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Branding Your Trade Show Booth

By Alyson Hendrickson Wentz, CAS

Savvy marketers have long understood the importance of developing a consistent image for their product or service that will stay in the mind of the consumer/customer. Brand names such as Sony, Coca-Cola and Microsoft are as familiar to many consumers as the names of their own family members. Although the adage is that familiarity breeds contempt, in the case of brand marketing, familiarity breeds loyalty, and with loyalty comes purchasing preference. And, there's no better place to perfect the branding process, and build purchasing preference, than on the trade show floor where your brand can be seen and remembered by hundreds of buyers.

Before attendees have even reached the show floor, you've had a number of opportunities to make them aware of your brand - brochures, catalogs, pre-show mailings, advertisements and previous sales calls. But, now that they're at the show you have the chance to build their awareness of your brand through a medium you may not have even considered - your trade show booth. According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, tradeshow exhibits have six times the impact on purchasing of any other medium.

Many different booth products can be imprinted with your company logo, slogan, or whatever best fits the consistent message you're imparting about your brand. These products include banners to hang above your booth or on its walls, mats to place on the floor of your booth, product displays, point-of-purchase inflatables to attract attention to the booth, director's chairs for your guests to sit in while discussing business, ceramic mugs or plastic tumblers for them to drink from, napkins and paper plates to serve them food on and much more. All of these products can be imprinted with your company or product logo for maximum brand exposure.

When choosing any of the booth displays or accessories always keep in mind the image of your brand. Make sure that your logos and other brand images always appear consistently -- using the same letter fonts, colors, shapes, etc. The booth backdrop, drapes, rugs and other elements should complement your logo. If possible, you may want to consider color coordinating all of these elements to match your logo color, as a subtle, yet effective, reminder of your brand.

Whatever colors, graphics and copy you use, remember that the booth's purpose is to advertise what your company is selling. "Most companies never step out of their booths and put themselves in the shoes of their visitors. They're so busy telling people, that they forget how to sell them," says Margit Weisgal, president of Sextant Communications and author of Show & Sell, a book on trade show marketing. "It's very important to be able to stand outside the booth and make sure that your outbound message is consistent, and that it actually communicates something about your company."

Weisgal emphasizes her point by telling the story of one of her clients who had requested a booth visit at a show where she was speaking. "I walked over and pulled him out of his exhibit, walked him down the aisle about 20 feet, and I asked him what he was selling," she says. "It was the first time he had ever stepped outside. That's a problem. We don't step outside and see what we're trying to say."

A consistent marketing message or theme serves to brand a particular image of a company or product in a customer's mind. An inconsistent or garbled message leaves them confused, and a customer does not want to feel confused about a product or service that she is buying. Find out why your customers buy from you and use those attributes and features as your outbound message. "There's an old adage about business in general, "you should never forget what made you good in the first place," Weisgal says. She recommends doing some research to find out why customers buy from your company and then use that information to build an effective brand image and message.

In considering the effectiveness of branding, look at Coca-Cola. In a new brand-assessment study released by Interbrand (London), a multinational consultancy specializing in branding, Coca-Cola had the number-one brand worldwide, valued at $83.8 billion. That number-one spot was brought about by decades of serious brand building. Whether it's in product packaging, print advertisements, web sites, television commercials, or trade show marketing, Coca-Cola's image remains consistent. People around the world recognize the red and white Coca-Cola logo, and know the product that it represents. No matter what the theme of an individual commercial or advertisement, the goal of any Coca-Cola marketing is to get people to drink Coke. The message, whether imparted by animated polar bears, super models, Santa Claus or the average Joe, is "drink Coca-Cola because it tastes good and you'll have fun." Drink Coke and have fun -- a simple, but hugely successful, brand message.

To make your tradeshow attendees feel the power of your brand you don't need to spend the bucks that Coca-Cola does. But, you do need to make the money that you spend count. "It's frustrating to sit there and watch someone spend the money on a new exhibit or graphics, and it's so junky looking that their message never gets through," Weisgal says. Whether you're using banners or displays, mats or mugs, the message that you're advertising to attendees must be consistent with all of your other marketing efforts. For the most return on investment, choose booth components and accessories that will build your brand image by making clients aware of what your company stands for, and what products and services it's selling. Make the most of this opportunity to have an impact on your clients' purchasing decisions by presenting your brand in a way that is attractive, meaningful and, most of all, memorable.

Alyson H. Wentz (, independent promotional consultant with Geiger, and freelance writer/editor. Location -Hatfield, PA, USA