Opinions

How to restructure trade shows for better engagement

Trade shows tend to get squeezed on both sides – by organisers and by agencies. Organisers push for bare-bones execution in terms of booth design and overall budgets, while agencies respond to these lower margins and limited schedules with a cookie-cutter approach. The result is that trade shows can feel quite… ‘samey’. Focusing on the agency side of the equation, is there anything we can do about this?

The answer is an enthusiastic ‘yes’. The main problem is one of uniformity. At traditional trade shows, booths are set out according to size and located according to the amount invested, with ‘premium’ traffic areas allocated to the primary event sponsors along central traffic lines. From an economic point of view this makes sense, but the downside is a lack of differentiation between shows – and potentially a monotonous experience for delegates.

Instead, we can begin zoning layouts that take other factors into account like the type of company or the service being provided. For example, agencies can help audiences engage with the entire space by building ‘islands of intention’, where featured booths are surrounded by smaller yet similar booths, instead of pushing all featured booths to the centre of the layout. This arrangement provides the headline sponsors with more attention and less competition with neighbouring booths, while the associated smaller sponsors are able to enjoy the benefits of increased traffic flows.

These alternative layouts also create better engagement by providing focused areas of content, rather than the typical scattered approach. Such layouts allow agencies to create comprehensive journeys, leading visitors along pathways or storylines and encouraging the use of storytelling approaches.

New, more creative approaches to the design of the booths themselves can also be explored – instead of standardised booth patterns assigned to participants based on cost or the level of sponsorship, agencies can design grouped booth executions that hold together architecturally but also allow enough customisation to showcase products and services in a creative way. For example, feature booths can act as visual beacons that activate an entire space.

Once the layouts and booth designs are restructured, agencies can then focus on creating engaging content that fits these new spaces, using authentic engagement tactics that forge genuine connections. Interesting and insightful content that creates an atmosphere where attendees feel inspired to participate will complement and augment these new layouts, reinvigorating the entire trade show experience for everyone.

Vince Ota is Executive Creative Director, Global, at Pico.