How to elevate your trade show exhibit to an experience

Over the past few years, the idea of interactive museum-like experiences are exploding. My first experience like this was the Museum of Ice Cream in NYC. I remember reading about the pop-up museum in an article and thought, I HAVE to check this out!

I bought tickets several months in advance, not even thinking about how much it would take off. (I also happened to buy tickets on what ended up being one of the hottest days of the summer.) Just a few years later, more of these hands-on, Instagram-worthy experiences have taken the U.S. by storm. A few that come to mind include:

  • Museum of Ice Cream – uniting and inspiring the world through imagination (and of course, ice cream).
  • Saved by the Max – a nostalgic 90’s shrine diner and bar playing homage to my favorite childhood show, Saved by the Bell.
  • Color Factory – an interactive exhibit that celebrates the discovery, serendipity and generosity of color.
  • 29Rooms – an interactive fun house to experience everything Refinery29 is all about in real life (with more and more copycats popping up by the day).

Drawing inspiration from pop-ups

So why does any of this matter? And how do these pop ups correlate to elevating your trade show or event experience? Well, why can’t a trade show exhibit have the same properties that make a pop-up museum successful? And why can’t we translate the experiences from a B2C world to a B2B trade show or proprietary event? Let’s explore what makes these experiences popular in the first place and how to enhance your trade show exhibit or proprietary event.

  1. Have fun – Whether it’s a B2B or B2C market, it’s okay to let people experience your brand in a fun way. This can be done through gamification, a photo-op or a unique giveaway through a digital or analog experience. Even if you’re selling software, try to think of how you can show the benefits of your product rather than the standard PowerPoint demo.

    Create something memorable by thinking about how you would want to experience your product at a trade show. One of the best experiences I’ve seen was at Cisco Live in 2018 in Orlando where Insight created an eight-bit video game that walked through the products and services of the company. As a bonus, each character in the game was an actual employee! This may sound expensive, but with all of the developments in technology, implementing things like this is getting easier and more cost-effective by the day.
  2. Get people involved – Building off of having fun, it’s important to create an atmosphere where people can be interactive and hands-on with your brand message versus just solely relying on how you feature your product or service.

    When my family and I visited the Museum of Ice Cream in the summer of 2016, every exhibit had some kind of multi-sensory experience. It all must’ve been meaningful, seeing as that was several years ago and I still recall the majority of the experience. I can’t always tell you what I had for breakfast yesterday, but two years later, I still remember the helium filled sugar balloon, the pool full of sprinkles, the attempted Guinness World Record for the largest ice cream sundae (I still don’t know if they accomplished that!) or the taste test of the ice cream pre and post-lemon wedge. All of these memories still come rushing back simply because of the engaging and unforgettable interactions I had throughout my Museum of Ice Cream experience.

    Keep in mind: One of the hardest times for people to remember anything is when they’re walking through the floor of a trade show or going from session to session of a conference. There’s just too much to distract one’s focus. So the next time you build out your space, make it interactive. Make it engaging.

  3. Make it shareable – Between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat and more…there are so many ways to share your message with your audience. As long as you know which channel is the most effective in reaching your audience (paid targeting always helps, of course), social media is a great tool to disseminate information. And when your customers and prospects share it with their audience, it’s a win-win. So make your experience and message easy to share. Incorporate important information (like relevant hashtags and common search terms) that are easily understood and simple to find.

Incorporating fun, interactive, engaging and shareworthy experiences on the trade show floor may drive you out of your comfort zone, but that’s okay. Some of the best ideas come when people are challenged, up against a wall, or straight-up uncomfortable. Avoid the standard presentation or video reel that has you talking AT people instead of WITH people, go above average and do something different. Create a trade show experience worth talking about!

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