A collection of pertinent thoughts and quotes, notes from AXIOM president Randy Lientz, and an offering of articles related to the marketing, advertising, interactive and media industries.

The 7 People You Design Your Trade Show Exhibit For

February 16th, 2010
January 28, 2010 | Mike Thimmesch |

Who do you design your trade show exhibit for?  There may be more people than you realize.

As a trade show manager about to embark on marshalling the design of your company’s new trade show exhibit, you have to consider the interests of 7 distinct people:

1.  Trade Show Attendee

This is the most obvious person for whom you design your trade show exhibit:  Your clients and prospects who attend trade shows.  Aim for an exhibit designed to attract attendees with compelling messages, inviting architecture, appealing colors, and impactful, appropriate images.

Existing clients want to visit you at the show to confirm they’ve made the right decision choosing you.  So reassure them with a welcome environment and springboard their visit as an opportunity to cross-sell and up-sell.  Prospects rely on the unique venue of trade shows to compare similar vendors at one time.  Ensure you come out on top with a clear, compelling message that promotes your value, and by creating an experience in your exhibit that demonstrates your superiority.

Besides clients and prospects, design your exhibit to make a favorable impression on your industry press and potential investors, both potent groups of attendees at trade shows.

2.  Trade Show Booth Staffer

While attendees may only visit for 10 minutes, your booth staffers will call your trade show home for several days at a time.  Give them a temporary office that helps them do their job easier.  Provide places to meet clients, demonstrate products, and most of all, write and stash those valuable leads.  Make it simple for them to maintain an uncluttered booth, with smartly designed and accessible storage spaces for giveaways, their personal effects, and room for snacks and water.  Give them enough spots for lead machines, so they don’t have to trek across a 30 x 50 booth, visitor in tow, to scan a badge.  When you design your exhibit with your booth staffers in mind, they will be more productive, increasing your trade show results.

3.  Exhibit Installer

Whether it’s you, your sales people, or hired show labor, keeping your exhibit installer in mind during the exhibit design phase will pay big dividends down the road.  Many exhibitors choose portable trade show displays specifically to lower their display set up and dismantle costs.  In all major convention centers (and all but a few hotels) you can set up your own display without hiring show labor if you can complete set up within 30 minutes without tools.

However, it’s worth considering installation and dismantle (I&D) costs even when designing medium and large-sized exhibits.  In is not uncommon for large, traditional island exhibits to cost more than $10,000 per I&D, show after show.  Designing with modular exhibit systems engineered for ease of assembly can reap savings at every show.  Also, when evaluating an exhibit’s design, look to see if there are layers of structure that may hamper your installer from building other parts of your exhibit.  And exhibit designs requiring rigging also require (surprise!) hiring riggers, every show, and will cost you significantly more to install.

4.  Vice President of Marketing

Your top marketing officer wants your trade show exhibit to fulfill multiple objectives:  build or reposition your brand, communicate your primary marketing messages, and launch new products and services.  Sometimes they will want your trade show exhibit to do all of these simultaneously, and that’s certainly viable.  But trouble brews when your top marketer wants to load the exhibit down with too many products or messages. Gently remind your V.P. of Marketing that an overloaded exhibit loses its ability to quickly capture attendees’ attention, which is the exhibit’s job.  You have other tools beyond the exhibit to communicate lower level messages and secondary products.

Also, because your marketing messages can change from show to show, or your company could potentially rebrand soon after you design your exhibit, your V.P. of Marketing will value more flexible trade show exhibits that can easily change their look and “skin” and let you keep your message fresh.

5.  Vice President of Sales

Your V.P. of Sales expects your trade show exhibit design to help facilitate a significant amount of sales – that’s why he/she loaned you so many sales people to staff the booth.  Your exhibit must pull prospects in and give your staffers the tools and environment to convert visitors into qualified leads.  Your V.P. of Sales wants to be proud, not ashamed, when they host their best clients and prospects in your booth.  And they want your exhibit design to create such a memorable experience in the minds of attendees, that when your sales people make follow-up calls after the show, they are greeted with “I’m glad you called,” rather than “Who are you?”

Depending on how your distribution is organized, your V.P. of Sales may also want to spend quality time with their dealers in your booth, too.  If that’s your primary goal for the show, then design the space for those meetings.  If not, you may need to have an interesting discussion with your V.P. of Sales.

6.  CFO

At some phase of your exhibit design process, someone in your organization, from a purchasing manager up to the V.P. of Finance, will scrutinize the cost of your exhibit.  And they should: trade shows are often the single largest expenditure to support B2B marketing.  Their first instinct is to push for the lowest priced bidder, or to even question the expenditure all together.  So bring them persuasive industry statistics about the value of trade show marketing share the average cost of trade show exhibits ($1,500 per linear foot for inline exhibits, and $163 per square foot of island exhibits, according to the EDPA), and most of all, your own ROI measurements from previous trade shows that demonstrate healthy sales generated from your marketing investment.

You can more easily advocate for your preferred exhibit design if you can show that it will make the most impact for the lowest cost, such as with custom modular exhibit systems that lower ongoing operating costs.  Your CFO may favor that you rent the design you are contemplating, as rental avoids capital expenditures and frees up cash.  And your purchasing manager may warm to trade shows when she (as Ed Jones points out here) realizes how many productive vendor discussions happen in your booth.

7.  President/CEO/Business Owner

The top person in your company will want your trade show exhibit design to create the marketing impact your V.P. of Marketing craves, the sales bump your VP of Sales desires, and the ROI your CFO expects.  Depending on the size of your organization, your very top person may have final say on your trade show exhibit design.  Try to avoid a nasty surprise after you have expended considerable effort to arrive at an exhibit design that meets all your stated needs, only to have the top dog growl out their own, previously unknown goal that sends you back to a complete exhibit redesign.  If you know the CEO will want final say, spend some time to discover what their overall goals are with your trade show presence.

And if your President is not involved in the exhibit purchase, they may still see your new exhibit design when it debuts at its first show.  If that’s when they see it first, and your booth staff is very busy, greeting many interested clients and prospects, then your President will be more likely approve of your new trade show exhibit design.

There’s a reason I put Trade Show Attendees as #1

It can be quite the tightrope walk to satisfy all these people with a single exhibit design.  You must muster your best communication and diplomacy skills to keep all parties engaged without relinquishing complete control. And perhaps you are also one of the 7 people listed above, and have a better appreciation of the balancing act with your peers.

Just remember that if you primarily design your exhibit to best reach your clients and prospects, and set the right expectations with everyone else, then you give yourself a good shot at winning unanimous approval of your trade show exhibit design.

Social Media Growing As An Important Marketing Tool

January 21st, 2010

From the Center of Media Research

According to a nationwide telephone survey in 2009 of the Inc. 500 list, under the direction of researchers Nora Ganim Barnes and Eric Mattson, social media has penetrated parts of the business world at a tremendous speed. It also indicates that corporate familiarity with and usage of social media within the Inc. 500 has continued to grow in the past 12 months.

Key findings from the study are that:

  • The technology that continues to be the most familiar to the Inc. 500 is social networking with 75% of respondents in 2009 claiming to be “very familiar with it” (compared to 57% in 2008). Another noteworthy statistic around familiarity is Twitter’s amazing “share of mind” with sixty-two percent of executives reported being familiar with the new microblogging and social networking platform
  • While social networking and blogging have enjoyed growth in actual adoption, the use of message boards, online video, wikis and podcasting has leveled off or declined. The addition of Twitter (considered by respondents to be both a microblogging site and a social networking site) in the latest study shows that 52% of the Inc. 500 companies are already using this tool for their business
  • 43% of the 2009 Inc. 500 reported social media was “very important” to their business/marketing strategy. And 91% of the Inc. 500 is using at least one social media tool in 2009 (up from 77% in 2008). In addition, 36% having implemented a formal policy concerning blogging by their employees

As of 2009, 75% of respondents claim to be “very familiar” with social networking tools.   In 2007, 42% percent were “very familiar” with social networking and 57% were “very familiar” in 2008.  However, as the chart shows, across the board a significant percentage of the companies are “very familiar” with each of the technologies studied.

From familiarity, the survey moved into the companies’ actual usage of social media. While familiarity is related to adoption, even the least familiar tool (podcasting) has 37% adoption. Social networking and blogging have enjoyed growth, while the use of message boards, online video, wikis and podcasting hasve leveled off or declined. The addition of Twitter in the latest study shows that 52% of the Inc. 500 is using this tool for their business.

When asked if the use of social media has been successful for their business, Twitter users report an 82% success rate while every other tool studied enjoys at least an 87% success level. Measuring success was investigated and most respondents report using hits, comments, leads or sales as primary indicators of success.

When asked if they plan to adopt any of the social media technologies that they are not currently using, they clearly intend to continue immersing themselves in these tools.  44% percent of those without corporate blogs intend to have one. 27% percent of respondents who do not currently have a business presence on Twitter plan to move into that space. Even though the use of online video appears to have dropped slightly, the intent to adopt it appears strong.

Social Media, 2009 (Inc. 500)
Media % Very Familiar Currently Use Successful Plan to Adopt (If Not Currently Using)
Social Networking





Messsage/Bulletin boards










Online video




















Don’t use any


Source: UMass Dartmouth, January 2010

When queried on the importance of social media, 26% of respondents in 2007 felt that social media is “very important” to their business and marketing strategy. That figure rose to 44% in approximately one year and remains virtually the same in 2009.

Importance of Social Media For Business/Marketing Strategy, 2009 (% of Respondents)
Importance % of Respondents
Very important


Somewhat important


Somewhat important


Very unimportant


Don’t know


Source: UMass Dartmouth, January 2010

The conclusion from the UMass report suggests that…  from familiarity to usage to importance, social media has expanded rapidly. And, for the first time, 3-year trends in familiarity, adoption and importance to mission have been documented in a statistically significant, longitudinal study. This third study, says the report, begins to shed light on exciting new social media tools like Twitter, and new uses of social media like recruitment and & hiring, and the emergence of social media policies. With almost every responding company using at least one form of these exciting new technologies, social media is clearly here to stay in the business world.

At the same time, a  new Weber Shandwick study, to evaluate how effectively Fortune 100 companies used Twitter to its full potential as an engagement platform, concludes that, with intervention, Twitter can help companies engage with customers, build new relationships and create a new pool of advocates talking positively about their brands.

The study showed that 73% of Fortune 100 companies registered a total of 540 Twitter accounts. However:

  • 76% posted fewer than 500 tweets
  • 52% are not actively engaged
  • 50% of accounts had fewer than 500 followers
  • 11% were placeholder accounts
  • 4% were used for a specific event only

With more than 20 million people on Twitter in the U.S.(50 million worldwide), there are ample opportunities for audiences to engage with corporations and brands, says the report.

The key is listening and engaging, says Weber, but the study indicates that companies are not engaging effectively. Among the Fortune 100 companies examined by Weber Shandwick, only:

  • 26% of their Twitter accounts were primarily used as a one-way flow of information that offered no engagement with followers.
  • 24% of the Twitter accounts were primarily used for brand awareness. Many appeared to be on Twitter simply to have an online presence.
  • 16% were used mainly as sales vehicles for company products and services.
  • 9% were directed primarily to customer service
  • 8% focused on Thought leadership it.
  • 14% of accounts were used for other reasons such as recruitment or employee-specific information, or their accounts were locked and not visible.

And, the conclusion of the Weber Shandwick study is that for the majority of Fortune 100 companies, Twitter remains a missed opportunity. To maximize the benefits of Twitter, says the report, companies should offer opinions and encourage discussions, reach out to their communities of customers and advocates, build relationships with new customers and look for untapped supporters.

For more information, please visit  UMass/Dartmouth here, and get the PDF file from Weber Shandrack here.