June 2007 - Issue 1.2

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How to Use Your "Bean" During the Design Process

Taking your exhibit from "McDonald's" to "Starbucks"

e-Connections speaks with Brian Baker, Design Director, MC²

On the run to work in the morning, you've got options if you want some coffee. You can pick up a cup ("Large, cream, two sugars.") at McDonald's, or you can stop at Starbucks and get a café grande latte. Since both drinks are based on the same coffee bean, what's the difference? Staging, presentation and perception.

The cuppa joe does the job, but there's no personality. It's strictly utilitarian. But the café latte delivers the coffee bean with a dash of attitude, a dollop of panache and the whole Starbucks experience -- service, atmosphere, aroma, comfy couches .... Your cup of coffee becomes an experience.

Lead Nurturing

What happens to those leads you worked so hard to get on the show floor? This white paper offers insights and helpful suggestions to nurture leads into the sales cycle.

This complimentary white paper from Hallman & Associates also includes links to two, no-charge e-books to help your marketing and sales.

Download complimentary white paper and e-books.

How can you take your exhibitry from cuppa joe to café latte? To find out, e-Connections recently spoke to Brian Baker, design director for MC² in Atlanta, Ga. Here's what he had to say.

e-Connections: What should exhibitors and event professionals consider first when approaching a new design?

Brian Baker: Look at your overall objectives, where your brand is, what your company is trying to do about its image and your company's marketing challenges. Make sure you understand your company's relevant strengths and challenges (the obstacles, the general picture of where it is and where you want it to go, your competitors' strong points). Next, consider desired outcomes, what you want people to do or think after the event. Only then, are you ready to design the exhibit and get into details such as space.

You need to take a wholistic approach, including things like pre-show mailings and off-site events, not just an exhibit. If you start just with a logo and colors, you're designing on a basic level.

e-Connections: With cost cutting on everyone's mind, how can someone save on design?

Baker: When you go to the designer, share honest, accurate budget figures up front. Often, exhibitors and event professionals won't share this information because they're afraid the designer will spend all their money. But if you're not honest, you waste your time and the designer's. The designer may create something that's too expensive for you, and so, the design doesn't do you any good. Or the designer may build something less complex than you want and can afford. An exhibit design is the result of a custom process, not a commodity, and the designer you deal with must be dialed in for exactly what you need.

During the design process, it's important to consider what can be altered or deleted without affecting the impact of the exhibit design. Is there another way you can get the same look or effect without spending more? Keep your needs in mind, as well as your budget; be creative in how you approach the design process.

Also, think about the density of space. If you try to fit lots of architecture and components into a given space, it is going to increase the cost.

However, spending less up front may cost more later. Certainly, materials play a part in costs as they affect set-up times, shipping and drayage. Life span and durability are factors as well.

Spending is not an isolated concept assigned at the time of purchase. It's going to affect the entire cost of ownership, so you need to think about real costs, not just purchase prices.

e-Connections: What do our readers need to know about "people space" in exhibits and events?

Baker: People don't stand in one place, and they don't move like statues. Consequently, when you're determining the space you'll need around your exhibit, you should allow three to six square feet per person (including staff members). And in conference rooms and passageways, ensure you have enough space for people to get around comfortably. Knowing these requirements helps you plan the size of your exhibit and improve your attendees' overall event experience.

Attendees must have a positive experience, so they have a positive impression of your company. They can't be jammed in or unable to see your products. If you have an extremely high-profile brand, you might be able to get away with people not having enough room to move or interact. But most companies don't have this luxury.

e-Connections: When and how should event and exhibit professionals use multimedia in marketing spaces?

Baker: Mostly to enhance the experience instead of as the experience itself, unless the multimedia is mind-blowing and immerses people in the experience. People tend to think multimedia in itself is a draw, and that attendees will stand around to watch a three-minute PowerPoint slide show or a corporate video. But that doesn't happen. Something like a slide show or video is fine as an enhancement to support your message, but it shouldn't be the focus.

e-Connections: What about incorporating a live stage presentation in an exhibit?

Baker: The message of your presentation should be relevant to your audience and support your objectives. Also, be sure it's integrated and consistent with all your other marketing efforts and brand touch points.

An actor with a good script can work for high-level messages, especially where you need to have careful control of how content is presented or explained. However, the content needs to be informative and impactful. Otherwise, don't expect attendees to stick around.

Pure entertainment, like a magician, can be great. But if you just entertain your audience, it can be a waste of time. You need to interact with your visitors in some way to make sure the time they spend in your booth is worthwhile.

e-Connections: With lighting so critical in exhibit presentation, why do so many exhibit professionals tend to overlook it?

Baker: For the most part, lighting is often a budgetary casualty. It can be expensive, and they're already spending so much for the booth. But lighting is critical for the overall look and feel of your exhibit, as well as the experience of your attendees.

The lighting in show halls is awful -- unfriendly, cold and uncomplimentary -- making your exhibit that looked great in the renderings less attractive. Effective lighting can give your exhibit much more impact on the show floor. For example, strong lighting over a demo station lures more people to come over. People underestimate the importance of lighting in adding an emotional, theatrical focus point for the entire space or a specific product.

e-Connections: What are some of the more exciting design trends you see in the industry?

Baker: There are a couple significant trends.

The convergence of the Event and Exhibit worlds is happening more and more. People are using this synergy to enhance the effectiveness of both venues in how they use lighting, AV and create effective, immersive experiences.

Another trend is the maturation of truly integrated marketing programs. In the past, only a few exhibitors tied these efforts together, but now, more of them do this to make their exhibits more effective extensions of their marketing programs.

Put together, these two trends add up to memorable experiences for attendees, and exhibiting companies get much better returns on their investment.

e-Connections: How can an exhibitor or event professional find the right company to design its exhibit?

Baker: Many people send out the typical Requests for Proposal, but these can be counterproductive, because the design process tends to be done in a vacuum, without a lot of interaction with the end-user. Also, many times they don't ask the right questions because procurement office -- not the marketing department -- drives the process.

Instead, do a Request for Information. Narrow down your search to a few companies, and get to know them. Ask for examples of their work, and have them tell you about their strengths and capabilities. Meet with their team, see how they think, and get a feel for how they work.

Look for strategic partners, people who will understand your company, address your needs and spend time with you. Find a company that has a team with a passion for what they do, a team that also has humility and will listen to you instead of saying, "We know what you need."

The best solutions are a result of creative collaboration that keeps you updated and involved throughout the process. You need a partnership, not a vendor-client relationship, to create event experiences that will deliver the desired results.

Brian Baker has been the design director for MC² in Atlanta, Ga. for the last six years. He began his education at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, and finished his bachelor's degree in industrial design at Purdue University. Employed in the field of exhibit design for the past 12 years, he's worked on several award-winning integrated marketing and design projects.




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