17 Sep, 2013

Designing Brand Experiences for Tradeshows and Events: Common Questions from Clients

In 2012, Stimulant and Foghorn Creative joined forces to create the Intel Connect to Life Experience for Intel’s booth at the Consumer Electronics Show. The resulting experience helped make Intel one of the most visited and talked about booths at CES.

We get asked a ton of questions by prospective clients about how to create an impactful presence at a tradeshow or an event. For many clients, the task of designing an immersive environment that fosters engagement and fuels valuable brand connections is daunting. We’ve taken some of the most frequent questions we get asked and boiled it down to a Q&A session with Darren David, CEO of Stimulant and Don Richards, Creative Director of Foghorn Creative.

Using the Intel Connect to Life project as an example, what were the biggest challenges you had in the beginning when coming up with a concept for the booth experience?

Don: We were fortunate to have been involved very early in the project. Nearly a year before the event, we were working with the booth design team at 2LK to develop an entire environment that would perform interactively. The great advantage of this was that the interactivity was integral to the overall design. The challenge was that a year out, we really didn’t have a clear focus on Intel’s content for the show, so we had to develop an approach that was very flexible. As we subsequently made decisions about the specific content, the theme and our interactive approach informed each other. The interactive feature we developed so resonated with the theme “Connect to Life” that it was a key vehicle for delivering that theme at CES.

Darren: It took a lot of discussion and ideation to figure out how to tie the 170-foot-wide projection surface in with attendees on the show floor, and create something that was attention-getting from a distance but still deliver a truly personal connection to the content for individual contributors. We also needed to make sure that we could handle serious attendee throughput and turnover while still giving participants a memorable experience. Thinking macro/micro took a lot of fine-tuning.

Intel’s Connect to Life Experience, CES 2012

Designing an experience that captures the attention of someone in a crowded tradeshow floor or at an event is a huge challenge. How do you effectively design an experience that breaks through the clutter?

Don: I give a talk on this based on four basic tenets for standing out successfully in a trade show environment. It starts with “be the exception.” In short, you want to fundamentally do what other people are not doing. The second is “be effortless.” Make it where it is easier to participate than to not participate. Once you’ve got people engaged, it’s about “be seamless.” You want your experience to naturally take people from an initial, shallow engagement to whatever level their potential interest supports. And, finally, you want to “be extraordinary.” If someone has invested in your experience, you want to reward them richly.

Darren: The trick is to make the how of the interaction incredibly simple and intuitive; we want to remove all barriers to engagement. Once you’ve got people engaged, you reward their attention immediately, and encourage exploration. It’s OK to create an experience that takes a while to master, but it shouldn’t require a significant cognitive effort for first-timers to get started.

Based on your past experience and observations, what types of experiences tend to foster a valuable engagement between brand and visitor?

Don: Ones where the medium is the message. If the way you engage people epitomizes the aspirations and ideals of the brand, and if the brand essentially resonates with them, they will do more than hear what you say. They will believe what you say.

Darren: As Don said, we want to create harmony between the brand and the presentation. If a brand is trying to convey technical prowess, passive video playback and/or human presenters discussing value propositions in real-time aren’t in integrity with that ideal.

Intel "Connect To Life" Input Station

Connect to Life input station

Once you’ve captured a person’s attention, how do you make sure they stay and engage with the experience and not just move on?

Don: That’s the “be effortless” and “be seamless” part above. You can’t really ensure that they will engage or that they will drill down to any particular level, but what you can do is get their attention and then offer them rewards. So if they just see something across the room, it is visually striking and they register that it’s associated with your brand, that’s something. If that attracts them to engage directly and they receive additional information, that’s richer. If they stay for awhile and dig deeper, perhaps you are building some loyalty. At whatever level they experience your engagement, they should get more back than they put in.

Darren: Agreed. We like to give people “superpowers” – basically, magnify every input and respond in an unexpectedly powerful way. Bending the laws of physics, elegantly-designed microinteractions, invoking emotion at a visceral level—these all deliver more than was asked of the user, and help to hold attention and create affinity for the messaging contained within.

What is the average time you have to hold someone’s attention once you’ve captured it?

Don: Very humbling question. In a big show environment with a lot of competition, maybe a minute or two. But we’re not terribly focused on time of engagement. You can win a customer in an instant. I can still remember the first time I saw “Just Do It” and knew that Nike and I shared a common life language.

Darren: I’m not sure there’s an average time, but I’d say the rule of thumb is “deliver your message in as little time as possible.” The most valuable currency show attendees have to offer is their attention, and if you squander it, that’s a ding for an exhibitor.

Are there ways to effectively design an experience that ensures a person retains a message about a brand?

Don: It sounds cliché, but it’s just by doing your work extremely well for the audience you are engaging. And keeping things very pure and clean. Most corporate cultures tend to be additive cultures. The more the better. The great brands of our day are ones where leadership is clear and disciplined. I’d note Apple, Target, Burberry, etc. We call those companies marketing risk-takers, innovators, whatever. But more often than not, they are just companies that know what they are doing. Once you have clarity, if you have super-talented people, a good working process and your own rigorous decision-making in order, magic kind of happens on its own.

Darren: The 20/40/60/80 rule of retention is key here. When learning, people retain approximately 20% of that is heard, 40% of what is seen, 60% of what is felt and 80% of what is discovered. Given that, interactive experience leads to self-discovery which maximizes retention.

What advice do you have for a brand that’s thinking about a future tradeshow booth?

Don: Keep it simple. Make a strong statement based on your DNA. Deliver it in a manner that no one expects.

Darren: A little bit of differentiation goes a long way to standing out from competitors. Also, always consider the macro (viewed from a distance) and micro (hands-on) aspects of any digital experience, as your audience exists both in-booth and all the way across the hall—messaging at all proximities is a solid way to ensure a stronger ROI on any custom digital experience.

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