Panasonic exhibition stand by SHAPES

Seven approaches to help you set the stage for a more efficient long-term platform for customer engagement

With every passing year, it appears the power of marketing lies more and more in the hands of the consumer. With customers competent in selectively controlling the exposure of marketing stimuli by switching channels, watching on-demand or using software to block ads that would otherwise be open, marketers are looking for ways that will guarantee their brand exposure. One media that offers a captive and a motivated audience is exhibitions and events.

Even so, to keep customers interested and motivated in attending such events, the development of design solutions are becoming a mix of science and art, with customers insisting brands deliver a compelling reason to engage with them. A practical, appealing and engaging creative solution can and should help you to realise the all important return on your event investment. As marketing stimuli are competing with many other incentives for attention, marketers are needing to take additional steps to ensure that they attract their attention by making the stimuli, pleasant, surprising, personally relevant and easy to process. Not an easy task. Nevertheless, we offer some guidance on how to help you get the most out of your event activities with suggestions on design approaches we use with our clients here at SHAPES.

Establishing design direction

The design agency appointed and the type of exhibition or event will most likely play a significant role in establishing design direction and how best to capture the attention and connect with your intended audience. Having a pre-determined and good understanding of the necessary approaches to your exhibition design development will help ensure its success. It is deemed critical to developing with the design agency, and the designer who will be creating the branded environment, the strategies and approaches guiding the development of the exhibition and experiential display within the overall goals and objectives of the event.

An experienced and skilled designer should be aware of and consider the marketing implications of the exposure of the various marketing stimuli on consumer behaviour at the initial conceptual development of any event design. While designers can work very hard to try to influence the exposure of your brand message to your intended target audience; ultimately it is the customer that will determine how responsive they are to your stimuli.

As people cannot possibly process all the marketing stimuli that they are exposed to, working with an experienced designer who knows how to gain maximum exposure for your brand will ensure your event success. Below we detail the seven different approaches we use here at SHAPES to help our clients with their event marketing influence.

1. Content

Along the customer journey, it’s important for customers to understand how the product or service you are selling them will fit into their daily life. Assessing their content needs and understanding how they review, deliberate, decide, buy and use your product will form the basis of your content strategy. Once this has been mapped out – using content that is surprising, original, unexpected or unique can help you stand out amongst other competing stimuli. For example, by adding unfamiliar content such as metaphors, puzzles, games, or other novel content you can arouse huge interests and a customer’s curiosity in your product or services.

It’s the role of the designer to consider the context in which messages are received, as well as proposing new ways of differentiating your brand with content that is more relevant or more engaging. The designer should ensure content is prominent, focuses the attention on the brand message and is more likely to be noticed by the customer by suggesting ideas that will make your content more unusual and surprising.

2. Appealing

‘Efficient design’ is quite often beautiful design.  The aesthetics of design is much more than an added benefit, as creating something beautiful will also deliver consumer value with effective emotional appeals and attractive stimuli that offer a higher probability of being noticed. An aesthetically appealing design will also evoke positive feelings, give the impression of being more efficient, and in turn, will attract customers attention anew.

The role of the designer is to look at unique and unusual ways to communicate the message but in different ways, to ensure the aesthetic appeal of the display has the desired impact on the audience.

3. Pleasing

If you know what customers are looking for when they engage with you, then you are more likely to deliver a pleasant experience that will push them closer to their next transaction, conversion or interaction. When we feel a heightened state of pleasure, then a product or service becomes easier to use. Hence, stimuli that are inherently pleasant and familiar such as music, humour, entertainment, etc. can attract and increase consumer interest and improve their attention span.

It is the designer’s role to apply hedonistic appeals to ensure the audience, whether they are B2B or B2C, has a “great time”. By incorporating marketing stimuli that will guarantee their enjoyment of the event, will ensure that your product or service, beyond its utility, serves an extension to their pleasure.

4. Authentic

Simply put, “the secret to success is sincerity”. You could say the same thing about authenticity. Brands that stay true to who they are, what they do and who they serve through the alignment of their physical environments with the core values of their brand, create value and benefits for their customers. A poorly executed brand experience from a brand with core values of “high-quality” can be catastrophic for a company and can have some seriously negative outcomes for the business.

Therefore, the role of the savvy designer is to guarantee that the design and execution of your branded environment conveys an authenticity that will perfectly align with your core brand values.

5. Engaging

We all crave experiences and events that are meaningful that will help deepen relationships and make us feel more connected with like-minded people. We favour brands that fan our appetite and thirst for their product or service long before trying to sell to us. The way you treat customers matters more than ever and brands that pay more attention to the marketing stimuli that will provide a great experience – at the critical moment that matters to customers – helps to drive repurchase and turn them into loyal brand advocates.

It is, therefore, the designer’s responsibility to have an awareness of the stimuli that adds value to customers, are the most engaging, most often refused, as well as most appropriate for the target audience. Proposing hands-on activities and a relevant immersive experience rather than passive viewing can shift brand perceptions, keep customers happy and retain their attention.

6. Social-Facilitation

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is one of the biggest psychological strategies used by marketers to enhance the success of their social media marketing efforts. According to a study by Eventbrite, 69% of millennials experience FOMO when they are unable to attend an event that their family or friends are going to. “For millennials, FOMO is not just a cultural phenomenon, it’s an epidemic,” the report reads. FOMO has therefore created a huge industry around live events, as the need for experiences shows no sign of slackening in the immediate future. Research has identified that increased frequency of social interactions is related to our enjoyment enhancement and reward system activation. Therefore stimuli that encourage social interactions and harmonious relationships i.e. through interpersonal closeness and conversations are further compelling reasons for customer engagement via events.

People have always been interested in popular culture and what others are doing. It is consequently the role of the designer to understand how to influence social interaction and people’s gaze with appropriate technology by selecting socially relevant stimuli that will craft a FOMO-inducing event and further promote socialisation.

7. Personalisation

A lack of personalisation to your target audiences preferences will likely increase your customer’s event fatigue. According to data well-cited study by the Rockefeller Corporation exploring precisely “Why customers leave a company?” It’s not a lower priced competitor or some gimmick their competitor has. Customers leave because they don’t feel that you care about them.

Consequently, marketing stimuli that are personally relevant and appeals to the target audience’s needs, value and emotions should always be a primary consideration for the designer. Differing demographics i.e. age, education, interest level, reasoning skills, cognitive ability and learning style, as well as cultural differences, should also be considered by the designer

There’s always room for improvement

An important thing to appreciate is that while individually each of the above approaches has their particular merits, overemphasising one or more of these approaches can overlook strategies that may be relevant to the goals and objectives of the event. Therefore, it is important that both the brand and design agency consider employing a combination of all of the above seven strategies in each experience design project. Of course, every business will be in various stages of maturity regarding how well they engage their customers, but in all cases, there is always room for improvement.

While many marketers are under pressure to optimise a campaign quickly and deliver quantifiable results, capturing the attention of customers is growing increasingly difficult. Event marketing is a significant investment that’s primary purposes is to enhance the customer relationship continually. It, therefore, should be viewed as a long-term customer engagement programme that should ultimately be about the activation of a lifelong brand relationship with your customer, not necessarily about contributing to quarterly earnings.

Building customer advocacy within your event marketing programme

A long-term strategic partnership with your designers and design agency can help provide a clear direction on how best to engage in conversations with customers, set the stage for a more efficient long-term platform for customer engagement and support you in building customer advocacy within your event marketing programme.

In our experience, the most important steps are bringing together the right internal stakeholders with the right external agency, and then collectively identifying the highest priorities and biggest opportunities that will deliver significant improvement in customer engagement and brand advocacy.

The key thing to keep in mind is to stay always focused on what matters to your consumers by ensuring that consumer and marketing insight is the central driver of all your event marketing activities.

Blog post written by
Amanda Bates – Marketing Director – SHAPES