31st January 2008

Is stand design worth the money?

Why it’s important to get the look and feel of your stand right, and what you could be losing by not doing so.

If you’re exhibiting at a relevant trade show, presumably you’re there because you’ve done your research and you know the visitors will be interested in what your company offers. You have a stand that displays what you do and is clearly branded with your logo and key marketing messages. It’s of a decent size and reasonably prominently positioned. With all these elements in place, why should you need to invest further in the design of your stand?

“Communication with the visitor starts 20 feet from the stand and an exhibitor has less than five seconds to attract the attention of a passing visitor,” replies Fiona Duffin, marketing communications manager at The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre (QEIICC) in London. “It is, therefore, vital that the design of the stand and use of lighting, movement and graphics work in synergy to reflect the right message to the audience.”

Equinox Design’s sales and marketing manager Carl Criscione agrees, adding: “The design of an Exhibition Stand encompasses much more than how it looks. There is a functional aspect to the stand, which must drive the design. It must attract visitors and allow stand personnel to engage with them, demonstrating products or explaining services.”

So good stand design should work with your brand and sales messages to enhance your offer to visitors and help attract them to your stand. This means your sales team should be able to make more contacts, which should also be better quality as the key messages should have been put over to visitors more effectively, all of which should generate more revenue and maximise the return of investment (ROI) of your event presence – a vital factor when justifying your event budget to procurement.

What’s more, it’s rare to be the only company offering your product or service at any given exhibition, so it’s essential to make sure you stand out, which carefully thought out stand design will achieve.

Of course, not working on your stand design can have a more drastic effect that reducing ROI.

“Get it right and your stand will be awash with visitors,” says Amanda Simpson, marketing and communications manager at Warwick Conferences. “Get it wrong, and you’ll be left high and dry.”

Explaining further, Criscione adds: “Quite simply, a poorly designed stand will not work and at worst it could harm the perception of an organisation,” and the last thing you want is the investment you’ve made in exhibiting at a show actually having a negative effect on your business.

However, don’t panic, you don’t need to worry about designing your stand yourself, as there are lots of stand design companies who can help. Even if you have design and marketing personnel in house, it can help to get advice from experts experienced in specifically working in the exhibition medium.

“The obvious advantage of using design professionals is that they are experienced in this line of work and can, therefore, give advice on how best to communicate to your audience through the design of your stand,” explains QEIICC’s Duffin.

Meanwhile, Warwick Conferences’ Simpson says: “Good Exhibition Stand designers know the best configuration and materials, as well as the latest trends in design and the potential pitfalls. They can also work with your budget to ensure you obtain the best stand for your money.”

So how much can you expect to pay for your exhibition stand, and how is design built into this?

“Your stand can cost anything from £600 for a small pop up design right through to £50,000 plus for a large custom-built affair,” says Simpson. “The costs really vary greatly according to requirements, complexity of design, materials used, height of the stand, furniture, etc.” (Related categories of interest see Pop up Graphics)

So clearly it’s simply down to what budget you have allocated to your exhibition presence and making sure that when evaluating stand costs, you include an element for design. The value of your budget should depend on you’re overall marketing spend and how important exhibiting is in your general marketing strategy. It should also take into account the level of competition you will encounter at each trade show you exhibit at. Tailoring your stand to suit where and how frequently you plan to exhibit can also help make your budget go further, and this is where experienced stand designers can play a key role.

“To reach the objectives set by the client is paramount and, as long as the spend can be justified by the ROI, then the investment is only dependant upon what budget has been allocated, and by using a reputable company you will get what you pay for,” says Criscione. “Obviously, a simple shell scheme Modular Stand will cost less than a bespoke version. However, if there is a schedule of shows, which can be planned over a period, we use something we call custom modular. This allows a custom build to be created that can be adapted and modified to suit a variety of stand sizes and shapes, maximising the effect of the budget and delivering a custom feel to a number of shows.”

Of course, it’s one thing explaining why carefully considering the design of your stand should improve the effectiveness of your exhibition presence, but how can you actually measure it? According to Simpson, “as a rule of thumb, you should expect to generate sales from show leads worth around three to four times the cost of exhibiting”. And simply success at a show is an indication that the design of your stand is working.

However, to get more of a handle on how big a part design is playing, the best approach is to compare the performance to previous years when you may not have thought about design as much or not have used design professionals. Alternatively, compare the footfall on your stand to competitors’ stands at the same event, which may not be as well designed. More scientifically, you could actually ask visitors to your stand exactly what attracted them.

To find the right stand design professionals to work with, there really is no substitute for word of mouth or testimonials, so ask around, demand to see example of work and make sure you talk to previous clients. It also helps if the agency in question is a member of a recognised trade association, such as the Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA).

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