Want to create your venue or brand’s most creative and successful trade show booth of all time? The key is connecting your goals to the design. Although following best practices is always a good idea, a truly effective trade show stand idea needs to help you achieve your desired KPIs.
Use this guide to explore trade show stand ideas and real examples that you can use to attract more qualified leads to your business.
Discover trade show booth ideas that stand out
1. Have an emcee
Alex Perkins, co-founder of All the Stuff, told Cvent via email that having an engaging emcee was a game changer for their last trade show booth. “Our host secured to grab the people's attention which is the first necessary factor for our booth to be recognised and be interactive,” wrote Perkins.
He also says that you don’t even need to spend more to secure a great host. “Having an emcee does not necessarily mean to hire a professional one, but a charismatic team member would be great too. In fact it would be even better since this will cut the briefing time for an emcee to learn about the company profile and the products and services it offers. A team member already possesses the knowledge and heart for the company which will make it easy to draw the crowd in an entertaining manner.”
In other words, your trade show booth is a great opportunity for the office jokester to work out some new materials as he entertains and networks with potential leads.
2. Bring a prop
Sometimes all it takes to make your trade show booth idea stand out is a single, eye-catching prop. For Sabrina Beaumont, a marketer and former trade show booth planner for a big construction equipment company, that prop was a $20,000 custom bobblehead.
Beaumont told Cvent via email that their massive booth decor item had been a hit at multiple trade shows. The bobblehead was designed to look like their CEO and it spoke when approached. “It would even repeat pre-recorded sentences that he often said.”
Not only was this visually appealing, but it was engaging too. “It was extremely good at drawing people in as they would love to come over and interact with this five-foot bobblehead, just to see what it would say when they bounced his head back and forth. If I had to guess, we had three to four times the interactions other booths had, and we would simply bring the bobblehead along to several trade shows, making it a great investment.”
Even if your budget or booth space is smaller, there are still plenty of unique, show-stopping props you can add to your display on the floor, table, or walls that will strike passerby curiosity.
3. Use vending machines
In an interview with Cvent, Director of Quality Assurance & Accounts for Optimal Station Pam Patterson said that smart vending machines are a big attraction at trade shows. “My company specializes in creating branded experiential marketing environments primarily focused on vending machines,” says Patterson.
Patterson goes on to say that they “build entire activations around engagements that trigger the dispensation of items--swag, samples, or even for-sale items--while gathering verified metrics, so our clients can measure their marketing ROI and also expanding their social media reach.”
They do this through a number of sophisticated tools. These include features such as social media walls, HD digital ad displays, artificial intelligence, promotional vending, and smart photo booths.
Patterson adds, “We stand out because we attract attendees both visually and by the word-of-mouth excitement that spreads throughout the event. Not only do we have a cool factor, but there is no one else on the trade show floor that does what we do.”
While vending machines like these are helpful for a number of different industries, this idea is especially effective for retro and indie brands looking to capitalise on a trade show stand theme.
4. Incorporate website design
Bryan Philips is the Head of Marketing at In Motion Marketing and has a tip for both virtual and in-person trade show booth designs: treat your stand like a website.
In a conversation with Cvent, Philips said the challenge is “these shows are like a microcosm of the market or even the internet and it's very difficult to get eyes on your stand because there are so many distractions.”
That’s why he prefers to think about website design when creating stands for his clients. Not only is it streamlined and neater, but it’s also focused on persuading visitors to take action.
Here’s how Phillips does it: “We use a digital marquee with a very tight value prop[osition] to direct customers to our stand. We also offer free merchandise for filling out a survey, which captures the customers' information. This has worked for us very well in the past, and we have seen a landslide of new customers because of these interactions.”
You can also tie in your website design elements, like fonts, color palettes, and graphics, into your booth design to cohesively bring your brand elements to life.
5. Add a mini kitchen
Feed people and get them to engage with your brand at the same time? We’re in.
“Food is always a crowd pleaser, perhaps more so at lengthy exhibits and trade shows,” said Richard Mews, the CEO of Sell With Richard, in a conversation with Cvent. “Thus, a mini kitchen is an excellent place to highlight items while still allowing attendees to get involved.”
Here’s what you should include: “This miniature kitchen features a television screen to highlight delectable creations, ensure that samples are visible to everyone, and include detail on recipe ingredients.”
And in Mews’ own words, here’s “why it works: this is a sensory-stimulating immersive environment. You may not have to offer cookware or produce to use either of these stands. You might recreate your company's chili cook-off or something else that symbolises your company's community or commitment to wellness.”
Just remember that at the end of the day, this trade show stand idea is meant to “enable visitors to participate in the production process and taste the final product as an added bonus.” This can be symbolic of your brand, tie in a behind the scenes story event attendees can connect to, or simply show off your team’s hidden skills..
Real life examples of successful trade show booths
● Digital Airstrike’s Selfie Station
In an interview with Cvent, Jessie Whitfield (owner of MISGIF), shared that his client, Digital Airstrike, has greatly benefited from adding one of MISGIF’s photo booths to their trade show activities.
“Digital Airstrike takes our Selfie Station with them every year to one of the biggest automobile conferences in the country,” says Whitfield. “They use it for the entirety of the trade show to collect consumer data as well as create branded user generated content. It's a fun activity and great marketing tool they also use for their celebrity meet and greets.”
● Exploding Kittens’ Vending Machine
Dubbed the “most popular attraction at Comic-Con” in 2019, this clever trade show booth idea was both fun and funky for everyone who saw or interacted with it. Not only was it uniquely designed to look like a slightly creepy cat from their card game that had come to life but it also had some tricks up its sleeve.
The vending machine dispensed the brand’s products. But the real draw was the $1 random item generator which gave out prizes such as watermelons, socks, and toilet plungers. And if you were bored of waiting in long lines, they also provided entertainment with puppet shows and music playing inside the vending machine itself.
Having seen it firsthand at the Long Beach Comic Con, the Cvent team can assure you that this wild trade show booth idea was incredibly memorable and effective.
Stay on top of the trends in 2023
● Scott Swenson’s Minimalist Haunted Attraction Booth
Cvent recently spoke with Scott Swenson, the Owner and Creative Director for Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. He primarily works as a consultant, writer and producer for a variety of entertainment and educational shows and festivals. Swenson’s clients include theme parks, zoos, and other attractions which is why he participated in a haunted attraction industry trade show.
Swenson shared: “This show is filled with over-the-top displays of costumes, animated props and flashy special effects. Since I am selling my skills and not highly visual products, I opted to make my stand straight forward and uncluttered.”
His clever design used “rolling vertical banners with [his] logo and website”, because he has “always believed that when doing any kind of trade show, think vertically.”
“Remember,” Swenson advises, “there will be people standing in front of your booth and they will block nearly everything that is five feet [above the ground] or lower.”
Then, he “set up a projector and small folding screen which played a pre-produced looping video of previous projects and promotional quotes from former clients.” While that was playing, he sat perched at an elevated table so he could “chat with passing folks while looking them eye to eye and still remain seated”.
This is especially helpful for trade show environments because, as Swenson pointed out, “trade show days are LOOOOONG”.
For more intimate client conversations, Swenson added a low table and two chairs inside the booth that also housed his printed promotional materials.
Because of its simplicity, his stand stood out in the chaos of the show. “It was inviting, comfortable, and often had small crowds of like-minded people chatting about the industry. This low-key approach only booked one client directly at the show--which more than covered the cost of attending--but my presence at the show and the way I branded my booth and myself was mentioned by several other clients I booked in the months, and even years, following the show. It made an impact.”
His favorite feature? “I could fit everything into two suitcases and I could set it up by myself in about 50 minutes and take it down in less than 30.”
Swenson adds a final thought to those who find this approach a little unconventional: “I realise this is not the giant corporate display you may have been thinking of, but it is an example of how a small company can make a profitable impact at a trade show without risking large amounts of money.”
Our takeaway: see what your trade show booth competitors are bringing to the table from past events then do the opposite.
Put these trade show booth ideas into action!
Whether you’re looking to boost your in-person trade show marketing strategy or drive leads to your virtual trade show booth, remember that it’s all about using your own unique point of view and finding things your target event audience will love.