Monthly Archives: July 2013

9 Tips to Create Effective Trade Show Displays


Participating in a trade show can potentially be a great way to build your business; or it can be a waste of time and money.  Trade shows provide the opportunity to tell people face-to-face about your business while increasing your brand recognition, but if your booth looks boring, or people cannot tell what exactly you are offering, they will walk on by.

You can spend thousands of dollars setting up a trade show booth only to find that people give your display no more than a cursory glance as they pass by. Here are some helpful tips to design an effective, attractive display that generates interest and excitement in your business.

Do Your Homework


How large should your booth be? Most trade shows employ the 10’ x 10’ system for determining booth space. You may be able to rent more space, say 10’ x 20’, but let’s assume that 10’ x 10’ is the norm for most small and medium sized businesses. Make sure that the dimensions of your display take full advantage of the space you rent, but not so that it appears cluttered or hard to navigate.

Is electricity included or available to rent? If you are running a computer or digital sign, don’t forget to bring enough extension cords to plug in all your electrical equipment.
Trade shows often supply vendors with a table and a few chairs for no extra cost. You might arrive to find the tables draped with an attractive cloth – or you might find a bare table with a scratched, stained top. Make sure to ask up front what you’ll be getting so that you can bring your own table cloth, extension cords and extra lighting if necessary.

Make your Brand Recognizable


People approaching your booth should not only be able to decipher the name of your company but also have a good idea of what products or services you offer. If your company name doesn’t identify what your company does, use graphics to help you convey the nature of your business.

Send a Clear Message

If you could convey one message to the person walking past your booth, what would it be? Your display components cannot educate your potential customers about every aspect of your business – that’s why you’re standing there, ready to provide them with the details and hand them a brochure, catalog and business card. Identify one aspect of your business that you’d like to promote with your display. Here are a few that you might choose to focus on:

  • Uniqueness – does your product or service offer something no one else has?
  • Price – do you offer the lowest prices?
  • Customer Service – do you have a more liberal return policy than your
    competition, or a better trained sales staff, or more prompt response?
  • Longevity – has your company been around for a long time? Do you have more experience than others?
  • Quality – is the quality of your product superior to that of your competitors? How?


Let’s say your company has been in business for 25 years and you decide that you want to focus on your longevity. Design your display around that key aspect of your business. For instance, your banner might say, “XYZ Company – Serving You for 25 Years!” Stop there. You’ve created a specific idea in the minds of people walking past your booth – your company has been around a long time, which may translate in their minds  as great service and quality product. After all, you’ve been around for 25 years – you have to be doing something right! Your banner doesn’t need to say, “XYZ Company has been around for 25 years. And we have great customer service. And our widgets do a little dance, unlike that of the competition. And they’re aluminum – not plastic. And we have the lowest price.” Your sales staff can tell people all about your great customer service when they step into the booth. Customers can hold the widget in their hands to admire the aluminum construction. And maybe they can even see a demonstration of your widget doing its little dance.

Keep Your Design Consistent

In addition to a consistent message, the colors and design elements of your display should be consistent across all components of your display. Don’t be tempted to use the old vinyl banners you bought three years ago alongside your shiny new trade show display – unless they look like they go together.

Too many small signs all over the place will distract from your larger displays. Let the large pieces show off your logo and promote your message – you and your staff are there to provide the other details.

To keep your display looking professional, NEVER use hand-written signs anywhere in your booth.

Be Visible

Design your display pieces with bright, bold colors. Use a font that is easily readable and that is a good size. Keep text to a minimum so that your message is conveyed quickly. A large triangular, square or round hanging banner above your booth will allow people to see your message the minute they walk in the door.

Use lighting to emphasize your display pieces and give your booth a brighter appearance. Install a few soft lights around your booth – they illuminate your message and product and temper the harsh fluorescent lighting typically found in convention halls.

Create an Open Space

One mistake typically made at trade shows is to place a table right across the front of the booth. The table may be a nice spot to place brochures, but it also essentially blocks people from entering your booth and creates a “them and you” dynamic. A table across the front of the booth also encourages sales staff to sit behind it. You’re paying them to be stand up, interact with customers and give them all the magnificent details of your product, not to slouch behind a table. If you must have a table, place it along the side of your booth, and leave the front clear so that you can greet people and encourage them to step inside to learn more about your company.

Another common practice at trade shows is to place posters on portable easels at the front corners of the booth. They are so lightweight it’s easy to bump into them. People don’t want to chance tripping over your display and causing a scene by knocking it into the aisle, so they may avoid stepping into your booth. If you want to create visual interest in the front corners of your booth, try pop up banner stands as an alternative. There are no legs to trip over, and the banner provides more space for your message.

Make it Comfy

Have you ever walked a trade show as a visitor? It’s exhausting. Those convention halls are huge, so your visitors are walking a long distance on concrete floors. Draw people into your booth by staging a lounge area with some comfortable overstuffed chairs and a small end table with information or things they can interact with. They’ll appreciate the chance to sit down and you’ll be able to start up a conversation.

Clear the Clutter

Your trade show booth is supposed to be earning its money by projecting a very specific image of your business. Hopefully a professional one. If your booth is sloppy and cluttered, people will think that your business must be the same.

A few housekeeping tips:

Avoid tables of large, messy piles of catalogs, brochures and business cards. Place one or two brochures on the table, or hand them directly to visitors as they enter your booth.

Coats draped over chairs and water bottles sitting on display tables give your booth a disheveled appearance. Instead, place coats, handbags, computer bags and other personal items where they are not visible.

Have a small broom or portable carpet sweeper handy. If the guy three booths down is giving away free peanuts, you might soon have shells all over the floor in your booth. Conduct a quick sweep every now and then to keep your booth looking tidy.

The Final Word

Participating in a trade show isn’t cheap, but it can be worth every penny if you take full advantage of it. Make sure you spend plenty of time pre-planning and designing your display so that potential customers will want to stop and have a look, and you’ll end the show with a full appointment book or a stack of business cards from potential clients.


Using Design Elements to Create an Effective Sign

Just remember to Keep It Simple Stupid

Just remember to Keep It Simple Stupid

We’ve all seen them…ugly, unreadable or confusing signs. These signs don’t help the businesses they advertise, they hurt them. Customers shouldn’t have to struggle to decipher your sign.  Its purpose and message should be obvious. Here are some simple rules to create an effective sign for your business. After all, your sign is one of your most important marketing tools. Why not do it right?

Design Elements of an Effective Sign


If your customer can’t make out the words your sign it’s virtually useless for your business. Recently, a small business in my town posted a banner in front of its store. The banner was pink and had the name of the business written in a script font. I drove past the store several times, each time wondering what the business was. Based on the banner design, I could tell that it was something catering to female customers, but I couldn’t read the loopy script font. Finally, after weeks of driving past, there was a traffic accident down the street and I was stopped right in front of the banner. After a few minutes of squinting, I finally realized that it said, “Alluring Nails.” I’m just guessing, but I bet the lady who rear-ended the car in front of her was craning her head in an attempt to read the sign and failed to watch the traffic.

The typeface on your sign must be legible, especially for drivers who want to read it while driving by. Avoid cursive or novelty fonts at all costs! A sans serif font, such as Helvetica or Arial, is the easiest to read on typeface larger than 14 pt. While you can certainly emphasize an important word by using a different font, don’t mix several fonts on one sign. Avoid using all caps; it is difficult to read.

This sign uses a sans serif font.

This sign uses a sans serif font.


Be very careful when using images on your sign – the image should make an immediate connection to your business that the customer will understand.

A new pet store spent a lot of money on a billboard that generated confusion, not sales. It featured a large electric guitar, amp and musical notes surrounded by fish and a lizard. The strange combination of images didn’t seem to make much sense and the sign had only one small line of text that wasn’t readable from the ground level. Only when the billboard was removed and re-designed did people understand: the name of the store was “Rock Star Pets.” The new billboard featured the store name in large, easy-to-read print with a large guitar propped up against the “R” with several fish placed in an array around the perimeter of the sign. The redesign was much better – its primary focus was on the business name and used images to make the connection between rock stars and pets. The store began receiving more calls about its selection of fish instead of about its strange, confusing sign.

There are several other things to consider when using images. If you choose to use a photo, make sure that it is clear and large enough for the image to be easy for customers to see and know what it is.

Images can be used to replace information but can be too much when paired with a lot of text.

Your logo is often the best image to use on your sign. It makes the connection in the reader’s mind between your business and your message and builds brand consciousness.


An effective sign gets its message across quickly and clearly. A sign placed on the street should have only a few words and be very simple, since motorists will have mere seconds to both read and process your message. Three to five words is considered ideal for a street sign.

A sign in the window or hanging over the entrance to a business may be read by customers as they walk toward your store and can have more information to excite the customer about sales or special merchandise.

Signs placed at the point of sale can have more information than a street sign. This will give the customer something to read as they wait in line and may give them information about your products or services that will help them make their purchase.

Tailor your sign to its environment and you will generate informed, interested customers.

Color Combinations

Type and Background Color Combinations

Extensive research has been conducted to determine which color combinations are the easiest to read. Research has proven that the best combinations are text of either black, dark blue or red on a yellow or white background. White text is the most difficult for the eye to process.

Approximately 8% of men in the US are color blind. The combination easiest to read for people who are color blind is dark blue text on a yellow background.

When using more than one sign to promote your business, stick to the same basic color scheme to unify the pieces and avoid a carnival-like atmosphere. There should be coherence between your signs, logo and other promotional materials.

White Space

Leave plenty of white space. The space doesn’t actually need to be white – the term white space refers to space on your sign void of text or images. White space allows the eye to be drawn to the text – which, after all, is the message you want to convey. Too many images or too much text can overwhelm the reader and do not leave enough time for them to process all the information on your sign before he or she has passed it.

Studies show that 30% to 40% of your sign should be white space.

Your Message


A sign is not something that should be hastily slapped together and thrown up in your store. Before you begin designing, spend some time thinking about the message you want to convey. Do you want to tell the customer about a special sale? Increase brand awareness? Give customers detailed information about your product selection? You won’t be able to convey all of these messages on one sign. Instead, use several signs with each sign conveying a singular message. This way, you’ll get the most return from each sign.