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2014 Event Inspiration: 19 Trends for Trade Show Booths

Check out the design concepts, technology strategies, and engagement techniques top exhibit producers expect to see more of this year.

At I.A.E.E. Expo! Expo! in December, Freeman created an interactive video wall that helped attendees understand the company's various services.

Photo: Courtesy of Freeman

Before you develop plans for your company’s next trade show booth, consider these 19 tips on industry trends from several exhibit designers from around the United States.

Engagement

1. Exhibitors are exploring new methods to reach attendees before they hit the show floor by creating “wow” experiences at the airport beyond the monitor graphic or hanging banners. Errol Ahearn, vice president of executive administration for design at Global Experience Specialists, says: “I was waiting for my luggage, along with a few hundred others, after a long flight to Vienna. All eyes watched as the baggage carousel finally started and the first bag on the belt wasn’t a bag at all but a small house with graphics on it. Everyone realized it wasn’t their bag but a clever branding campaign for a local hotel. As the tiny house rounded the circuit, all the monitors in the area ran a video commercial on the campaign. This was a powerful branding lesson that could work for any exhibitor or organizer. The combination of 3-D props, video graphics, and sheer surprise makes this a hit for 2014.”

2. Some clients are simply leaving the trade show floor. Jeff Hirouji, lead designer at DisplayWorks, says the company is using hotel ballrooms to get its clients away from the bustle of the show floor, tell a unique story, and create environments where clients can meet, talk, and recharge.

3. Years ago, if the structure was cool people would come to see what was going on. Now, according to Tom Yurkin, experience designer at Freeman, exhibitors have to make it relevant to the viewer.

4. Millennials and other target audiences want to be heard, says Mike Ellery, senior vice president for creative at Sparks Exhibits and Environments. They don’t want to be spoken at; they want to be part of the conversation. Providing opportunities to listen and to allow for contribution to the larger conversations about products and services is key to creating advocacy within the audience for any trade show exhibit.

5. Engagement is very data-driven. Nick Simonette, vice president for sales at Czarnowski, says his company scans badges at each point of engagement to take visitors down a specific path. Technology is used to figure out how people move within the space.

6. It's important to have a clear understanding of what post-show actions you are trying to drive with your audience, as well as how the action will be achieved, says Dave Sherman, vice president for creative services at Derse. The key to driving those actions is following up and making it easy for your audience to take the next step, no matter how small. Social media and other digital communications will play a huge part. Without giving this step careful attention, much of the value of trade show efforts will disappear.

Design

7. Simonette says he is seeing more straight-line architecture, which is easier and less expensive to set up than designs with shapes and curves. Colors are cooler, and clients are starting to incorporate light wood tones, but in a restrained way. “You don’t want to look like a bank,” he says.

8. Lounge spaces within the booth, with phone charging areas and comfortable seating, are becoming more popular, Hirouji says.

9. Whether clients want to foster brand awareness, build advocacy, or close sales on the exhibit floor, it's important to have a comfortable, well-equipped space for meetings that provides an appropriate amount of privacy, Ellery says. As for materials, fabric, plywood, and laminate are increasingly being replaced with more textural and “real world” materials that provide a comfortable, familiar, and authentic experience.

10. Incorporating live entertainment in the exhibit can help emphasize your brand's message and create a lasting impression with attendees, Ahearn says.

11. “In walking around different trade show floors, I have noticed that wood finishes are making a comeback,” says Dat Don Nguyen, 3-D designer at Plus Studios. “For a while, they were considered dated, and many booths were going stark white. The wood finishes really warm up a space.”

12. Consider how each element in the design can serve a purpose. For example, Sherman says he has seen semitransparent fabrics that, when combined with the right lighting, can offer one image or message from a distance and another when close up or when approached from a different angle.

Budgets

13. “The economic upheaval of the last several years imposed leaner budgets on many exhibitors. The result is smaller, more efficient exhibits and an increased focus on R.O.I.,” says Jared Joly, owner of Exhibitors Choice. “The days of big, heavy, hard wall designs are virtually gone. Simpler designs from aluminum frames with lightweight fabric graphics are more common. Exhibitors benefit from smaller, lighter packaging that results in reduced shipping and labor costs.”

14. “Several of my clients have 'scaled back' in order to 'scale up,'” says Alicia Rosen, director of client relations for Plus Studios. “They are really looking at the shows they attend to see if they are actually good shows for them or if they were just going because they’ve always gone or because their competitors go. They have also looked at their booth space sizes and gone smaller when possible. This has allowed them to cut back on the number of shows they attend and the amount of money they spend on booth space, allowing them to spend more money on cool booth designs for the shows they do go to.”

15. It's more important than ever to make sure the budget is spent on active brand and product engagement and less on costs that are not apparent to the target audience, Ellery says. Cost-saving options that will likely grow in popularity include lightweight materials and alternative approaches to flooring, fabric architecture, and structures, such as eliminating counters once used for computers and printed materials.

Technology

16. Yurkin says iBeacon, Apple's indoor positioning system, will be “the next big thing.” The system can pinpoint an attendee's location on a trade show floor and notify that person about products and companies within its vicinity.

17. “Many of my clients have been leaning towards electronic picture frames as a way to display product information, rather than a static graphic. It saves money in the long run and it’s green,” Rosen says.

18. As the cost of LEDs and digital signage continues to drop, more exhibitors will make use of these products since they can be updated easily and reused from one event to the next, Ahearn says.

19. The use of tracking technologies will continue to grow. Sherman says exhibitors should be using R.F.I.D., N.F.C., and other sensor technologies to not only gauge attendees' behavior, but to also trigger information displayed on screens and other media.