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Engagement - Creating Connections with Customers
Exhibiting at a trade show or industry event is an opportunity to meet and engage existing and potential customers. Exhibitus believes that to assure a successful outcome, an exhibit program must be built on excellent DESIGN - design that facilitates the engagement of all target audiences.

At Exhibitus, we rely on "Smart Design" - an exhibit design approach based on the principles of collaboration, empathy and human behavior found in Design Thinking. This process ensures that our customers effectively interact with their customers and prospects with a program that meets their company's objectives.

At the heart of this process, is engagement. To engage is defined as "to establish a meaningful contact or connection with." For the exhibit industry, the "with" is an identified target audience, such as existing customers the company would like to retain, or a pool of prospects qualified to do business with the company.

In this article, we take a closer look at the role of engagement in the exhibit environment and provide examples of engagements that have helped clients successfully attract attendees.

Customers are the Key
It is simple. Customers are key to a sustainable business model. Building a good relationship with customers is the foundation for a business's long-term success. To do so in today's competitive world, a company must provide individualized service, maintain customer loyalty and interact constructively with a customer to establish a meaningful relationship.

In other words, businesses must rely on the heart-and-soul of business transactions: human-to-human connections. If you want to keep your current customers and attract new ones, you must engage them. And what better place to begin the engagement process than at a trade show, or a similar marketing event where you can meet them in person. These face-to-face interactions build trust and understanding, creating a sense of shared mission essential to brand loyalty.

Marketing Has Evolved
The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, held in London in 1851, marks the beginning of modern trade shows, with some 10,000 objects displayed along more than 10 miles by over 15,000 contributors. The idea behind this exhibition was to present to the world manufactured products that demonstrated the great achievements of the industrial revolution.

Working machinery was one of the most popular exhibits. For instance, visitors could observe the entire process of cotton production from spinning to finished cloth.
As impressive as this Exhibition was, in today's world of technology prowess and a complicated competitive landscape, simply viewing a product display will not entice the most enthusiastic attendees. Even the demo-station approach so popular in the early years of computer software now rarely influences a prospect to consider spending time in a booth.

Marketing has become a much more active, experience-based endeavor. Activities that garner success are now dependent on the power of human interactions. Thus, engagements within a trade show booth must tap into a behavior or a piece of psyche of attendees that result in meaningful connections.

Engagement Defined
Forrester, a research firm, defines customer engagement as "creating deep connections with customers that drive purchase decisions, interactions and participation over time." (Sashi, 2012). Customer engagement begins as a social interchange and evolves based on the quality of the relationship.

There are many components that influence relationship quality such as:
  • Vigor - the level of energy shown during an interaction.
  • Dedication - the sense of belonging and pride from being a customer.
  • Absorption - when a customer is happy and engrossed in the relationship.
  • Interactions - the many connections between the brand and the customer.

As you see, business engagements over the long term are complex. Successful engagement at marketing events is now a critical component on the path to turning prospects into valuable customers.

How to Connect
What approach is best to make sure attendees want to engage? Fortunately, there are many different ways to create an engagement that will draw a steady stream to your exhibit. Engagement doesn't have to involve a high-tech solution, although in today's world technology is often the foundation.

Most importantly, content drives technology. The approach that describes your brand and specific messages should be developed prior to choosing any platform.

In the following discussion, we will provide examples of four different approaches, all including sophisticated, leading-edge technology.

Tell Them a Story
One of the most effective ways to connect is through the art of storytelling. Storytelling has sustained humans throughout our development by providing a way to entertain and educate, thereby creating a shared experience. Researchers have found that stories actually release chemicals in the brain that trigger empathy and help you lose yourself in the narrative. No wonder you scream when someone jumps out from behind a door in a scary movie!

In the business world, storytelling becomes a powerful way to understand the goals and objectives of the market you serve. A major shift in the evolution of marketing has been that companies have walked away from "let me tell you about my company and its products" to an approach of learning about the details of what customers and prospects need and what they are trying to accomplish, i.e., their journey through the purchase decision and beyond.

With this information, a company can develop empathy for the prospect's needs and tailor the description of product benefits.

Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions understands that its customers are looking for a seamless customer experience when headed to a retail outlet. The company based the story they told at the National Retail Federation (NRF) in 2017 on the following:

People are changing the way they shop. They demand personalization and engaging shopping experiences, product information and recommendations at the touch of a button, and a smooth and secure checkout.

Toshiba labeled this evolution in retail as Brilliant Commerce and built their interactive displays to demonstrate this advancement.

The company's primary objective was to ensure that attendees left the booth understanding how the organization's hardware and software solutions could provide a positive shopping experience for both its retail customers and the consumers they serve.

They began by mapping the steps of the shopping journey a customer might take according to two scenarios: a retail specialty store experience and a mass merchandiser experience. Each of these stories demonstrated three key pillars needed for success:
  • Actionable Insights
  • Enriched Shopping
  • Frictionless Checkout

The details of these journeys were displayed graphically on two 10'x20' "raw wood" walls using conductive ink technology. In short, conductive ink allows for various surfaces to become live circuits for digital technology. For Toshiba, the ink was screen-printed onto the wood based on graphics depicting the steps of the journey. The conductive ink was then wired to a special board which connected to the walls, triggering both sound and visual reactions with a touch. The animation that happened with the touch projected onto the walls from multiple projectors mounted about the exhibit.

When visitors touched a certain item for purchase, light animations activated to tell the story of how that item would make its way from the store shelf to a consumer's home, relying on the company's retail products and systems along the way.

As the light traveled over the various stages of the display, the company's representatives had the opportunity to provide additional information about the activity, explain the features of the equipment being used and the type of data being captured for marketing decisions in the future. Each step in the process is an opportunity to answer the attendee's questions.

Make the Details Come to Life
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. RFID is a simple way to monitor attendees as they move around an event. But exhibitors have found that RFID integrated into a table or counter offers a tactile experience that works well for displaying detailed information about complex products.

Tactile learning means you learn by touching and doing. Learning through touch and manipulation of objects has been found to be valuable, as it nurtures curiosity about the physical world. Just the small amount of tactile movement involved in an RFID table has shown to increase an attendee's interest in product details.

MBX Systems is a technology company that manages hardware programs for independent software vendors (ISVs) and service providers that deploy software on hardware appliances. It is complicated work and challenging to describe in conversations with prospects. At a recent show, the company used a table topped with a graphic display of components of one of their complex solutions. On the table are pucks painted with icons that represent components in the solution.

As the puck is moved over the area of the graphic with the same icon, the RFID chip in the puck reads information on an RFID tag embedded in the graphic. This information is immediately displayed on a monitor for review and discussion with booth staff.

Medical device and pharmaceutical companies have found this technology particularly helpful. Moving the puck over a graphic of areas of the body can quickly inform as to how a device or drug works to improve patient care.

Bring Their World to Their Fingertips
Kawneer, an Alcoa company, offers a vast array of products that improve and protect the environments where people work, play and live. Recognizing that no exhibit space could contain even a reasonable percentage of its products, Kawneer's trade show booth was designed to minimize the amount of full-size products to be included, without diminishing the impact of the breadth and depth of its portfolio.

Visitors were welcomed to an interactive gallery of stations featuring product cutaways. A large video wall drew attendees into the booth for engagement opportunities with company representatives.

To fully engage the company's primary customers, architects and designers, the company developed an app on a tablet that allowed the user to design a building using Kawneer products. Detailed information regarding the various products used in the design were sent via email to the participant's office, providing an additional opportunity for interaction with the company's products.

Take Them to the Field
Companies, particularly those in the telecom and oil & gas industries must maintain a complex physical network to provide critical services across the U.S. This means that equipment and service lines must cross hard to access remote terrain. Companies are now deploying drone technology to monitor these hard-to-reach assets.

At CTIA Super Mobility, AT&T Mobility offered attendees the opportunity to experience the flight of a drone to a remote location through virtual reality (VR). The attendee sat in put on a VR headset in a specially-designed chair and then flew with a drone on an inspection mission to the hinterlands!

As You Plan
No matter which approach your company chooses to entice an audience, it is important to remember two things:

1. Content comes first. Develop your approach and message, then choose the appropriate technology to convey the content.
2. The engagement is merely a draw that leads two people to a meaningful conversation and a next-step action that furthers the sales cycle.

To gain the most from any marketing event, it is important that your program - from the exhibit structure, to the messaging, to the interactive engagement - provides a holistic approach aimed at making that ultimate connection between attendees and your brand, gaining new customers and retaining valued ones for continued success.

Brad Falberg, President

As Founder and President, Brad is the driving force behind the Exhibitus corporate philosophy: "DESIGN MATTERS." An award-winning custom exhibit house, the company specializes in 3-dimensional design for trade shows, corporate events, user conferences, permanent installations, museums and corporate interiors.

Brad's commitment to excellent design has led him to develop and champion a process that measures the link between design and trade show success. His expertise in consulting with clients and working with design teams from a clean sheet of paper to a final design guarantees beautiful, unique and relevant environments that engage audiences and create measurable success. Also, he has ensured Exhibitus' long-term success by investing in state-of-the art facilities, client-focused technology and the best people in the business.


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