Exhibit No More: The Journey from Exhibit Design to Brand Experience Centers
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Remember the world of retail before e-commerce? Brick and mortar retailers were almost exclusively product driven, shopping destinations where the consumer objective was to check off their shopping list. Then came Amazon and the e-commerce movement. All of the sudden, the need to go to physical locations was not as necessary. Why endure traffic, crowds of people, and higher prices when you could shop from the convenience of your home?
This change in consumer behavior led many brands to reimagine their retail experience. Some companies, like Bass Pro Shop, were already ahead of the curve with their destination retail model that blended merchandise sales with an immersive brand experience. However, many more brands, including ones with no previous retail footprint, joined the evolution to create brand experience centers like Samsung 837 in New York or the Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles. Sure, these locations featured products, but the real focus was to immerse guests into a brand world of excitement, engagement, and innovation.
This evolution wasn’t driven solely by the rise of e-commerce but also the elevated expectations of the audience. People wanted brands that stood for more than just a tagline and contributed more to the world than just products. Brand experience centers could also provide additional proof points of relevance in trying to meet these expectations.
The world of exhibit design finds itself at similar crossroads. Our catalyst for change is a global pandemic that paused live events and gave rise to virtual alternatives. This shift showed potential attendees that they no longer must endure the travel, crowds, or cost associated with a conference to get product information or thought leadership presentations. Now, they can get those things from the comfort of their own home. Sounds familiar.
Like the evolution of the retail experience, it is time to reimagine how brands show up at trade shows, conventions, and conferences. It’s no longer about an exhibit design but instead about creating a brand experience center.
Here are a couple quick tips to expedite your evolution:
Singular Vision. Single Story.
Many times, an exhibit can have several stakeholders, products, and objectives to achieve. Simplicity is key to designing a brand experience. The single most important thing you need to convey to your audience should inspire the single idea that differentiates you from the competition and anchors everything you do.
As first-time exhibitors at CNS, Longeviti wanted to stand out and promote ClearFit, which allows Neurosurgeons to conduct ultrasounds on patients through their skull without the need of being in the office. The architectural design of the space became a literal representation of this revolutionary product that captured the attention of attendees and quickly conveyed Longeviti’s story within a matter of seconds.
Standing front and center in the exhibit hall, health care professionals flocked to their exhibit and that intrigue was converted into a bounty of meaningful business meetings.
Variety is the Spice of Live
Content is always king of any experience. Success lies in what you say and how you say it. First, you want original, unique content that is exclusive to the experience. Second, provide options for both self-exploration and human engagement. This allows a guest to personalize their journey based on their preferences. Finally, no matter the content or delivery method, authenticity and transparency are paramount.
A great example of self-exploration exists at The Barnes in Philadelphia. Although it is home to one of the world’s finest collections of modern European paintings, the Foundation has stipulated that no interpretive content about the artworks could be displayed on the gallery walls. Enter the Barnes Focus, a mobile digital guide — accessible via a QR code scan – that uses the smartphone’s camera, combined with image-recognition technology, to enhance the visitor’s tour. Visitors simply focus their camera on any work of art, and then instantly receive a variety of content, including facts, stories, themes, and connections between the artworks.
This provides visitors with the pure visual engagement of the art and an enriching educational experience that creates personal connections with the artwork.
Only Keep What “Sparks Joy”
Thanks to Marie Kondo for this bit of advice. Too often, we try to jam every product display, demo, and message possible into a brand environment. This can lead to clutter, confusion, and a lack of clarity. Sometimes less is more because it will allow people to focus on what is most important to, and about your brand. A byproduct of having this discipline is clearer attendee journey of exploration and discovery within your brand world.
The Weyerhaeuser exhibit at IBS is a perfect way to demonstrate that simplicity is key. At this booth there were multiple stakeholders and divisions represented, however, only select feature products were displayed on their hero “trees” to keep a clean look. They also had other products displayed digitally in various screens throughout their booth.
Over the years, we have shared hundreds of different articles, studies, presentations, and interviews. The topics and content have varied, but there is one message that seems to carry across most of them. Have fun. Live events have been missed for a lot of reasons but one of the biggest being they are fun. They provide an opportunity to meet new people or reconnect with old friends. They give people a chance to participate in unique experiences and learn new things. They can even be a catalyst for creating new memories and shared stories that will live on. Within the brand world you create, make sure to leave some space for some fun.
At PestWorld in 2019, on behalf of BASF, Impact XM created two custom pinball machines to promote BASF’s commitment to the professional pest control industry and position them as “game changers” within the industry. One machine was a re-purposed, old school arcade model designed to highlight their reliable legacy products. The other was a cutting-edge, virtual pinball version to showcase their latest, state-of-the-art solutions. The two engagements created a steady flow of traffic and attendee engagements as well as a lot of smiles and laughs.
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