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As an active member of the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association (EDPA), I have the opportunity to interact with hundreds of other exhibit-design firm owners from around the world. At last month’s meeting, we had lively discussions sharing data on material costs, new projects, profit margins, employee salaries and industry trends. All agreed we were happy to see some old trends fade away, making way for newer, longer-lasting applications.

Here are three of the more interesting trends in booths and exhibits being talked about these days, and what they portend for the coming year:

Has stretched fabric been stretched too far?


Clients are now asking for booth structures that scale in size, with an overall presence that is elegant.

Large-format, printed-fabric graphics have become a standard booth feature over the past few years. Perhaps this is due to the ease with which they can be switched out or the large-scale messaging format they provide or the economic advantages of investing in less permanent ‘structures,’ or perhaps all of the above. But, with overuse comes blurred acceptance. At a recent show I attended, this fabric architecture was so dominant on the floor that individual booths were almost indistinguishable from one another. At first glance, looking down a major traffic aisle, there were three to four separate corporate exhibits that literally blended into one. The use of printed fabrics and stretch fabrics has become so prominent the medium is no longer making the impact it once did.

So, while these fabrics still have their place, exhibitors are moving toward building more dramatic, structural components of a traditional nature, which end up achieving a more unique look. Clients are now asking for booth structures that scale in size, with an overall presence that is elegant, inviting, and sophisticated – and one that doesn’t look like everyone else’s.

Better quality, more targeted attendees
Another trend, mentioned by nearly everyone, is at least partially dictated by the down economy. That trend is increasing the focus on better targeting. Three or so years ago, the industry saw a huge dip in the number of show attendees. While that forced the demise, merging and/or restructuring of some shows, the silver lining was that the quality of leads became better than ever. As a result, exhibitors have now started to think like consumers in the way they show up for shows – no longer do they want to spend valuable exhibit floor hours speaking with superfluous attendees. Instead of trying to cast a wide net, most exhibitors are now focused on reaching and spending their time with strong prospects.

The tactics for doing this vary, from being strategic about which shows are chosen for participation, to creating promotions before and during each show to attract the most promising attendees. The bottom line is, exhibitors want to spend their time talking to potential customers and partners – not to tchotchke-collecting show attendees who wandered by the wrong booth.

Get social
Finally, and not surprisingly, social media is gaining interest among exhibitors. This trend is still in its infancy, but growing rapidly. My own children are super impressed that I can ‘tweet’ and ‘like’ and almost speak their language. In the world of tradeshows, exhibitors are wholeheartedly embracing this technology, taking advantage of the power of social media to interact with prospects before, during and after the actual event, while gathering valuable attendee data that up until now was only accessible via face-to-face discussions. We all know how crazy it can get on the show floor – there aren’t enough hours in the day to speak with every qualified prospect. Utilizing social media enables exhibitors to better target their message, help attendees to refine their exhibitor/solution search, and make everyone’s show experience more productive.

It’s all good
We’ve seen a lot of changes in the exhibit industry over the last few years. We’ve gone from bad times to renewed growth as companies are investing in their exhibits again. In terms of design, there is definitely a trend to re-embrace a more traditional booth, but with a contemporary flair. Most exhibit pros agree that by combining good booth design with targeted strategies and the effective use of social media, exhibitors will see their booth performance increase – and that’s a good trend for everyone.

Ken Karns is principal and president of Elevation Exhibits and Events, a full-service tradeshow design and marketing firm.

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