As trade shows get bigger and more crowded, it’s harder to stand out from the competition. Make your mark and prove that you’re on-trend with an experiential trade show booth that provides branded experiences for your target audience.
What Is an Experiential Activation?
In event marketing, experiential marketing & experiential events are exactly what the names suggest: They’re all about bringing experiences into a marketing campaign. Instead of providing information in the form of a brochure, presentation, or video clip, you create an experience for the consumer—something they are more likely to remember (and talk about) for quite some time.
Experiential marketing campaigns go by a few different names. The concept has been called:
- Guerilla marketing
- On-ground marketing
- Participation marketing
They all amount to the same thing: giving an audience experiences they can more fully engage with, or be active participants in.
In trade show display design, it means adding elements to your exhibit that make the act of visiting the booth more engaging and immersive. Rather than reading product info or looking at displays, an activation invites visitors to be hands-on. Instead of just looking, they get to do.
3 Key Benefits of Experiential Activations
Adding experiential aspects to your booth has three main benefits:
- Higher traffic potential
- A more engaging booth
- The chance to get press and social media coverage
Experiential Activations Can Pull in More Traffic
The larger a trade show is, the harder it is to stand out. This is especially true when you’re competing with big-name brands that have big budgets to match. One way to compete is with an experiential booth that does more than inform your audience. If your booth has interactive experiences that engage the senses, word-of-mouth is likely to bring more visitors. And if you incorporate a hashtag into your social strategy, social sharing becomes easy, further boosting attendance potential.
Interactive Experiences Are More Engaging
When people visit your booth, they don’t want to be talked at. Individuals don’t usually respond positively to endlessly long sales pitches or dry presentations. Even if you don’t focus on experiential design, it’s never a good idea to make talking at people part of your exhibit staff training.
With an experiential activation within your trade show booth, you stop talking at people and instead make them part of a conversation. They get to have interactive experiences that let them engage more fully with your products and your brand.
A Great Interactive Experience Has Social Media Potential
Experiential marketing is not a new tactic, but with the advent of social media, it’s been given new life. In combination with a solid social media strategy (Click here for our Social Media Checklist.), a great experiential experience may get media coverage or go viral. Either is likely to be a great boost for brand visibility. Sending out press releases to let the media know you’re attending a show may not garner much attention unless you’re a big brand. On the other hand, an exciting or unusual booth experience has great potential to get press because it’s trendy and fun.
How to Make a Trade Show Booth Experiential
When you think of an experiential exhibit, virtual reality and other high-tech options probably come to mind. Tech at trade shows is always popular, but there are other ways to add experiential elements to a booth.
Build Interactive Demos and Product Displays
In all forms of storytelling, one of the most important concepts is: Show, don’t tell. It’s more effective by far to show your audience a product in action than it is to tell them about it. In a trade show environment, it gives you the chance to provide an engaging experience that your audience can interact with. Engaging with the product then becomes an experience in itself.
A live product demonstration can be an effective way to do this. But to make it truly experiential, make sure your demo allows visitors to try the product for themselves. When giving a demo, let audience members come up for a closer look, or choose a member of the audience to act as an assistant.
Another option is to provide product samples, so visitors can examine your product independently. One example of this is the custom trade show booth ProExhibits designed for Yakima Chief Hops, a global hops grower and supplier. Yakima Chief Hops wanted a booth that allowed visitors to touch and see the hops the company sold. We created an exhibit with hops on display and pouring stations, so not only could interested parties see and touch, they could taste and smell brewed beer as well!
This is an effective strategy for two reasons. It provides an element of interaction and teaches visitors something about your product. It’s important that interactive elements aren’t added just for their own sake. To be most effective, they should refer to the brand or its products in some way.
Think Outside the Booth
When most companies exhibit at trade shows, the brand doesn’t leave the booth. Don’t be like everyone else. Think outside the exhibit, and take your brand onto the floor! Rally does this incredibly well by hosting mobile tours, races, pop-up events, and more. Their health fair in 2017 in San Francisco featured group exercise, with comedian Kevin Hart as the enthusiastic leader. Stationary biking and yoga were just some of the activities that got attendees engaging with Rally’s brand in a way they may never have done before, or even thought of. And they had fun!
Taking your brand outside a booth is a great opportunity to leverage social media; people often want to stop for selfies with mascots and well-known personalities and doing interesting activities. Then they share their photos online.
Another advantage of this model is that it has the potential to increase your reach. It can be difficult to grab attention if your budget limits you to smaller inline booths rather than prominent islands or peninsulas. A roaming mascot or a pop-up event can help you shift attention onto your brand without having to pay for a larger exhibit.
Use Social Media Experiences
Social media is a simple, inexpensive experience almost any booth can benefit from.
For instance, you can incentivize mentions of your brand using the official show hashtag by offering a giveaway to the 50th person to mention you, or something similar. Or offer a cash prize giveaway that increases as your number of brand mentions grows, with a chance to win for everyone who mentions you. Make sure to put an upper limit on the giveaway, so you don’t end up spending more than you planned!
Another option is to include booth elements that are so stunning, visitors want to share photos on social media. There are dozens of great examples of this in recent trade shows. For instance, the incredible OLED TV booth from LG has earned millions of social media and press mentions and views since it debuted at CES® 2019.
Are There Downsides to Activations?
Experiential activations within exhibits can do amazing things for lead generation, but be aware of these potential problems:
They’re More Resource-Intensive
There’s no doubt that an experiential booth is more engaging, more interesting, and more eye-catching than lonely display stands in an exhibit. The flipside is it may require more resources than the average booth design.
- The design and build for an experiential booth may be more expensive.
- Items and tech you need to provide immersive expenses could be costly.
- If your booth needs extra staff to oversee some elements, this means higher travel and accommodation costs.
A booth with experiential activations costs more—in one way or another—depending on the experiences you provide. Take a look at your budget, and decide whether the extra costs are worth the benefits.
They Can Be More Complicated
An experiential exhibit has more interactive elements to it than many other booths. This may mean increased potential for problems to arise. If you have a virtual reality experience, for instance, or a bank of LCD screens providing visual interaction, there’s the possibility of a technical malfunction that could put your booth out of action.
You can reduce the risk of malfunction issues with backup tech and put in place other fail safes by utilizing a reputable company to design your custom exhibit and hiring a reliable install and dismantle team.
An Experiential Focus Can Help You Design a Better Booth
If you’re looking for an exhibit solution that encourages people to interact with your brand, an experiential activation is a great option. Even if you don’t focus specifically on a fully experiential design, adding interactive elements can only make your booth better and more memorable!