At last week’s BDIA Dental Showcase at ExCel London, our custom build stand for Acteon focussed on showcasing product, a key tactic for engagement.

Desired outcomes

Exhibition shows have a variety of purposes or desired outcomes, outlined in full here on our own Custom build page. To summarise, the likely desired outcomes are:

  • tell the story of your initiative clearly and with impact
  • facilitate the activities and interaction you planned for the event
  • give visitors a memorable experience, from which they are moved to act
  • achieve face-to-face contact, demonstrating expertise, competence, innovation, amiability
  • demonstrate an appreciation of aesthetics and design principles
  • demonstrate success; appear superior, prominent or correctly positioned in your market
  • demonstrate lack of failure; avoid appearing inferior, ‘small-fry’ or incorrectly positioned in your market
  • for established brands, remind people you exist or that you have something new to offer
One of the more intractable aspects of how to achieve those outcomes is generating engagement. There are many ways to do this. We recently talked about a VR demonstration at a stand we created for NIHR; a fun and technologically advanced way to encourage footfall to an exhibition stand. There has to be a point to it though; a VR headset is nothing more than a gimmick unless you actually have a product or service that uses that technology.

Moving from intrigue to engagement

Intriguing an audience can be something that takes care of itself at a product launch. If your product is exciting or desirable or outshines competition or solves a problem for your customers, the intrigue can be generated with creative presentation. So the graphics and marketing material and enthusiastic people on the stand, all highlighting features and benefits, might be enough to catch the eye of passers-by.
But showcasing product in situ does more than intrigue and entice. Having it on show, plugged in and usable by stand visitors is another level entirely. It demonstrates self-assurance; that you are confident in the product, that it does what you say it does, that it’s not just a prototype, that it looks as good in the flesh as it does in your marketing photography. And assuming it’s as good as you say it is, potential customers will be able to relieve any doubt they may have had through demonstration or interaction.
What’s more, showcasing product cracks one of the toughest nuts in the whole of the exhibiting game. There is a limit to how many stands delegates have the time or inclination to stop at. The successful stands are the ones that seem to have a buzz about them. They’re already busy. There’s laughter and noise. These stands effortlessly create a sense of being ‘the one not to miss’ because other people are demonstrably visiting it, enjoying it, engaging with it. By contrast, the stands with no visitors become a little foreboding simply because of their emptiness.
This is caused by a very human trait and is quite simple to explain on a psychological level. We all like to feel part of something; that we’re not missing out; we worry that other people somehow know something we don’t. So an empty stand radiates an aura of ‘there must be something wrong here’, whether deserved or not. Meanwhile, a busy stand is the best ice-breaker you could hope for.

Effectively showcasing product

Of course, products vary wildly in form, so the way in which you can most effectively show them off varies accordingly. Showcasing a new car will not require the same exhibition stand as a new app for your phone or a new toaster. If the product can’t physically be in the exhibition hall, a slick multimedia presentation might be the only option.
Demonstrating a product may be necessary if it requires expertise to operate. It’s worth considering that delegates seeing other delegates struggling or failing to operate your shiny new product might actually be a turnoff, although it’s possible that others may see it as a challenge. If that’s a likely scenario, demonstrating your product in action might be best left to an expert. But if the features and benefits of the product include being easy to use, there really is no excuse (safety issues aside) for not letting delegates get their hands on it.

Interactivity = engagement.

People love to try things. It transforms abstract notions like ‘that could be just what I’m looking for’ into more solid ideas like ‘that will be really helpful with x‘ or ‘I’ll be able to do y much quicker with that’. So if you want people to buy your product, let them use it. This principle works on market stalls, in shops and at trade fairs or exhibitions. It can be the tipping point between wanting something and needing it.

Acteon apply the principle

We have designed and installed many big custom build stands for Acteon over the years and last week’s BDIA Dental Showcase at ExCel London was no exception. Each build has enjoyed incremental improvements as we’ve developed and implemented new techniques or ideas in close collaboration with the team at Acteon. But this latest stand raised the bar significantly both in terms of materials used and also the design, specifically for showcasing product.
The products in question are specialist equipment for dental practitioners, and the delegates at the shows are generally the perfect captive audience; dentists and businesses providing dental services. This affords Acteon the luxury of not needing to do a ‘hard sell’. But in a competitive market, they still need to outshine their rivals and garner interest through engagement.
One of their flagship products, a large 3D scanner called the Xmind Trium, takes centre stage within Acteon’s stand. But since X-rays present somewhat of a hazard for passers-by, this machine’s capabilities can only be demonstrated by showing the robotic movement of the scanning apparatus. This is impressive in itself and is already a great enticement to stop at the stand.
On this occasion though, Acteon went all-out for engagement by allowing delegates to use their Piezotome Cube. Not only that, but they incentivised it further by turning it into a competition. The device enables practitioners to perform atraumatic bone surgery with great precision. And to demonstrate the sophistication, accuracy and ease-of-use of the device, they had the wonderful idea of allowing it to be used on the exhibition stand to carve designs into the shell of an egg (without piercing its inner membrane).
Here are some images from the social media build-up to the event and from the show itself, including the winner of the competition, Ana Braganca. Her prize is not insignificant; she will be presented with a Piezotome Cube for her own dental practice.
Other workstations were employed to allow delegates to have a go at implant planning and nerve tracing. This involved setting up the appropriate equipment and computers at the workstations (with all the requisite power and connections). Again, the important aspect of this was the ‘have a go’ bit, much more engaging than watching a video or even a demonstration. Incentive was offered to the delegates simply for participation, this time in the form of a bottle of champagne. We understand this works a little like catnip for dentists.

Creative exhibition stand design for showcasing product

With the flexibility of our new aluminium profile system, the options for large stand design have increased markedly. This enables our stand design to better achieve the dual (but sometimes competing) goals of aesthetics and practicality.
Whilst we have built an imposing triple tower before, it previously relied on a wooden framework, making it logistically more cumbersome and requiring several coats of paint on-site and logos to be subsequently applied as decals. The new towers comprise an aluminium framework with PVC graphic boards as an outer skin. The benefits of this are easier transport, faster build times, easier integration of media units and creative options for lighting.
So, for example, we were able for the first time to incorporate lit recessed lettering for Acteon’s main logo. And because it’s so easy to run and position power cabling inside the framework, we also ran lighting into the top beams and created some new semi-circle ‘neon’ edgers for some of the towers. These were adaptations of the technology and hardware we employ in our hugely popular Lumos light towers. The pale blue colour not only cast a bright but diffuse light for the ambience of the whole stand, it also tied in beautifully with Acteon’s corporate branding colour scheme.
Another benefit of the lit edging design was the creation of an extremely effective triangular tower, perfect for marking the corner of the stand, and in this case providing the potential for TV units streaming media in 3 different directions. Aluminium struts are always straight (without highly expensive tooling), so to create a closed triangular shape is impossible without a creative approach to the corners, and our lit edging solved the problem beautifully.
Products were housed on and in bespoke desktops and counters, designed specifically for showcasing product with minimal cable clutter (though some free cabling was unavoidable for the Piezotome Cube installation). This is a small yet important function of exhibition stand furniture, showing the products in their best light, but also better emulating a real-world installation and keeping a tighter control on electrical and trip hazards.
The overarching principle is of design facilitating engagement. This encompasses the space between objects allowing an appropriate flow of people, safety aspects, aesthetics and usability of meeting points, media displays and interactive product areas. Showcasing product requires plenty of forethought, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Showcasing product: summary

Whilst launching a product at an exhibition or trade fair can be a highly effective sales tool, the most effective installation requires collaboration with experienced exhibition stand designers and a spark of genius for conceiving the activities that will generate engagement.
We consider the most successful engagement activities in 2018 to be those that could not otherwise be accessed by someone who didn’t attend the show. In the online age, it is all too easy to find information, watch videos and read reviews, so presentation of something new is not necessarily enough.
Giving people the hands-on experience is the point of difference, demonstrating your confidence in the build quality and functionality of your product. It allows you to provide a scaffolding of reassurance and expertise to your potential customer as they explore and discover your product.
We know that you can’t drive a car around or try out a new ballistic missile in an exhibition hall. But if it is possible and practical, showcasing product should involve interactivity. Devising a method of trying the product out, using it in a real-world situation (or emulating one as Acteon did here with their eggs) will increase engagement greatly. Then you spin up the virtuous cycle as other delegates are attracted to the buzz around your stand.
Incentivising the activity with a competition can further drive footfall to your stand, especially if the prize is worth having. The competition and the prize is more than a ‘reward for engagement’ and should be budgeted and planned accordingly. It is the cornerstone of your event’s narrative; the story around which you can build your marketing and social campaigns before, during and after the event.

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