CEIR Report: What do Visitors to your Trade Show Booth REALLY Want?

The Center for Exposition Industry Research (CEIR) has long been the premiere research group investigating the trade show industry, and their reports regularly make waves.  There are few better sources for hard data about exposition appearances and their effectiveness. In their release a few years ago, Exhibition Floor Interaction: What Visitors Want, they address the #1 question facing exhibitors.  Their findings aren’t surprising, but they do underline just how important interaction has become at trade shows.

rental 20' x 20' custom design with 12' high backwall with storage closets, and modified re-1219 square pedestals

The short version is this:  Visitors don’t want passive theater-style shows.  They want to be hands-on.  And, they often want to be left alone when they do it.

What The Latest CEIR Report Says About Your Trade Show Strategies

Let’s hit a few of the highlight statistics, before we start digging in:

  • 59% of respondents said they wanted interactive demonstrations.
  • 58% wanted hands-on time with the products.
  • 58% said they wanted to be able to take materials home for study.
  • 51% indicated they preferred to be left alone to browse for themselves.
  • Only 46%, on the other hand, are interested in talking, even to unfamiliar exhibitors.

Basically, for most visitors, their goal is to understand the products and services on display at a trade show.  Items and activities that aid this goal will be appreciated; those that get in the way will be disliked.

So, what does this mean for your display strategies?

1 – You NEED interactive activities.

This CEIR report really underlines how important interactive strategies have become.  Visitors don’t want to sit and watch static / non-participatory movies and presentations.  They want to get hands on in some way.

This makes sense psychologically, beyond any specific sales techniques.  The psyche of a trade show visitor is basically being battered through a barrage of sights and sounds – far more than the human bring is comfortable sorting through.

Getting “hands on” means more senses are getting involved, and that means the brain is getting involved as well.  The display materials in your trade show booth become far more concrete and memorable – more “real” if you will – when a visitor can hold them in their hands.

If your trade show display doesn’t include elements that your visitors can hold, examine, and play with, you’re going to miss a lot of leads.

2 – Whenever possible, bring real product.

Sure, there may be cases where your product is too big to fit in an exhibition hall, or is still six months from release.  However, try to avoid these situations when you can.

Beyond the hands-on aspects discussed above, this is an effective counter for the hype-a-thon going on at most trade shows.  Experienced -and therefore cynical- visitors are fully aware that future product releases are often vapor, or deliberately exaggerated to cast a bad light on competitors.  (The so-called FUD effect.)

Big promises are a dime a dozen at a trade show.  Companies that bring actual products, and let visitors play with them, are the ones who will convince visitors that their claims are concrete and believable.

Those who make big claims, without products to back it up, are automatically suspect.

3 – Find more ways to send materials home.

Undoubtedly as a response to the amount of bustle and distraction of trade shows, visitors want materials to study at home or when they’re back in the office.  As far as we’re concerned, this is a great opportunity to engage with people in different ways.

As a few suggestions:

  • De-emphasize printed materials.  A few brochures or such are fine, but they’re easily lost / overlooked, plus they’re awfully wasteful.  Digital methods pack far more data into smaller packages.
  • Branded USB thumbdrives are infinitely reusable, and therefore highly popular giveaways.  They can store virtually all your promotional materials, while giving visitors a useful gift.
  • CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Rays are also an option, but they’re probably best reserved for video-based material or the occasional interactive software suite.  DVDs are probably the best bet here, since Blu-Ray is significantly less common and isn’t standard equipment on many computers.
  • Don’t used “burned” discs, as the writeable surface is very sensitive to heat, pressure, and moisture.  Professionally-produced discs won’t melt in someone’s car, and are only slightly more expensive.
  • If you’re using bar codes, QR Codes, or social media strategies to trigger downloads, make sure the file sizes are relatively small.  Visitors on limited 3G/4G data plans won’t want to download a gig of data.
  • Make an app!  Hiring a developer costs a bit, but a well-made app will get a lot of downloads, as well as creating an ongoing message-delivery platform that you can use throughout the year.

4 – Create a “self-service” area.

We’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating in the face of these numbers.  When roughly half of your visitors may have a “don’t talk to me unless I talk to you” attitude, you need to be able to address their needs.

moe 1338 ipad stand with 4 swivel stop clamshell frames and shelf

Our recommendation is to partition off part of your trade show display, and put out a clear selection of literature, interactive tablet displays, product demos, or other materials that visitors can explore for themselves.  Why?  Because “standoffish” visitors will recognize those areas and make a beeline for them.

Have a worker nearby to answer questions and keep an eye on the visitors, but tell them not to interject unless the visitor makes contact first.

In the meantime, the visitors who want face-to-face interaction will likely NOT head for the DIY area, and so you’ll be able to quickly tell your social and anti-social visitors apart.  Catering to the needs of both groups will boost your lead generation.

5 – Big interactive displays bring crowds.

If you’re putting a large monitor or display in your trade show booth, don’t just run videos on it.  The current generation of “smart” TVs, with voice or gesture recognition, open up a world of interactive possibilities.

Be creative!  If you get a group of people all jumping around or waving their arms in front of a video screen, it WILL attract a crowd.  For that matter, thanks to cross-compatibility on Android devices, you could also throw an Android app onto many of these smart TVs.

For a big bonus, look for ways to send a souvenir home.  For example, many clothing outlets have apps that allow a user to take a picture of themselves, and then dress the image up like a paper doll.  Then they get a take-home image of themselves wearing the company’s clothes.

This gives visitors another way to explore your materials at their own pace, while showing off an app on a big screen will also encourage people to download it for themselves.

Variety Is The Spice Of Current Trade Show Displays

If there’s another takeaway here besides “Be interactive!” it’s probably that your trade show displays need to have more variety in their offerings.  Visitors who want to explore for themselves need options for solo education, while verbal visitors should still be encouraged to engage with your workers.

Having a range of activities, demos, and information sources will ultimately make your trade show booth one that will attract many different kinds of buyers, and that’s going to be good for your bottom line.


American Image Displays represents all major trade show display manufacturers, so we can create any kind of exhibit you can imagine. We’ll even show you what that trade show exhibit will look like before you buy with a beautiful, full-color computer rendering. For more information, call us at (425) 556-9511, visit our trade show supplies website, or just email [email protected].

For more, read our article on how to create booth CTAs or things that booth buyers need.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 0 comments

Leave a Reply: