SXSW Killer Infographics 2018

Setting up a booth at a conference or trade show is a big investment — on average, it can cost $100–$150 per square foot or $20,000 per exhibition. The advantage, of course, is that you can put your product or service in front of the ideal audience, and interact personally with that audience the moment they discover you. Demand Metric reports that the average ROI for events is 25–34%. That’s pretty good, depending on your goals. But the bigger the event, the more potential customers you’ll be able to reach — and the more competition you’ll have in the exhibition hall. Without a booth or display that actually makes people stop in their tracks, it’s hard to get a good return on your investment.

How can you create a space and offer an experience that will make your booth stand out from the pack? Here are a few key strategies for boosting the visual appeal of any trade show display.

Visualize Your Values
You only have about 3 seconds to communicate your brand’s message and identity to passersby in an exhibition hall, Nimlok Trade Show Marketing reports. And since visuals communicate information 60,000 times faster than text, you need to focus first and foremost on what the non-textual, visual aspects of your booth say about you.

So ask yourself: what should prospective customers see when they look at your brand? Should you look like authoritative experts and thought leaders? Or do you want to project a fun-loving, playful, and approachable image?

Your choice of color scheme can communicate how you want to be seen, and can also set a mood for the display as a whole. Sure, you’ll want to stay on brand, but what colors you allow to dominate the booth can vary. In his Entrepreneur article, “The Psychology of Color in Marketing and Branding,” Gregory Ciotti offers up a more nuanced view of the impact of color in B2C interactions. Those worn-out associations of red with anger and black with death just have no bearing on how brand colors work. But colors do make an impression. As many as 90% of the snap judgments people make regarding products can be predicated on color alone. Ciotti points to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing that, rather than making the typical associations, points out that blue communicates competency whereas red communicates excitement (“after all,” Ciotti writes, “who would want to buy a Harley Davidson motorcycle if they didn’t get the feeling that Harleys were rugged and cool?”). So what personality do you want to give your brand, and what buying experience do you want your audience to have? Communicate that through your color choices. Learn more about the science of color.

Likewise, the ways people can interact with your display will also communicate your brand’s personality—but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Organize Your Message
Hierarchy of information is key in any good design. Not every piece of data can be the “most important.” So what do you want your visitors to notice first? Second? Third? Let this guide how large some text or visuals should be in comparison with others, and where they should be placed in the booth. For instance, your most fundamental, five-word pitch should be where the eye naturally falls when people are still strolling by. Nimlok Trade Show Marketing describes this as the difference between long-range and short-range graphics. What do you need someone to know when they’re still 20 feet away? And once they’re inside the booth, what additional information (in smaller text) do they need to have before you can make the sale?

You also need to keep in mind the practicalities of a trade show or conference. Exhibition halls are loud, so don’t invest in a motion graphic with a great voiceover if no one’s going to be able to hear it. Instead, focus on communicating anything that needs to be said in words, rather than visuals, by showing that text on screen. Also, consider the size of the screen on which you’ll be showing the motion graphic—is the text going to be big enough to read? Too big?

Finally, what should be the focal point of your booth? Every great piece of visual content needs a single element to tie it together—the thing people will picture when they remember your booth later. You don’t want them to visualize a web of random text and images. Decide what’s most important, and what will best communicate your value—whether it’s an illustration, photo, or tagline—and build the design hierarchy around that. Learn more about how to create a strong focal point.

Your Booth as an Experience
How should people engage with you and your booth once you’ve got them hooked? Different brands will tackle this problem in different ways, depending on their goals.

Killer Infographics at SXSW 2017

If you’re looking to project authority and thought leadership, staff your booth with knowledgeable brand evangelists. Add ways for people to interact with your brand on their own, too:

  • Displays that require tactile engagement.
  • Touchscreens with interactive quizzes to help visitors find the right solution for them.
  • Brochures and swag that will help them remember you.

If you’re projecting a more fun-loving image, showcase your brand with:

  • Virtual tours of your idea, brand, or service via VR headsets, which Nimlok projects will be a huge trade show trend in 2018.
  • Games and contests that will keep your visitors in the booth longer and leave them with a positive memory.
  • Giveaways that will bring them back later, once they’ve won a prize.
  • Swag they’ll really use, such as:
    • Useful exhibition hall maps with your booth clearly marked.
    • Conference-specific postcards for them to send home. guide to the best happy hour spots in the host city, sponsored by your brand. For inspiration, check out the maps we made for SXSW 2015.

If you’d like to see how Killer Infographics puts together a visually inspired booth, check us out at Booth #225 at SXSW, March 9-15, 2018. We’ll be sporting a booth at the conference for the third year in a row, and we’re planning on a display that showcases as many types of visual communication as possible.

Our CEO and owner, Amy Balliett, will also be speaking at SXSW for the second year in a row. She’ll team up with Nathan Clendenin of StoryDriven for “The New Age of Story: Marketing for a Visual World” at 3:30 p.m., March 10, in Fairmont Congressional A. We’ll also have an encore performance on March 11 at 2 p.m. in Fairmont Congressional A. We hope to see you in Austin, and if you can’t make it, send us photos of your next trade show booth! We can’t ever get enough of great visual experiences.

Erin McCoy

Author Erin McCoy

Erin McCoy is director of content marketing and public relations at Killer Visual Strategies. She earned her BA in Spanish with minors in French and Russian, and holds 2 master’s degrees from the University of Washington: an MFA in creative writing and an MA in Hispanic literature. She has won nearly 2 dozen awards in photojournalism, and has dedicated those skills to boosting Killer’s brand recognition and thought leadership in visual communication. Since Erin took on her marketing/PR role, Killer has been named a member of the Inc. 5000 for 4 years in a row; has been featured in such publications as Inc., Forbes, Mashable, and the Huffington Post; and has been invited to present at such conferences as SXSW and SMX Advanced.

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