It takes just three seconds for a visitor's thought process to accept or reject an exhibition stand. Yet few exhibitors take heed of this fact, losing opportunities by failing to use stand design that is mapped out against a story of the brand.
Too many companies, according to Austen Hawkins, deputy director of the Association of Exhibition Organisers (AEO), close their eyes to the wider marketing picture and view exhibiting in terms of stand design only.
They have no qualms over paying for an external agency to manage their entire marketing strategy, but rarely do agencies incorporate exhibitions into that mix. And rarely do companies properly apply the marketing disciplines to exhibitions. 'When it comes to exhibiting, people throw all the disciplines in the bin,' says Hawkins. 'For some markets, exhibitions take a big chunk of their budget, but when they split out what they spend on them, they use the majority of the budget for stand design and spend little on consultancy, staff training and following leads.'
Agencies that do try to offer a consultancy service along with the stand design often don't get the job simply because other contractors can produce the stand itself at a cheaper price. But why is it acceptable, Hawkins asks, for a company to stick up a couple of A4 posters on an exhibition stand when it will carefully consider brand and image when putting together a corporate brochure.
'Exhibition stand design is a complex process comprising architecture, advertising, marketing, sales philosophy and showmanship,' says Tim Pyne, creative director of design consultancy Work. 'Many exhibitors don't understand this, and they go down a cost-driven route with contractors whose designers are never going to set the world on fire. This is why most exhibitions are full of generic, un-noteworthy, expensive missed opportunities.'
Exhibitors really have to go back to the founding premise, explore what the company is all about, pick up on the qualities and attributes of the brand and then find a way of telling that brand story through stand design.
Many of the larger design and communication agencies now treat an exhibition space as an opportunity for a managed experience of a brand. Nick Swallow, communications director of Furneaux Stewart, stresses how important it is to understand the client ethos and brand - and then transfer that into a 3-D environment.
Its exhibition work with Rolls-Royce has, in the past, involved using simple theatrical devices to illustrate the qualities of the car. For a press call, it recruited an opera singer and a ballet dancer to create a snapshot image of the calm surrounding the car. 'The worst thing is clutter,' he warns. 'A stand should be about making a statement, not used as a showroom. Mistakes are made when people consider the process of design in isolation.'
The philosophy that drives the likes of Furneaux Stewart is still an exception. Tim O'Kennedy, the founding partner of brand engagement consultancy Circus, says: 'Above all, people see an exhibition as an opportunity to stick a lot of kit out and explain it. Yet it is obvious that everyone else is going to be doing the same.'
In a former role as marketing director of Nike, O'Kennedy adds that in the early days of exhibiting, the company would put all its kit on a stand.
As the brand grew, and the number of shoes increased to about 11,000, it became impossible to continue with this approach, so the company began instead to create an impression in peoples minds. 'The assumption that if you put a lot of kit out you will sell a lot is ill-founded. …