A shorthand formula to help with exhibit design goes like this: "Exhibit design should compel a particular audience into a specific conversation to achieve a measurable outcome." It doesn't cover every situation, but it does help set a pace for most design scenarios. Let's go phrase by phrase:
Obviously, we advocate exhibit design. Intentional, evocative and relevant design is important to any good face to face marketing endeavor. Commodity exhibits are available, and you can buy nearly anything off the internet. Surely, budgets and limiting factors come into play and can't be ignored. But the reality is if you want successful show marketing strategies, you need intentional design - even in pop-ups and banner stands.
That design is necessary to compel, not just any audience, but a particular audience. Some shows you go to may be made up 100% of the audience your marketing efforts work with, and everyone is a qualified lead. But more often than not, you need to weed out many of the attendees in order to meet the ones who will really do business with you. Those qualified leads are a particular group of people. You have a profile of them already: your current customers. You know what that audience looks like. So how do you compel them? How do you catch the attention of more people just like that, and draw them in? How do you compel that particular group? That's the foot you want to put forward on the show floor.
Once you have their attention, what do you do? Again, you know (or should know) why most of your best customers buy from you. And you're trying to attract those same types of clients. So really, you can develop a targeted, specific, and time-sensitive (people have a limited attention span) message to deliver once they are in the exhibit. If we've intentionally designed the space, and it does the job of catching the interest of the type of people you've been successful selling to, then it's safe to assume a specific conversation with that lead will be highly effective. If Providence really smiles on us, it'll even be predictable.
But you won't know if any of that is true without measuring. You need to have a goal in mind. Maybe it's going to be a gut feeling of really making a buzz at a given show. Maybe it's just going to be foot traffic. But maybe you need a certain number of qualified leads. Maybe you need to close a certain dollar figure in sales on the show floor. It honestly could be any of a number of different outcomes - intuitive or quantitative - that you believe define success. But, you'll never really justify the ROI without measuring and you'll never get a good measurement without having it in mind ahead of time. And in having the goal in mind ahead of time, you can design to it.
The right people, drawn into the right conversation gives us a high likelihood of a predictable outcome. And we can measure that success.