Why Design ROI is the Marketing Metric of the Future

November 2, 2022

"Did the design of my trade show environment help me hit my trade show objectives? "

This is the question we’ve been asking as we witness the shift toward creating experiences within trade show events — experiences that impact indirect leads. 

Of course, event marketers must consider metrics for company stakeholders to measure the success and future effort of the event. But as more people crave experiences that are impactful, meaningful, and worthy of social proof; the more trade show exhibit design must allow for these moments of feeling.  

Hospitality Influence on Experience-led Design

Las Vegas is a city ripe with hospitality experiential inspiration, the influence of which has benefited many industries, including brands that exhibit at trade shows. Think about the iconic resorts on the strip. When people book their stay, they’re looking for a certain feeling when they walk into the main lobby. The Cosmopolitan feeling of… well, the Cosmopolitan. The environment at that resort is a contrast to the vibrant, but laid-back vibe when walking into The Tropicana for example. 

An experience that generates feelings. 

Moving beyond brand and ergonomics, hospitality designers know that these feelings are evoked by stimulating the senses through lighting, building materials, traffic flow, scents pumping through vents, and even technology. The experiential design trends extend beyond restaurants, we find it in other industries such as retail, theme parks, and museums to name just a few. 

Since the return of trade shows, we’ve noticed that while experiential elements were mostly a “nice to have” before the pandemic, now they are a requirement. “Revenge travel” revealed that people are eager to get back to travel and human to human experiences. The bar is higher now than it has ever been before, as attendees will remember their experience with your brand above any give-away or brochure. 

Applying Experiential Design to Exhibit Design

At Steelhead, we’ve been taking design cues from other industries and applying these strategies to trade show booths. Of course, functional elements must be considered and will never go away, such as demo stations, conference rooms, presentation areas, product displays, and so on. But the overall experience is no longer the cherry on top; it is thoughtfully integrated into the exhibit design. 

To create an experiential exhibit, we begin by fast-forwarding to the end of the show by asking our clients: How do you want your attendees to feel after visiting your booth? 

The answer to that question helps facilitate the design elements of the exhibit that can dictate flow to tell a story or elicit those desired feelings and reactions. Gamification with a social media element is highly engaging and can increase brand awareness when attendees share the experience on their social platforms. Creating an experience can be as simple as curating an Instagrammable moment on the exterior of the booth, or creating a space that attendees remember and then later associate with your brand. Neither of these require additional staffing but make a major impact on the connection attendees feel to your company.  

What About ROI? 

We hear you — feelings are great, and cool design elements draw attention, but Event Marketers are also responsible for metrics that impact the company’s bottom line. 

 Usually, the number one goal for brands exhibiting at a trade show is to generate quality leads. What we’re suggesting is that by incorporating experiential components in your trade show exhibit, and by giving your attendees a positive emotional experience they resonate with, the result will lead to more indirect leads which can be measured in these unique metrics:   

  1. Heightened anticipation and excitement for your brand’s show experience  
  1. Foot traffic
  1. Engagement within the environment
  1. Time invested in the environment
  1. Press and media mentions
  1. Social impressions
  1. Brand perception in the marketplace

Leads, meetings, and revenue goals are the byproducts of an engaging, emotional experience.

Planning Your Next Event

Sean Combs, CEO of Steelhead, advises clients to approach the creative angle of events with an open mind. “A lot of brands approach event planning with a formula that’s usually based on a tactile list of elements they want in their exhibit. We’re asking our clients to consider what they want the experience to be. From there, their requirements become a little more flexible to allow for some pockets of creative space. We’re not saying, ‘throw away your old formula.’ We’re suggesting to our clients to try something new to facilitate an experience.” 

However, we can’t ignore the current economic realities. Sean elaborates: “I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring this up. Yes, we can use design to conceive and create these experiences, but it also drives cost. There are business and economic realities. The most effective design teams will understand the desired experience and outcome as well as the realities of the budget. Our designers use their toolbox to get the most out of this experience while being mindful of costs. We’ve all had sticker shock over the last year, so being more thoughtful and resourceful in our design decisions is critical.”

“As designers, our role is that of storytelling. We create visual illustrations and representations of a client’s purpose or mission by synthesizing competencies from a wide variety of disciplines.” says Breanne Rotondo, Senior Designer at Steelhead Productions.

“Designer’s leverage psychology, marketing, art, and engineering to bridge those gaps that brings the product’s experience and pathos directly to attendees. Trade shows are not simply booths to display certain products. Rather, they are an opportunity for companies to connect with and pull in their audience. They are an opportunity to create awareness and inspire passion.”

Steelhead designers also take a psychological approach when it comes to design, Breanne expands on this further. “Why is having an intentional psychology and philosophy of design important? As designers, we can leverage psychology to build more intuitive, human-centered products and experiences. Instead of forcing users to conform to the design of a product or experience, we can use some key principles from psychology as a guide for designing how people are. Therefore, it will improve the ROI (ROD), and everything will come full circle.”

Are you ready to discuss experiential elements in your next event? Reach out today to schedule a brief discovery call with a member of our team.    

November 2, 2022
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