Electronic Digital Signage for Exhibits

Properly done, electronic digital signage (EDS) attracts people to trade show booths like proverbial moths to a flame. The key is to make sure EDS at trade shows is “properly done” since its effectiveness, or lack thereof, is not measured in immediate sales as it usually is at retail.

Moreover, the trade show environment is almost exclusively a visual one. “Sound is not relevant at trade shows,” says Chad Bogan of UVP Digital in Milwaukee. “Trade shows are inherently loud, and the people at the booth don’t want a message repeating itself every two minutes. They won’t hear it because of the noise in the background. It’s all visual.”

Content that Captivates

The easiest thing to do is to simply play a video the company has produced, whether it’s a product video or a company overview. However, creating content is where the money is. For a sign company or print shop, not creating the content is like handing the customer a blank banner for them to print themselves.

“They can use something like our Ultimate Content Cloud to create content for their customers, in addition to static signage,” says Dennis Wells, COO of Glantz Dynamic Solutions, a division of N. Glantz & Son, Louisville, Ky. “Before you know it they have recurring revenue. Content creating and the revenue it adds is the most valuable component for a sign shop.”

The content needs to be strategic and focused on the goals of the exhibiting company at that particular trade show. For many, this means branding and reiterating the company logo, its products, its mission and so forth. For others it may be a product launch that takes front and center. Either way, trade show content for EDS has one real goal: bring people to the booth.

“The broader marketing trend has moved toward video content, so there’s a temptation at a trade show to take a product video and put it up on a screen,” says Andrew Oransky, senior director of marketing and product management for Roland DGA, Irvine, Calif. “It’s very distracting to have sound coming out of the speaker while everything else is going on behind you, so it ends up having very minimal utility.”

“We expect the person doing design for static signage and digital signage to be the same person,” adds Greg Collin, Digital Signage Systems product manager at Roland. “They should be taking that same information and coordinating a similar look and feel into the digital signage. You should plan the booth as a whole, and not in pieces.”

Effective EDS Content at Trade Shows

Trade Show EDSThe most effective content at a trade show hits quickly and moves. In other words, each frame of content should not last more than a few seconds, perhaps 10 seconds at most, and have some type of motion or animation. Basically, keep it simple, but don’t make it boring.

“People are not there to sit and watch a sign; they’re there to soak in bits and pieces at each booth,” Bogan says. “They have two days to jam pack 500 vendors in their system. The key for a booth at a trade show is to get their attention, stop them, get their business card and follow up later. The details of a booth’s products and services are in the information the reps give their prospects and customers. To successfully grab the attention of trade show guests and properly use digital signage at a trade show, the content on the digital sign needs to be short, easy to read and moving around on the screen. If you use PowerPoint slides for content, that’s fine, but make sure to change your slides every two to six seconds and use a transition effect. It can’t be a boring, static image that changes every minute.”

Content created for trade shows is generally more general, in contrast to content for retail and other venues, like hospitals and universities, where content is more specific and informational. There are exceptions, of course, such as smaller screens that highlight specific products or services or provide booth event listings.

“Retail tends to be more transactional and very focused on what’s on sale today… the specific promotion. The huge part of the value of digital signage is that when you’re overstocked on something you can alter your message to the needs of the particular market or day,” Oransky says. “In a trade show you’re not necessarily going to be as focused on what you’re selling that day. It tends to be more focused on corporate messaging and branding. In a trade show, in many instances, that’s the first direct contact a potential customer has with that business. Trade show displays need to be a mix of product information but also needs to articulate the company message: what it does, who they are and what they stand for.”

EDS Exhibit Applications

Roland DGA is constantly on the road exhibiting at various trade shows worldwide. Oransky says that even if Roland didn’t have its own EDS line it would use EDS for its exhibits. Roland has found some good exhibit applications for multiple screens that highlight the company’s various printers.

“Every printer had a printed P.O.P. display on it, and they just kept getting bigger. They started out with basic specifications and a price, then more explanation with target applications and so forth. Then we started doing them in two languages, so they went to 18” x 24” hanging off the back of a printer and they were changing constantly so we were spending a lot of time and money creating new displays,” says Oransky. “So we transitioned to a small digital display on each printer that allows us to do a three- or four-panel sequence about the product and the show promotion so that the promotion doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. We find that people capture more information and stand there longer watching for the next panel to learn something rather than glancing at the static displays we had previously.”

Oransky adds that they’re effective because they’re relatively short and sweet. Rather than load the full PowerPoint presentation about each product, the presentation hits on the highlights that are particularly relevant to the show and the audience attending the show.

“I would never load a full presentation on one of these screens; I want them to stand there long enough for one of our staff to walk up to them and answer any questions the display may have prompted. You want to stop them for a period of time, but not bore them. The longer the presentation, the greater the risk that someone will walk up during the middle of it and not know what they’re looking at,” says Oransky. “Context is important, and it’s far more likely that if your content scrolls through every 15-20 seconds they’ll understand what’s going on.”

In addition to short, targeted, animated content (at least animated between each slide with transitions), it needs to be relevant. That seems obvious, but companies often miss the target by presenting content that’s too broad or does not mesh with the overall identity at the show.

“We use the term complementary quite a bit,” says Glantz Dynamic Solutions’ Wells. “EDS is not a replacement, but a complement to printed signage. If you walk into a restaurant you will find that successful signage programs take a complementary approach and it works the same in exhibit spaces. I couldn’t imagine not having a 55” Samsung display on a floor stand in the corner of our booth, nor could I imagine not having large-format printed signs, banners or clings that help to establish and reinforce our identity.”

Displays that Draw Crowds

Wells adds that EDS has become almost ubiquitous at trade shows. At least he’s seen a sea change at the annual ISA Expo where maybe four to five years ago there weren’t that many dynamic displays playing content in exhibit hall.

“There’s been a huge movement toward using these displays in exhibit booths,” says Wells, “even for companies that have nothing to do with selling them, like LED and neon companies. I found that 60 to 70 percent of the exhibitors at ISA had EDS, regardless of what they were selling. We were mobbed at the show; the motion on the screens captured people’s attention and brought them into our booth.”

While the content is an important draw, the display itself should draw attention to itself. As noted in the sidebar accompanying this story, Samsung’s do’s and don’ts for using EDS at trade shows, big and bright is the way to go, and backlit LED is the brightest type of display.

“Having a unit that physically looks different can make a difference too,” says Bogan. “The content should look really good and the display should be unique enough to catch their attention. For instance, if you mount it portrait instead of landscape against the wall or on a stand it’s a plus because it doesn’t resemble a TV. A freestanding unit, like a kiosk, also is extremely impactful because of its appearance. The exhibiting company wants something that catches people’s attention and slows them down. Once they’re inside and looking at the sign there’s the opportunity to speak with them. Some kiosks look like large smart phones. This sleek appearance causes people to walk up to the kiosk just to look at the unit and the message displaying on it.

“Another really neat thing that we have seen are exhibit companies adding a vinyl wrap to the kiosk featuring a logo, brand colors, and other graphics. By adding a vinyl wrap to a kiosk it gives the unit a unique, catchy look; plus it’s a great add-on and moneymaking opportunity for sign shops selling the kiosk. For small trade show booths using a small counter-top a kiosk is also a good option. These little compact units are lightweight, easy to set up and require no fancy software. These tabletop kiosks can literally be something you can put in your luggage and take with you, so it helps with shipping.”

Shipping EDS Displays

And speaking of shipping, sending an EDS system to a trade show is not like sending a banner or a fabric backdrop and must be factored into the overall program. Sign shops should never sell an EDS system intended for trade show use without working shipping into the equation. Setting expectations is especially important for trade show programs.

“We’ve probably spent more money on custom cases for on our trade show units than we spent on the screens themselves. Most companies exhibit at two or three trade shows per year and the last thing they want is to ship it across the country and have it show up D.O.A., so that goes into the planning,” Oransky says.

One more thing to consider is the Internet connection at the trade show site. UVP’s Bogan points out that this can be a challenge. “Usually, getting an Internet connection at a show can be very expensive, or there’s a poor signal. Using an EDS system that doesn’t require Internet, but instead runs off a USB thumb drive tends to be much easier; plus it’s a cost-effective solution,” he says.