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3 Basic Rules When Designing for Events


In an age where technology brings the world so much closer, the ability to segment design for the immediate audience (without leaving out the crucial message elements) has never been more important. Putting your brand on display through trade shows and events magnifies the attention you will receive and the scrutiny that you’ll be under. While many marketers worry about attracting enough attention to generate the leads they need, the visual image you present will get noticed. The question is whether you are inspiring your prospect or merely polluting the space.

One of the earliest principles taught in design school is the concept of balance. The idea is to visually distribute the elements in an image to convey some sense of equilibrium or emphasis. A heavily symmetrical design can feel rigid but also may convey a strong foundation, while asymmetrical compositions are often used to place emphasis on particular areas or elements in a visual. In contract to a balanced design, the use of a discordant (off-balance) composition can be used to make a viewer uncomfortable. Discordant balance is often used when relating negative emotions and situations.

Especially in the context of designing for events and exhibits, balance also refers to managing the amount of information presented. When we know how wonderful our product or service is, it can be very tempting to try to present every feature and benefit we have. However, too much information becomes visual pollution and runs the risk of overwhelming the viewer.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, taking a minimalist approach and relying on a single simple graphic may give the viewer the impression that you underestimate them. In some situations, this approach may be effective but generally you need to appeal to a more discerning audience.

Usually the most effective approach is to balance the presentation. Provide enough visual impact to capture the eye, then present the most important facts for the immediate audience and, finally, provide a clear path for more information. The events in which you participate will dictate the form that these actions take – an unattended information kiosk requires a fully self-contained display while traditional trade shows and staffed events need to factor in the display and the role of your on-site personnel.

With a large product line or full portfolio of services, effective focus can be a daunting challenge. Even for businesses with well-defined offerings, deciding what to display at an event can prove frustrating for even experienced marketers.

Generally, businesses are more successful when they limit the active presentation to three specific areas (the “rule of thirds”). First, you should introduce what is new. Trade shows are a time for renewal and attendees often say they are going “to see what’s new.” Satisfy that predefined expectation by stating clearly what you are introducing at the event. Whether or not that involves price promotion, special offers or other hooks, they key is to make space (visually and actually) for your freshest products and services.

Next, share what is already popular. There are many ways to present your best-seller and the value of doing so is that you can extend the product lifecycle with strong presentation and by taking advantage of positive association. Even if they will not admit it, consumers (both B2B and B2C) are influenced by the purchasing actions of other consumers. We all like to think that we make good decisions and one of the best reinforcements is when others agree with our purchasing decisions. Presenting a product as a best seller often suggests to the consumer that this is a smart purchase, thus the term “positive association.” Presenting your best seller can capitalize on our basic desire to be accepted and can give a skeptical consumer an easy way out if they are faced with a hard purchasing decision.

Finally, promote what you need to sell. Sometimes one product or service may span several of these categories, but the rule of thirds is applicable here too. Determine the offering that will have the greatest impact on your business and make space for it in your display. Be sure that you consider why you need to promote this offering, so you can manage expectations. For example, if you need to clear inventory to make way for a replacement, be creative in the presentation but honest in the communications. No one likes to feel like they were sold last year’s goods.

Naturally, some event spaces are large enough for a more diverse offering. But if you start with these categories in mind, you’ll have a more concise display strategy to support. Even with a large display, attendees quickly become saturated at trade shows. Plan your display and ensure you team can sum up your offerings effectively.

It has been said, several times, that repetition is the best teacher. In a trade show environment, it can also be the best differentiator. We generally suggest that our clients brand everything. If something can be seen by the public, make sure your logo is on it. If your tagline is concise and easy to read, include your tagline too.

When your booth is set up by itself in your office or warehouse, repetitive logos may seem tedious. However, on a busy show floor or event venue it will help draw your booth together and identify all your space with your brand. If your presentation is well-design and executed, you want event attendees to identify your product, services and people with your brand. The quick and easy way to do that is to brand everything. Your booth, your display features, your literature, your apparel – everything you put on display needs to be easily matched to your brand. Don’t worry so much about how the display looks by itself, the true measure is how well you are identifiable on a crowded show floor.

Imagine yourself at a trade show for your favorite pastime. You’re attracted to a booth with dynamic graphics and an interesting logo. You’ve got a casual familiarity with the company, so you stop in to discuss their new products or just to learn more about them. The booth staff (wearing company shirts) was helpful and the styling fit your personal preferences and needs. As you leave the booth, their logo is clearly visible and fits the culture you just observed through conversation and demonstration. You walk away having a complete experience with the company, the people and the product – and that experience is now embodied in the branding that was consistently displayed.

Now imagine this setting only without the branding. The overall mix is good – you like their product; their people seem genuine and you can identify with the culture they project. But as you leave their booth, you struggle to find the company name. As marketers, we may make the exact effort to determine who they are, but the average consumer won’t. Moral to the story: make your branding pervasive in the space.

When your brand is on display in an environment with numerous visual distractions, even the smallest details can set you apart. Master the art of balancing the information on display, focus on products that sell, engage and produce results, and repeat your brand message to form the backbone of a solid event strategy. Pair those concepts with a visually dynamic booth and you’ve laid the foundation for your very own image impact environment.