31st May 2007

Branding the stand

Exhibitors at this year’s Exhibiting Show have been encouraged to think carefully about branding, John Spain finds out more

It seems a long time since companies simply used adverts to announce the launch of a new product or service or when the name on a given shop front was there simply to tell the customer who was trading inside. Nowadays you apparently need to be establishing a brand if you are to have any chance of commercial success.

Not only do you have to tell people about your product, in the modern business world you have to present the customer with an experience and instil in them the notion that when they buy a given product they are not just obtaining something, they are also buying into the values and philosophies of the supplier.

But how easy is this to achieve, and how easy is it for the small end of the market to establish its brands alongside the ‘big boys’? How does a small company that’s thinking about taking a stand at an exhibition even begin to create something that will catch the eye?

Simon Burton, managing director of Exposure Event Creations, says there is so much that can be done. As organisers of the Exhibiting Show, Burton and his team have spent a large part of this year encouraging and helping the show’s exhibitors to think carefully about branding.

“I would say that it is absolutely important for a small company to be as consistent in the way it presents itself as a large firm for all sorts of powerful reasons,” he says. “The first is that if you are small then fewer people know about you and one of the things you’re trying to do is get people to know about you. If you keep changing the way in which your possible clients identify you you’re not going to give them enough to hang onto in a world that is full of messaging and clutter.”

Added to this is the simple fact that if you’re not consistent in your message you can hardly expect people to be consistent with you.

A logical appraisal, how, therefore, do you go about making your message consistent?

“If you’re not sure what your brand values might be there’s always the danger that you say things like ‘we’re professional’ or ‘customer focused’ or something equally impersonal that everyone says,” he says. “You really need to think of things that are personal to you. At presentations that we conduct we ask companies what book they would be if they were a book or what film or piece of music or TV show. They then use these ideas to come up with a picture of how they would illustrate the brand.”

Burton suggests, as an example, a company that sees itself as being really creative, young at heart and very fun and exciting. Perhaps it would decide that the film it would be is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

“Suddenly you can come up with all sorts of associated themes that people will remember,” he says. “If this is your theme then its pointless to give people a pencil or a cup of coffee on your stand, it’s got to be chocolate that you give.”

Although this is a fun and effective way of thinking through your brand message, unfortunately, like everything in life, it’s not quite as simple as that.

Say, for example, that you are a Sex Pistols fan and reckon that they exemplify everything about your company, brash, breaking boundaries and a challenge to the establishment. The only people you are likely to attract could well be will be thirty-something Guardian readers who look back fondly on their teens. Anyone under 30 won’t have a clue about what you’re trying to represent while people of your parent’s generation are still struggling to come to terms with the swearing incident on TV that famous evening in 1977.

“You can’t pick something just because you like it yourself,” says Burton. “But, having said that, although you probably wouldn’t put a handkerchief on your head and greet every visitor with a v-sign, if you did want to portray your firm’s values as brash, aggressive and challenging established norms, it may be a great idea to have a pastiche of one of their album covers on your stand.”

With all these companies, at any given exhibition, all trying to come up with bright and memorable ideas, is there not a danger of the visitor, far from remembering a particularly fine example of branding, simply suffering from branding overload?

“Certainly not,” thinks Burton. “People are sophisticated, they can distinguish what’s going on. At the end of the day it’s about experience, in our daily lives whether it’s going to the newsagent to buy a bottle of cola or going to a football match or buying a car we are looking for an experience and there’s no finer place than an exhibition in which to create an experience.”

(Related categories of interest see Exhibition Stands or Modular Stands)