Booth placement is a primary concern for exhibitors, and most want to be near the entrance. The entrance location provides excellent brand exposure—being the first and last exhibit attendees see. For many shows, including NRF, location priority is determined by the amount of money an exhibitor has spent with the show in the past—accounting for previous booth sizes and sponsorships purchased as well as an exhibitor’s tenure with the organization. Accordingly, booth locations at the entrance are typically occupied by the largest companies in the industry—in this case SAP, Microsoft and Oracle—leaving smaller players with real estate at the rear and sides of the show floor. Though these smaller companies have less money to invest, they must establish brand identity just as successfully as, if not better than, their larger competitors by emphasizing booth design and messaging.
Many firms employ professional design firms to create their booths. Elegant, well-designed booths convey a sense of professionalism and scale and reinforce the company’s brand image. Failure to execute this well can have serious consequences.
“I remember a show where a Fortune 50 company, with a very conservative image in the marketplace, put up a large 40x40 booth. The booth was poorly designed and the materials looked cheap, so the buzz across the show floor was that the company was having financial problems. They broke expectations and their performance at the show suffered,” Friedmann recalls.
Most exhibitors at NRF agreed that a beautiful booth in a good location is great if you have the necessary funds but will do little good unless you are saying something that resonates with your target.
Andy Williams, VP of marketing for SAP Retail, emphasized the importance of maintaining a clear message throughout the booth: “You want to make sure that when they see you for the first time they get exactly what it is that you do. You’ve got over 600 vendors on the show floor, and every single one of them wants to talk to a retailer. You’re competing with that kind of noise, so the more succinct and clear you can be with your message, the more likely that you’re going to engage that person in the conversation.”
Communicating that message can be done in a number of ways. At NRF, some vendors focused on themes or words that sum up their offer, though many of them were saying the same thing. In particular, “flexible,” “scalable,” “custom,” and “innovative” were concepts communicated by more than two dozen vendors. Some companies, however, utilized a more effective means of communicating these themes by offering attendees the chance to touch, see and feel what makes their offer “all of the above.”
FirstData, a manufacturer of POS systems and RFID tags, took advantage of its location at the rear of the show floor to invest in a larger booth space, which they turned into a functioning coffee shop. The crisp white decor was integrated throughout the booth, down to a set of Barcelona chairs, inviting weary attendees to rest for a spell. When a visitor would approach the counter for a coffee, they would receive a brief introduction to FirstData’s RFID systems and would use a system themselves to “purchase” the coffee. The company took the idea a step further, placing the usual branded promotional items in a vending machine rather than scattering them on a table. Visitors would be shown how to use the RFID system to “pay” for whatever item they desired, which allowed the visitor to experience the product in action.
A FirstData representative said, “It’s important for people to understand what our brand is all about. The fact that our prospective customers can see how it works, in a live setting, is useful, because it gives them the entire experience.”
Sponsorships are another way to build brand equity at a trade show. At NRF, for example, all attendees were given necklace badges with Oracle-branded lanyards. Some attendees replaced the Oracle lanyard with their own, though the badge itself could not be replaced, and each contained a big SAP logo in the top right corner.
Williams said, “It’s a sponsorship that the NRF offers, and we chose to use it because the badge is something everyone has to wear. It’s a great way for us to keep our brand in front of the entire audience that’s attending the show, and when you’re walking around the floor and you see everyone’s badge, you’re going to see the SAP logo.”
While sponsorships such as badges and lanyards tend to fall within the budgets of larger companies, smaller firms can get involved by sponsoring everything from panel discussions to breakfasts, and each conference offers a different range of opportunities to do so.