Column | Fair

So much space for so few ideas!

by: Michael Arnold

Do you know what the advantage is, if you go through a trade show as a technical “lay person,” such as myself – you don’t allow the details to deceive you. In many cases I cannot imagine what the devices or parts displayed at a trade show booth are, and whether I may be dealing with something that is the greatest innovation in decades. I can concentrate entirely on that about which I have my own inkling - on the message being communicated by the brand and on the manner of implementation. And should I reveal something to you. I am routinely completely disillusioned after my visits to various trade shows. If one knows that, in past years, German B2B companies have spent on average 39% of their entire marketing budget (bvik study: B2B Marketing Budgets 2016 – Budget distribution for marketing outlays in industrial enterprises) on trade shows, exhibitions and customer events (for comparison: the next highest items are product information, at 13%!). And if one knows how difficult it basically is for many companies to even prepare budgets for professional communication, the results, to put it mildly, are sobering. 

Information overkill meets the material battle
A recognizable idea or tangible messages are scarce goods at most booths. The fact that brand communication is often also described as the top level of company communication leads not infrequently merely to the fact that the company logo is placed at as high an elevation as possible. Brand messages? Error indicated!

The appeal of filling booths with machinery exceeds the boldness required to consider what visitors should be told beyond that. Also, in the preliminary stage apparently only rarely is the question asked, What should one do at the trade show booth, and with whom? Is the company making use of the trade show for the care of existing clients or are new customers the focus? Are customers and potential customers coming to the trade show anyway or must one target them for invitation? And how must the composition of the booth and the trade show messages possibly respond to this orientation? What answers does one provide to the question that, unfortunately, is still standard: “What is there that’s new?” Many exhibitors additionally think that they must plaster-over every free square inch of space with information, without thinking about who will take the time to read all of that at a trade show. It could be that individual expert visitors who have a clear focus chew their way through the jumble of information, but this is not true for the majority of visitors. Additionally, many people forget that, precisely at a trade show,  potential customers can very easily compare all of the market participants – a differentiation that goes beyond products and features – making for the highest necessity right here.

Trade shows are your brand’s big stage.
Via our bvik (German Association of Industry Communication) membership, we have the opportunity to participate in many trade show tours and thus to hear first-hand why a booth looks the way it does from those people responsible for the trade show. In my view, it becomes clear very quickly hereby, whether a company needs to catch up in the area of communication and brand management. A well thought-out corporate design is thereby merely the first step. Much more important are messages that are unequivocal and consistent, making it possible to differentiate a brand. For this purpose, these messages must naturally be defined, which requires a comprehensive debate on the company and on the brand. The results of this work then flow not only into the trade show presentation, but rather will determine overall company communication – because consistency and authenticity are the most important factors in successful marketing work. Why B2B companies should also, or maybe even spend their energy on consistent brand communication is another topic. I will limit myself here. Also, the receptive behavior that has B2B customers react to television advertisements in the evening does not disappear during the day in the office. Therefore, in the B2B area, the same rules apply as with consumer advertising – with the sole difference being that B2B customers notice very quickly if they are being told nonsense, and the messages and contents must therefore always be expertly correct and, above all, must be relevant.

Repetition is the mother of all skills
There is a saying in English that “repetition is the mother of all skills,” an approximation of the German equivalent saying of “One cannot repeat things often enough if the intent is to learn.” This applies above all to messages, pictures and CD elements. In our view, a rule of thumb in B2B communication with clear touchpoints for customers is very simple. If continual repetition is annoying you, the messages are just then arriving at the first customers - that is, remain persistent. In my view, this is also or especially true at trade shows. One need not reinvent the wheel every year to generate awareness. The ideal solution here is to always place the same messages or slightly changed versions.

He who has no goals cannot measure success
The measurability of actions in today’s streamlined world, with its increasing emphasis on efficiency and control, is a constant guide, even if it involves argumentation over communication measures. To be sure, our experience is that precisely at trade shows, where, after all, the financial engagement is very large, this measurability, or the definition of measuring quantities, often does not take place for the most varied reasons.  To this end, however, in the preliminary stage one must consider exactly who a trade show booth should cater to and what goals are being pursued via the trade show presence, which unfortunately takes place only rarely, as a 2017 study of the Nürnberg trade show illustrates. If, in the daily life of an agency, we speak with our customers about a trade show concept, this is one of the first questions – we additionally ask how the achievement of a goal should be measured. Care of existing clients, the presentation of innovations, the generation of leads, ... there are plenty of goals and they vary from company to company and from trade show to trade show. Because trade show construction and communications before, during and apart from the trade show must harmonize relative to these goals– and possibly also regarding the methods for measuring success – in order to be able to make use of the expensive space to the extent possible.

Do you see things differently – or exactly the same? We look forward to your hearing your opinion – just send a short email to the author: