ecently, while covering a show at the Las Vegas Convention Center, I noticed an intriguing anomaly. Inside one exhibit, sporting beautiful scale models of the company's products, sat a trio of tablets. I stood in front of them for several minutes, exploring the content and taking photos of the display. After a while, I began looking around and waiting for a staffer to approach me. Much to my dismay, nobody did.
I made my way to the other end of the exhibit, and approached a staffer at the reception desk who happened to be the company's exhibit manager. I complimented her on what I thought was an engaging experience on the iPads, and asked why she had decided to incorporate the devices into her booth. Her response: "We wanted to make the exhibit more interactive."
Throughout the show, I visited other exhibits with touchscreens and tablets, and had similar experiences. During each visit, I perused the content on the devices, waited for a staffer to approach, and ultimately had to hunt for a company rep to answer my question. Almost unanimously, all credited their tablets and touchscreens to a conscious effort to increase interactivity in their exhibits.
And herein lies the problem. Far too many exhibitors are focused on the wrong kind of interaction, using tablets and touchscreens as surrogates for face-to-face contact.
So what should exhibitors be focused on, if not for whiz-bang interactive gadgets? A little thing called Staff Interaction Rate. SIR is the percentage of your booth visitors who interact with a member of your team. In other words, if 50 out of 100 visitors to a company's booth interact with a rep during their visit, that company would score a 50-percent SIR.
SIR is an ubercritical — and often undervalued — metric. For one thing, face-to-face marketing is all about making connections. If your booth scores a low SIR, it indicates that despite being in the same convention center as the attendees you're trying to attract, you're not actually connecting with the ones that take the time to enter your booth. And while there's still some value in terms of branding and awareness to have people walk past or through your space (or consume your interactive content and leave), you've done very little in terms of collecting leads, qualifying prospects, moving them along the sales cycle, or fostering relationships.
If you're looking to enhance the interaction in your exhibit, turn to staff training, not technology. Increasing your exhibit's SIR score is relatively simple. For starters, all you need to do is teach your staffers to — I know this sounds crazy — interact with attendees. Using tablets as a crutch and then waiting for visitors to approach your reception desk isn't sufficient.
According to research firm Exhibit Surveys Inc., a company's SIR almost always has a direct correlation to the number and quality of leads it generates — exhibitors whose staff interacts face to face with a high percentage of visitors typically reap a greater number of qualified leads. And the best part of SIR is that it doesn't cost you a dime more than you've already spent to interact with the attendees who visit your exhibit.
Sure, tablets and other interactive devices have their place on the trade show floor. If nothing else, they attract attention, allow attendees to "serve themselves" while staffers are busy with other visitors, and can impart a depth of information that standard exhibit graphics can't — and shouldn't. However, if your strategy is to rely exclusively on apps and iPads, skip the trade show and redesign your corporate website instead. But if true interaction is your goal, get out from behind the reception desk, and start acting like it.