It may seem counterintuitive but a growing number of trade show marketers are leaving their products at the office. They’re paring down displays and demo stations (some by more than 50 percent) cutting back text-heavy signage weeding out clutter and presenting just a smattering of the products they need to sell in order to stay in the black in the coming year.
A risky use of the budget? Maybe. The approach flies directly in the face of what trade shows are all about. But leading brands like Intel and Microsoft are discovering that when it comes to creating connections amid the chaos of the trade show floor less may actually be more.
Intel streamlined its CES exhibit from 42 demo stations in 2007 to just 24 at this year’s show in January by prioritizing a new perspective: the attendee’s. The event team strategized to humanize consumer interactions by removing the number of messages that had been bombarding attendees. “When you have somebody to your home for a party or for dinner you clean your house you put away the clutter you bring out your best stuff ” says Victor Torregroza event program manager at Intel. “You do the same thing on the trade show floor.”
CES is a press and analyst event so Intel did keep a few press releases on hand (they were also available online and on thumb drives). But this year the booth was 98 percent paper-free. “That collateral just gets in the way of your having that face-to-face conversation with a visitor ” says Torregroza.
The booth design was scrapped and reworked too to better facilitate the new face-time strategy. Three spacious lifestyle zones—mobility home and TV/Internet—were created to show off Intel’s processors in real-life scenarios. Breathing room and open spaces were given priority; piazzas and parks served as inspiration (Strategy: Live Marketing Chicago; Design: 2LK Design London; Build: The Taylor Group Brampton Ontario Canada). “We looked at public places and how the human being how society en masse travels different boulevards and pathways ” Torregroza says. “We also had clear spaces with a purposeful intent of not having anything there.”
Intel has been in the same location for five years at CES so it leveraged its foot traffic data to create the right mix of sticky interactives and open access points. Despite some internal pushback the team was able to convince management that walls and demos didn’t need to face the aisles—or exist at all—to be effective. “It was so simple but at the same time very bold ” says Torregroza. “Do you put a demo at your front door? No you let people come in your front door first.”
Cool booth interactives like projection-based touchscreens 3D movie sneak-peeks and hydraulically charged racing simulators gave visitors experiences that immersed them in just a few of Intel’s best technologies versus communicating with signage or presentation spiels. Also in the spirit of reducing information overload the brand employed a combination of zone managers and Blue Badge product specialists to manage the floor interactions. The zone managers acted as concierges communicating high-level product overviews over a mic in a casual conversational style. Intel’s Blue Badge employees stood at nearby single demo kiosks for quick overviews or deep dives into specific products. Like many brands Intel speaks its own language internally. This strategy kept the information attendee-focused.
“One of the things we made sure of was we absolutely avoided technobabble; we brought forth the simple benefits people would enjoy with Intel inside ” Torregroza says. “It was about putting it into nuggets—crisp simple language about how Intel innovation has a benefit to your average consumer.”
The two-tiered on-site staffing strategy helped boost the bottom line and win more executive buy-in for the less-is-more approach. “I can report back to our management that we’ve got the right amount of demos and the right number of employees ” says Torregroza. “I don’t need to have 200 employees from the factory out of the office for the week when I can have maybe 40 and actually get better results.”
Intel’s post-show surveys showed that attendee metrics like quality of interactions time spent in the booth staff interaction rates and purchase influence were all up from 2008. And the business units that got the spotlight saw the value too. “Now moving forward we’ve paved the way to really weed out all the stuff that doesn’t add value to the brand or the visitor’s experience and paved the way for that less-is-more staging ” Torregroza says.
Fueled by its success at CES Intel plans to bring a hybrid of the new booth to CeBIT the largest trade show in the world held in Germany in March as well as other U.S. and international shows.
For Microsoft CES 2009 was a time for change. “It was a pivotal year for us internally ” says group event marketing manager Jen Mojo. “Bill Gates had retired our booth was fully amortized and paid for so we had an opportunity to do a new booth build but also to take a fresh look at Microsoft [in terms of] what do we do with CES.”
CES falls in a slow news-cycle period (post-retail season) for Microsoft so without a defined strategy the brand had been taking a kitchen sink approach with the show. “Just bring everything out and have a product parade ” Mojo says. “CES was going to continue to be all things to all people if we let it.”
Mojo’s team began its booth transformation by identifying what she calls “release valves”—other events and avenues where internal teams could deliver their message so they didn’t feel as dependent on CES. Then they reworked the overall CES activation strategy to better engage with the show’s primary target: key press and analysts. “We changed the balance of what the booth was about ” says Mojo.
To get more from its press-friendly strategy the brand dropped its 14 000-square-foot off-site press tent invited journalists into the booth for the first time and eschewed the ho-hum approach for press meeting rooms creating instead sleek and spacious demo rooms that better reflected the focus of each product group. TV and web journos could take advantage of a full broadcast room on Microsoft’s second level where they could shoot with a view over the CES show floor.
“Our branding was cleaner than it’s ever been ” says Mojo. “We were able to bring the press in by minimizing show floor space which really paid dividends for us—we had more press meetings than we ever had and better engagement and atmosphere than when we used to have them in a tent.”
More press space meant less consumer space so the brand used the challenge as an opportunity to audit its existing properties from 140 demo stations down to 32. For deep dives attendees could use freestanding Surface-powered touchscreens to select a lifestyle group and then drill down into specific products and services.
The new booth experience was based on three main product groups—home work and leisure—and then broken down into seven key consumer scenarios like TV mobile music and auto. Products were further organized into primary and secondary positions; primary products won the coveted show floor space secondary products were showcased in context with primary products. Mice and keyboards for example didn’t get separate demo stations. They were used to support primary products in context. “That was a big shift ” says Mojo.
The changes generated considerable savings. Because the brand went from 140 demo stations (each with two or three staffers) to seven consumer scenarios staffing numbers were reduced by 73 percent this year.
Yet despite its success selling the idea to internal product managers who had been exhibiting at CES for years had its challenges. Mojo says the key was getting management approval. “We [communicated] early and often at the executive level ” she says.
Mojo also pitched the new booth strategy to product groups with the help of visuals from one of the brand’s design agencies Atlanta-based Fury (Build: Display Fabrication Group Cypress CA). “They couldn’t argue with it ” Mojo says. “What they had to do was go into Plan B mode which was ‘Okay how can I get involved? I realize I don’t map to this.’” When it was all said and done the strategy earned high marks from Microsoft’s product groups. Next year’s approach will be similar as will future shows where there is cross-product representation. “I think people are realizing you have to be cleaner in your messaging so as not to confuse the consumer—realizing you have a short time to do it ” Mojo says.