Exhibition organizers can increase their exhibitors’ return on investment by taking a few tips from supermarkets and department stores.
The design of exhibit floors and booths can have a dramatic impact on attendee traffic and behavior, explained Mike Cooke, chief executive officer, DMG World Media, Braintree, Mass., during a presentation at the recent Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum in Washington, D.C. By taking a cue from how retailers engage customers, exhibition organizers can increase “dwell time” and generate more leads and higherfor exhibitors. “At the end of the day, that’s what we sell,” he told the ECEF audience. “Not square feet, but face-to-face business leads.”
Decompression Zones and Better Flow
When people walk into a supermarket, usually the first things they see are fruits and vegetables, perhaps a coffee shop, or maybe a magazine stand. It’s not by accident: Stores are trying to slow customers down, appeal to their senses, and make them feel comfortable. It’s about creating a positive experience at the beginning so that people want to stay longer by providing what supermarket and department store designers call decompression zones. Statistics show, said Cooke, that the longer someone stays in a supermarket, the more they buy.
That’s also why the essentials—such as milk, juice, and bread—are placed at the far back corner. They don’t want customers running in and out just for a gallon of milk. If they do run in for milk, grocers hope to catch their eyes with something else on the long trip to the back of the store. Department stores do the same thing by putting bathrooms and food service areas way up on the third floor.
How can exhibition organizers design decompression zones that will slow people down as they enter the expo hall? Perhaps place a host or an information kiosk at the entrance. Create some welcoming space so customers can get their bearings and figure out where to go as opposed to walking right into a wall of booths. “Supermarkets know that nobody buys anything when they first walk into the store,” he said.
Cooke also suggested looking at ways to reconfigure the hall to create better traffic flow. Consider putting the restaurants, lounges, and activities toward the back to draw people in, he said. Think about spreading out the island booths and widening some lanes to give people more room to move around. DMG has videotaped traffic flow during some of its clients’ shows to identify and eliminate bottlenecks.
Department stores use techniques, including mystery shoppers, to find out what customers like, explained Cooke. For instance, they know that people are 30 percent more likely to buy something if they try it on (or try it out), so it’s critical for sales clerks to engage customers. However, department stores also understand that consumers don’t want to be told what to buy—it generally puts them off. What they want from sales staff is guidance—an answer to a question or affirmation of a product they have already selected. Perhaps the worst offense, said Cooke, is not being there when a customer has a question. “People don’t like to wait,” said Cooke. If a sales clerk is not readily available, customers will usually head for the exit empty handed.
How to Increase Exhibitors ROI
Whether an exhibitor attracts attendees to a booth and properly engages them when they arrive depends upon how the booth is laid out and staffed.
Cooke recommends that exhibitors measure four things: aisle traffic, attraction rate, interaction rate, and conversion rate. Aisle traffic is the number of people who walk by, attraction rate is the number of people who walk into the booth, interaction rate is the number of attendees who talk to booth personnel, and conversion rate is the number of interactions that translate into qualified leads. If organizers can help exhibitors improve those rates—particularly the latter two—then they are helping them increase their ROI, he said.
For example, if the interaction rate goes from 20 percent last year to 30 percent this year, that’s a substantial increase in ROI. And if the conversion rate to qualified leads goes from 50 to 100, that’s an ROI of 100 percent. So how do exhibition organizers help to improve the metrics?
A redesign of the exhibit hall may create better flow and more aisle traffic. Moving a booth to another location, up front perhaps, may also help. But aisle traffic isn’t worth much without engagement. To illustrate the importance of engagement, Cooke presented a case study involving two bellwether tractor company exhibitors at one of his shows. One exhibitor had high aisle traffic and attraction rates, but little interaction with customers and few qualified leads. The other bellwether had less aisle traffic and a lower attraction rate, but walked away with far more leads. How?
The first tractor company had more equipment on display, showcasing the latest models throughout the exhibit. While they attracted a greater number of visitors, there were not enough booth personnel available to answer questions and give guidance. The second exhibitor didn’t have as much attention-grabbing equipment on display, but had more staff deployed to talk to customers and provide information. That type of engagement is key, said Cooke. On average, exhibit personnel only talk to about 33 percent of attendees. That’s not enough, he said.
An exhibit that is a combination of these two examples—optimizing both attraction and interaction rates—is preferable. If exhibit organizers can create a more inviting customer environment, improve traffic flow, and impress upon exhibitors the importance of engaging attendees the right way—as retailers do—then they should be able to deliver better ROI for exhibitors.