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Is Your Exhibit A Museum Display Or A Marketing Tool?

tradeshow exhibit designWhen I was a kid, I used to love to haunt museums, looking at all the great detail work the museum staff did to make the exhibits entertaining and educational.  I could pour over the written descriptions and historical data for hours, studying everything there was to know about a subject.   Great learning opportunities abounded!

However, once I became an exhibitor at shows and events, it became very clear to me that the exhibiting rules of engagement were very different.  Unfortunately, it is also clear that many exhibitors have yet to realize this.  Here are a few of the key differences:

  • Museums are for education; trade shows are marketing tools.  A museum’s goal is to provide you with as much data and visual information as it can to completely cover its subject thoroughly.  Trade show goals (lead generation, branding reinforcement or recognition, company perception, positioning, etc.) need just enough visual information to help a visitor identify that you can solve their key need.  You don’t need to tell your entire story.


  • Museums have all the time in the world to provide you with the opportunity to understand their exhibited subject thoroughly, allowing you to move at your own pace, and read and comprehend at leisure.  Trade shows, because they are so intense time-wise and so packed with vendors, only provide three to five seconds to a visitor to identify whether or not a chosen vendor can resolve their critical need, and only brief minutes beyond that to solidify the contact for future interactions.


  • Museums are not out to retain your business.  Trade shows provide an environment where potential buyers connect with potential sellers, face to face, to begin a long-term business relationship.


  • Museum exhibit information can be provided by having descriptions of their subjects portrayed in small print, in detail, and in having consecutive displays in sequence expanding their story in great depth.  Trade show booths need to have their graphic messaging large and bold and minimal, to just show enough to visually capture a visitor’s attention, and to leave the door open for further post-show sales and marketing contact.  The only real messaging requirement is to have your visitor quickly understand who you are, what you do, and what your offer is.  Provide too much information and your visual presence becomes difficult to clearly comprehend at a glance.  Fonts need to be sized at least an inch and a half, or larger, to be easily read from a show aisle.


  • Museum displays are designed to be left in place for long periods of time.  They typically are built of plywood and laminates and other durable materials, screwed and glued together.  They do not need to be torn down and rebuilt frequently. Trade show displays need to be modular, flexible, and transportable, to deal with the rigors and costs of shipping and handling, and to allow for variation in sizing and messaging consistent with changing audiences and space requirements at consecutive shows.


  • Museum displays are all designed to blend in with one another, to keep a consistent environmental theme throughout the entire building, in keeping with the museum’s overall image.  Trade show booths need to be able to stand out visually from their surrounding exhibitors and the show environment to help a potential visitor quickly find and identify them in the busy show halls.

In summary, to be successful on a show floor, keep your trade show booth clean and inviting, messaging concise, minimal, and large enough to see from a distance.  Don’t try to tell everything you know about your subject.  Put your old ‘museum display’ in your corporate lobby, where it can be reviewed in depth by visitors to your company.  Let your modular trade show exhibit be the cost effective powerhouse lead generation tool you need it to be!

What's Working In ExhibitingFor more ways to make your trade show display work for you, read the What’s Working In Exhibiting guidebook.  Pick up your free copy that reveals exhibitors’ best tips and  tactics in 7 key areas of trade show marketing by clicking here.

About the Author

Pete Davis was an exhibiting consultant and seminar presenter for Skyline Northeast in Arlington, Massachusetts, before his retirement.

One response to “Is Your Exhibit A Museum Display Or A Marketing Tool?

  1. Good points (especially the ones addressing trade show messaging). With some effort, a brief, concise trade show marketing message can be crafted specifically for an event or audience. This time is well spent and will positively impact the effectiveness of a trade show exhibit.

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