider whether any particular design decision is staying true to or enhancing the original idea behind the stand. This can inform furniture selection, floorspace required, brightness of lighting, materials, finishes, on stand experience, etc.
For example, there will be a big difference in the design approach of the stand depending on whether your focus is a simple brand promotion exercise compared to if it is a new product launch. In the former your message may be 'here we are, this is our company, we're showing our face, a dependable reliable showing year after year', all that can be done with a logo and an engaging structural design. In the latter case the group branding may take more of a secondary backseat with the focus shifting to your new product; the group branding sitting in the background lending gravitas and instant recognition to the product launch.
What can a stand say about your brand?
A stand should reflect your brand - if your company is all about investing time with clients and providing a bespoke service to them then build a stand that allows you to invite those guests on, provide comfortable furniture and take time to speak to them. If you want to show you are a busy dynamic company then make your stand a lot brighter with lots of presentations, less furniture and a shorter stand experience time.
Think of your stand as a shop front for your business; it's an opportunity to reflect all of your brand values in a way that you never can do in the reality of your office layout. Perhaps you are based 100s of miles from your potential clients in which case an exhibition stand allows you to take your world to them.
If you think of billboard advertisements - they work on a 3 second rule. They need to grab the attention of passing motorists and deliver a message to them within those 3 seconds of a car passing by. Exhibition stands are the same albeit with slower moving traffic passing through the aisles but the principle remains. Don't bombard people with an essay of text across 3 walls, they will process and retain less than 5% of the message.
As we've mentioned, this is a chance to create a physical presence of your company brand - try to exploit the senses. You're not tied to the visual sense of a website, you can play with lighting, tactile material, aroma, taste, performance and hotwire straight into potential customers sensory perceptions.
Your message can be sophisticated in what it communicates about your brand but it has to be succinct and easily processed by the audience.
Strive to make it memorable past the event. You want to sow that seed in people's heads so that when they stumble across your company in a couple of months time they recognise the brand and recall the associations with your company that you've prompted through your stand design.
Often in branding projects we are trying to get inside a company's ethos to understand what makes them unique, especially in financial companies where so much is based on personal relationships and the quality of a company's people. Often in insurance companies this comes down to the characteristics of people within that company and the personal relationships they can develop with clients.
An exhibition stand is a chance to bring them out from behind an email address or phone number and press the flesh with potential clients. A stand needs to make your people comfortable to shine, that means giving them the confidence to sell your business at its best. If they are proud to stand in front of that stand it will come across to the attendees at the conference.
As the old adage goes 'first impressions are everything'. To a completely uninterested visitor a good stand will plant a seed. To a potential customer it could tip the balance. To an existing customer it should reaffirm their positive feeling towards your company.
An example to illustrate
Shameless self-promotion plug warning: take one of our clients MAPFRE, a global insurance provider. MAPFRE came to Lamb CMC recognising that they needed to develop their UK identity which meant a full brand evaluation and development project. Once this was complete it naturally progressed into a marketing campaign including a showing at last year's BIBA conference. This was MAPFRE's first showing at BIBA so it was key that they made a bold statement ensuring people realised that they were there.
The brief: MAPFRE wanted to arrange slots of time with a number of visitors throughout the day, they wanted them to experience something of the company's heritage and they wanted their stand to be remembered.
The informed audience of insurance brokers all knew MAPFRE as a Spanish company so we used that heritage as our hook and focussed our design around Spanish hospitality. We took their bold graphic identity and incorporated it into a stand using a combination of branded panels and traditional wood materials (making it stand out within the usual stand design finishes).
It was a small stand space which was a factor we turned into a strength adding to the tapas bar feel we decided to have no large furniture, encouraging visitors to stand and chat. We took the height of the stand up to add a sense of an enclosed intimate refuge within the large Manchester exhibition hall. Finished the feel with a professional tapas chef offering tapas and freshly sliced jamon. Beer on tap. Who could resist?
No walls full of small text, no long lists of products, no branded biros - it's not what people will remember after the event. One simple concept - Spanish hospitality; a warm welcome, good people, good conversation, plenty of food and drink, all in an informal relaxed space. It certainly stood out amongst the other stands last year, so much so that it won the best small stand award and the organisers were still struggling to get visitors to leave hours after the exhibition had finished.
What does someone take away from it? A sense of who Mapfre are, what they're about, what the people behind the brand are like and what drives them - all with their brand subtly sitting there in the background. That experience remains associated with MAPFRE and is remembered whenever that logo is seen in the future by visitors.
To see some more examples of our exhibition design check out our work section on the site - click here.