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exhibitor q&a
Tablet Integration
To help us gather lead data and distribute product info, we're finally integrating tablets into our exhibit. Are there any tablet-related guidelines to ensure this technology helps, as opposed to hinders, our program?
While tablets first appeared in exhibits as giveaways and prizes, they've evolved to become highly effective sales and communication tools that many exhibitors simply can't live without. With an intuitive interface and high-quality display, these new marketing mainstays can collect data, educate, entertain, and much more. And in today's high-tech world, many exhibitors have little choice but to include tablets in their exhibiting equations simply because interactive electronics have become the preferred form of communication for their tech-savvy audience.

According to myriad research, that gadget-conscious audience is constantly expanding. Studies from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project indicate that at the end of 2012, one-quarter of U.S. adults owned tablets. That's a huge uptick from September 2010, when only 4 percent of American adults owned them.

Similarly, a recent report from eMarketer Inc. supports continued tablet proliferation and its use as a purchasing device. It forecasts that Americans will use their tablets to spend $25 billion in 2013 and $50 billion in 2015. Plus, since the iPad's introduction in 2010, Apple Inc. claims that it has sold more than 100 million of them as of October 2012.

And that 100-million figure is just for the iPad. Don't forget that exhibit-appropriate tablets include everything from the Amazon Kindle Fire to the Samsung Galaxy Tab. In addition, new options are popping up everywhere, including the new phone/tablet hybrids called phablets (loosely defined as smartphones with 5- to 7-inch screens), such as the Samsung Galaxy Note and Huawei Ascend Phablet.

Clearly, then, tablets (and phablets) are as commonplace as Lindsay Lohan court appearances. So simply incorporating them into your booth subtly signals to attendees that your company is up to speed with today's technology. Perhaps more importantly though, tablets can be invaluable exhibit-marketing tools with seemingly endless applications.

But just as with any marketing medium, there are some definite dos and don'ts. You can't just toss a technology component into your program like a few branded stress balls. Proper integration requires some careful thought and a bit of planning. So to help you effectively assimilate tablets into your marketing mix, here are six key guidelines.

Know your audience. Before integrating a tablet into your program, ensure that your target market is tech savvy enough to interact with it in the manner you've intended. Granted, most people under the age of 50 are well versed in tablet technology. But don't make assumptions merely based on age. Carefully consider whether your audience will feel at ease with the device and determine what level of interaction you can expect from them. For example, if you're not certain your audience knows the basics of tablet use, don't ask attendees to enter key qualifying information via the device, or turn them loose with one to access your product catalog. If attendees don't feel at ease with tablets, your staffers should facilitate — or at least be available to assist with — your tablet-based experience.
Establish a clear purpose. Use tablets only if they simplify or improve some aspect of your program, offer entertainment, and/or align with your target audience. And always ensure that the manner in which they're integrated supports your objectives, brand, and messaging. For example, use tablets to offer paper-free info exchange, scan badges, capture qualifying information, operate kiosks, etc. But do not add the devices for the wow factor alone, as attendees will view your technology attempt as a weak way of saying "We're cool, too."
Prepare for problems. While the battery life for most tablets is long enough to support a full day's use on the show floor, always have a plan B just in case. Remember to charge them pre-event and to bring extra charging cables for each one, but also have some fully charged backups waiting in the wings. Plus, if you're planning to use the Internet or an online app, ensure that there's a reliable Wi-Fi system in the event venue. If no such system exists — or even if it's a little sketchy — either eliminate online elements from your presentation or purchase a data plan for each tablet that will allow you to access the Internet even when Wi-Fi isn't available.
Train your staff. When it comes to general device knowledge, your staff should know at least as much as attendees do — and they should be able to whip through your programs faster than they can zip around their smartphones. If staffers stumble through the process, attendees will cut bait. Also ensure that your staffers have at least a conversational knowledge about the type of tablet they're using and the benefits and drawbacks it offers. Invariably, attendees will inquire about the tablets you're using, and a bunch of befuddled staffers can kill your tech credibility.

Separate business and pleasure. Unless you buy tablets specifically for booth use, protect your personal and/or confidential company information from public consumption with some kind of security application. Use a file-protector app, for example, to password protect confidential files stored on your device, thereby limiting the public, and perhaps even your staff, from accessing certain files. Also, if you're using the iPad — whose browser typically loads the last URL viewed automatically — frequently check the device's browsing history and clear its cache to avoid nonrelevant windows automatically opening in front of attendees.
Secure it. Many attendees already have their own tablets, but the devices still seem to grow legs and walk out of your booth. So incorporate some kind of security system or process to prevent theft. This could simply mean that you only allow staffers to handle the devices and that you make each staffer personally responsible for storing a tablet in his or her hotel room as opposed to leaving it in the booth overnight. Or, you could employ a locking device, including everything from cable attachments that lock your device to a stationary object yet still allow attendees to pick it up and handle it, to a kiosk with a built-in tablet that's locked into place by the structure itself. And don't forget about security during installation, dismantle, and shipping, which is when your valuable tablet is most likely to go "poof."

In fact, you might want to transport tablets to and from the trade show via your staff as opposed to including them in your exhibit shipment, and secured devices should always be the last thing placed in your booth during installation.

Clearly, given their minimal size and weight, coupled with their seemingly endless capabilities, tablets can often be a cost-efficient and extremely effective addition to an exhibit. And armed with the preceding tips, you can ensure that your tablets fit your audience as well as your objectives, and that your staffers are properly trained and prepared for any security situations that might arise.

— Jillian Axtell, marketing specialist, Live Marketing Inc., Chicago

Help Wanted
Send your tough questions about exhibiting to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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