If you're a marketing coordinator or small business owner in a field that relies on trade shows to drum up business and get the word out about the services you offer, you may spend a lot of time planning your trade show exhibits for maximum impact. However, there are a few fundamental principles that can make or break the effectiveness of your exhibit, and if you're not seeing the results you expect, you may find that you're overlooking something basic but important. Read on to learn more about some subtle design and implementation changes that can help you make the most of your trade show opportunities.

How can you design your exhibit to subconsciously appeal to prospective customers or clients? 

With the advent of universal design (UD), many market researchers have started to recommend that businesses engage in more subtle wayfinding signals rather than utilizing printed signs (which may not be accessible to those with vision or language difficulties) -- from positioning a store's shelving in a way that directs customers toward the nearest exits to eliminating steps in favor of slight inclines or declines.  

Even if you're not familiar with UD, you'll be able to take advantage of some of its principles on a smaller scale with your trade show display. For example, taking a careful look at the traffic flow of the exhibition hall can give you a good idea of where and how to angle your exhibit -- if you're located near the entry doors, you don't want your back (or the back of your booth) to face your potential customers. If your booth is near an exit, you may want to focus even more on an eye-catching design or slogan that can lead those heading for the doors to do a double take. 

You'll also want to consider your audience and the limit of their attention spans. Many trade show experts recommend keeping the "three second rule" in mind when creating marketing content. This rule presupposes that the average person viewing your exhibit will spend only three seconds looking it over -- so you'll need a visual or written "hook" that will appeal to them within that brief period of time and cause them to look a bit deeper.

What else should you keep in mind when planning and executing a trade show exhibit? 

In addition to the on-site marketing you'll be doing at the trade show itself, you don't want to neglect any pre-show social media marketing that can be used to increase interest in your exhibit. You'll also want to take advantage of your social media connections to follow up on any leads after the trade show. In a competitive business environment, simply setting up your exhibit, greeting customers, disassembling the exhibit, and heading home often won't be enough to set you apart from others offering similar services. On the other hand, following up with those who have expressed interest in your services or offering discounts or other perks to new customers can improve your standing in the community and generate buzz that may follow you to your next show.