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Maintaining Brand Consistency at Trade Shows

Rob Murphy
  • Taking the time to strategize before embarking on any trade show program is the most effective approach to making trade show efforts part of overall branding and marketing strategies.
  • It is important is making sure an exhibit or booth design is in alignment with your strategy and priorities.
  • While you certainly want your exhibit to be impactful visually, it’s critical to make sure your brand doesn’t get diluted in the process.
  • Involve key stakeholders early to ensure messages remain consistent across all communication vehicles.

Beauty brand owners invest a significant amount of time and effort to establish a brand identity—considering the brand positioning, the image being portrayed and how the brand will be perceived by consumers. The resulting brand identity is built upon with every decision made and every product or service launched.

A company’s overall communications strategy also plays a key role in reinforcing brand identity to current and potential consumers of the brand. For many, this means logos, brochures, online presence, public relations, advertising and packaging. But what about how a brand is portrayed at trade shows? Think about it. How often have you been to a trade show, seen an exhibitor and wondered: What exactly does this company do? What is the brand? What is it trying to communicate to me?

Unfortunately, you’re not alone. After more than 20 years working in the trade show industry, I’ve seen that the disconnect often stems from companies treating trade shows as individual events instead of integrating them into an overarching brand communications strategy. But the sheer power of trade shows to cost-effectively connect with hundreds—even thousands—of customers and prospects makes them an important avenue to showcase a brand.

Simply taking the time to strategize before embarking on any trade show program—and, in particular, exhibit design—is the most effective approach. Here are four tips you can use to effectively maintain brand consistency at your next trade show:

1. Lead With Your Brand

Having a professional, engaging exhibit is essential, but even more important is making sure it’s in alignment with your company and brand strategy and priorities. Go back to those key attributes that define your brand. Are you eco-conscious? Innovative? Dependable? Make that the primary inspiration for the exhibit design.

Using the eco-conscious attribute as an example, which, at its core, is about conserving resources and minimizing waste. The booth design should reflect that—perhaps by using lightweight, eco-friendly materials such as recyclable aluminum or energy efficient LED lighting, which can reduce energy use by up to 90%. Using earth-friendly materials such as cotton for graphics or video or transfer drives in lieu of printed marketing materials are other easy-to-implement options.

2. Involve Key Stakeholders Early and Communicate Clearly

Engage your exhibit partners well in advance of the show to discuss overall strategy, and let them help you formulate the best way to let your brand shine. Be open about the key messages you want to convey and discuss ways they can be brought to life. Strategy meetings should include advertising and public relations stakeholders to ensure messages remain consistent across all communication vehicles.

3. Identify Desired Goal

An essential part of any strategy discussion is identifying the ultimate goal at a trade show. Are you looking to reinforce your company’s image? Launch a new identity or product? The answer will impact exhibit design—including overall structure, traffic flow and graphics and how your brand is perceived by attendees.

For example, if the main goal is to educate attendees about a brand, the exhibit should include demo areas, product samplings and perhaps a theater for presentations. If the focus is closing retail distribution agreements for a product, include an enclosed conference room for private conversations.

4. Use Effective Messaging

There’s a lot of competition at trade shows, and many companies think creating an exhibit that gets passers-by to say “Wow!” is the ticket to generating traffic. While you certainly want your exhibit to be impactful visually, it’s critical to make sure your brand doesn’t get diluted in the process. Instead, focus on creating clear, concise messages that support your brand’s attributes and will resonate with the target audience. Also, don’t just focus on the technical features of a new product. Make it clear how those features meet a specific need for the attendee. Here’s the bottom line: When it comes to exhibit design, looks are important, but using the booth to clearly communicate the business value your company’s products or services bring to the table is what resonates. The reality is that while you may think a booth is all about your brand, it’s really about the audience you’re trying to reach.

And the most successful brands are those that maintain a clear identity, offer powerful, compelling experiences and deliver the right message to the right person. Taking steps to strategize and build consistency across all communication channels, including presence at trade shows, will go a long way toward building the credibility and awareness needed to drive your business.

Rob Murphy is the chief marketing officer of MC², leveraging 20 years of experience in experiential marketing, exhibit design, video production and multimedia content. The company is a nationally recognized leader in the exhibit and event marketing industry, specializing in design, production and management of integrated marketing programs—including events, exhibits, permanent and road show environments and executive briefing centers.;