Blogger: Barry Siskind, Author: Powerful Exhibit Marketing

Much has been written about the importance of appealing to human senses as a tool that attracts attention and evokes a memorable experience.

The exhibition industry has taken this discussion to heart as both organizers and exhibitors have attempted to create physical environments that utilize the senses of sight, sound, taste, touch and feel to create an unforgettable visitor experience. Yet, there have been obstacles set in the path of change.

One obstacle that many face is technology. While the power of technology is unarguable, it often glues the visitor’s attention to a small screen while they become oblivious to the world that surrounds them.

Another problem, expressed mostly by exhibitors, is that certain products and services do not readily present themselves as appealing to senses. Food exhibitors have it easy. The sight, smell, sound and taste of a food product make it easy to create a visitor experience but not all exhibitors are that lucky. This later group often throws their hands in the air and says what’s the use in trying?

The third enemy to experience is money. A recent piece of research by London & Partners and CWT Meetings & Events found that while 78% of the events they studied reported that multi-sensory events make a better visitor experience,  27% reported that the five senses  were not being used effectively.  The main reason was budget.

While it’s widely accepted that appealing to senses is the cornerstone of experience, organizers and exhibitors have failed to find ways to harness technology and find sensory applicability for all products and services to justify the expenditure of capital in order to do the job.

There are tricks, of course, such as the use of live models, touch screens, vibrant colors, music, avatars, games and contests. But what these events create is a sense of artificially. It’s forcing the physical world to adjust to the needs of humans. What these elements also neglect is the most basic of human experience the needs to be with another person. A set of pixels or an artificial voice is not what human interaction is about.

The physical layout of the event and the exhibitor’s stand can create a sense of place but this has little to do with the more important need for human interaction.

This is not a new issue rather one that has been overlooked for far too long. I have noted during my career that some of the most eye-catching displays can be ruined by staff who do not know how to adjust their behavior to the uniqueness of working at an event or trade fair.

Human interactions are often left to the end of the planning process and once time and money has been spent, there is nothing left to help staff adjust.

It seems ludicrous but it’s the reality we all face. There’s an underlying assumption that as long as staff know how to treat people the skills they use daily can be easily morphed into skills that work in a high pressured environment like a trade fair. It’s not so.

So what is the answer? Training – yes. Physical environments that focus on the need for human interaction rather than product placement – yes. A dedicated effort by both organizers and exhibitors to acknowledge that there is a problem that hasn’t been addressed and needs to be – definitely yes.

The basics of face to face marketing is to create a place where people can experience connectivity through social interactions. All the rest is just details.