6 Ways to Modernize Your Exhibit Floor Strategy
For conference producers of large and small shows alike, there are few more valuable pieces of real estate than the exhibit floor.
A vibrant exhibit hall not only brings together the industry’s biggest players, partners and suppliers, its revenue-generating potential helps offset hard costs, ultimately leading to a more profitable event. In some cases, it can even significantly lower acquisition costs for new attendees, customers and prospects.
For all of its value, though, the exhibit floor can often be the least inspiring experience at the show. From its mind-numbingly long aisles to its formulaic look and feel, the typical exhibit hall can often feel like a separate piece of the strategy—a tacked on element that has little to do with the show’s high-impact general sessions and “choose your own adventure”-style content tracks that are quickly becoming the hallmark of today’s best b-to-b conferences.
Indeed, it’s high time we ask our attendees to put down their old school exhibit floor maps and instead immerse themselves in an expo hall that’s as intuitive, inspiring and memorable as the rest of the show. Consider these tips for as part of your exhibit floor strategy.
1. Consider a ‘Campus’
First things first, let’s rethink the typical location of the exhibit hall—does it really need to be separate from all of the other conference spaces, or can it be better integrated? A lot of time and effort in your exhibit floor strategy is spent figuring out how to get people into the hall. What if the entire show was built with integration in mind, where the sessions, the content and the exhibitors all share one space? It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Since SAP introduced a “campus” format at its Sapphire Now event, many in the industry have begun following suit. The value: just as the name implies, a campus brings everyone together in one place at one time, generating buzz throughout the show and effectively integrating the exhibitors and their offerings into the show’s content.
Quick tip: To help mitigate the noise level in the “campus,” distribute noise canceling ear buds to all attendees that automatically tune to the session they’re in.
2. Rethink the ‘Grocery Store’
Now that you’ve thrown out the predictable grid that slots all of your exhibitors into a separate ballroom, next rethink the layout of the room itself as part of your exhibit floor strategy. Long aisles leading to other long aisles make attendees feel like they’re at Costco. Translation: no fun. (Except for the free samples, of course.) Instead, think about your attendees’ site lines—how you might transform that mind-numbing visual stretch of booths into something that feels more like walk through a park, or an exciting journey through a music or arts festival. Microsoft, for instance, at its annual Worldwide Partner Conference transformed its Expo hall into a bustling city-inspired experience called “The Commons,” complete with park benches, social spaces, casual lunch spots and mini “parklets” around every corner.
Quick tip: Wider aisles that intersect with smaller aisles create that sense of discovery for attendees while still giving exhibitors the “beach front” real estate they want.
3. Create Content-Driven ‘Clusters’
Rather than leaving it up to attendees to connect the dots between your show’s content and the exhibitors in attendance, make it easy for them by “clustering” around the content. As part of their exhibit floor strategy at one of its semi-annual Worldwide Conventions, McDonald’s set up its expo floor so that once attendees left its Learning Center, they could just step across the aisle to meet the suppliers and exhibitors that supported the content they just learned.
Quick tip: Use pre-show surveys to arm yourself with attendee data that can deliver customized schedules and recommendations to attendees through the show app that drives them to the right “clusters” based on what they need.
4. Put the Content in Context
Microsoft at its annual Worldwide Partner Conference also ditched the traditional product demos for a more contextual strategy that used real-life customers to show how several of its products worked together. Delta Airlines flight attendants, for instance, talked to attendees about how the company’s products help them manage on-board purchases more efficiently. This strategy not only puts your products in a relevant context, it gives your products legitimacy that your sales team can’t.
Quick tip: Even if you’re not exhibiting your own products, you can add value for your exhibitors and partners by bringing them together in innovative real-life scenarios.
5. Try a ‘Fewer is Better’ Approach
This idea might fly in the face of the positive impact a packed expo floor can make on your budget, but sometimes when it comes to optimizing the attendee experience, less really is more. For Google’s I/O developer conference, the brand slimmed down it’s exhibitor roster from 100 exhibitors, each with their own look and feel, to 12 key partners that were each integrated into “pods” based on Google’s reengineered design and architecture strategy. All of the activity took place in “The Sandbox,” a soaring room filled with collaborative seating spaces that invited attendees to hang out, play and get hands on with the partner’s products. It couldn’t have looked less like an expo hall—and that, my friends, is exactly the point.
Quick tip: To streamline the visual clutter on the show floor, require your exhibitors choose from customizable exhibit properties you design and manufacture.
6. And Don’t Forget the ‘Fun’
Encourage your exhibitors, both internal and external, to take a cue from today’s increasingly popular festival culture and transform their b-to-b experiences into something with a b-to-c vibe. From live DJ sets to ball pits and even full-size Ferris wheels, there should be no limit to the ways exhibitors can amp up the experience in and around their space. It might feel like a frivolous “business” expense, but for today’s highly-discerning conference attendees and their younger, up-and-coming brethren, fun is the new imperative.
Quick tip: Millennials crave experiences over things, so be sure to offer them highly memorable and highly shareable experiences on your exhibit floor.
If your exhibit floor strategy feels slightly stale, use these quick tips to hit refresh.