When it comes to design and marketing, there is always an ongoing tension between both form and function. There is a balance that is struck between something looking attractive and something that also fulfills its intended purpose. The data from direct response marketing (infomercials, sales letters, online sales pages, etc.) has revealed that the best-looking design isn’t necessarily the most effective. In fact, ugly tends to sell better. I’m sure you’ve seen these on sales letters, envelopes, and product websites. It’s as though someone has taken a red pen and marked up the letter to personalize it and bring attention to certain areas. The letter is not as clean and pristine as you are used to. It doesn’t look that great, but it has been known to triple conversion rates!

Ugly Sales Videos
Ugly sales videos, as they are officially known, are basically a narrated sales letter, and all you see are the words being spoken one line at a time. It’s not overly produced. It’s not green screen with special effects. It’s basically watching a PowerPoint presentation where the speaker says everything on the screen. Effective? You bet. In fact, it seems to have an almost hypnotic effect, and it enables the viewer to become really engrossed in the material. Internet marketers use these types of video sales letters to increase their conversions and sales all the time.

Goldenrod Paper
For years this color of paper was the choice of copywriters around the world. It is no doubt offensive to the eyes, but for whatever reason, it tested a lot higher than other colors. For direct marketers sending out sales letters and spending their very own money to bankroll all the marketing operations, you know that they are going to get every fraction of a percent they can to increase their conversions.

Is this also true for trade shows?
As of late – and it just might be because I finally noticed it – I have discovered that in the form/function battle, function seems to be losing out. I see countless trade show booths that end up hurting their results to attract leads and generate traffic because they made bold choices with their exhibit design.

I think I know the reason. Exhibit dealers are constantly on the search for the latest and greatest. They are always reinventing ways of changing things up so that they have something new and fresh to offer their clients. Do you ever notice that some people make changes for change sake? I believe that with the intent of giving the booth a “fresh new look,” they end up tinkering with elements that should have been left alone. Here are a few examples of mistakes:

Over-hang yourself
Sometimes you see these awnings over the presentation area, or maybe the theater is located under the second floor of a double-decker booth. People don’t like to go into booths that feel claustrophobic. Attendees don’t like to get trapped into anything, so they are leery about sitting down in an in-booth theater that feels cave-like. Talk to any trade show presenter and ask them about their experience with a booth like this, and they’ll tell you the exact same thing. Having a booth that intimidates and wards off potential clients is not a good thing.

Walkage Blockage
Jamming in so many exhibit elements so that booth visitors have trouble finding their way into your space is not the best strategy. Maybe you have a counter on one of the busiest corners of your booth. This blocks any walk-in traffic from further exploring the solutions that you offer. Why is that counter there? Probably because it looked good in the mock-up picture the exhibit house showed you. Exposing your people and your wares to booth visitors is what trade shows are all about. Keep things simple and open. When it comes to making booths feel inviting less is more

Elevation & Hesitation
The point of your in-booth presentation is to expose your company’s solutions to as many prospects as possible. So why is there only a 6-inch riser for the presenter to stand on? While this stage “goes” with the look of the booth, the low height does nothing for getting your spokesperson seen or heard. I’m 5’9″ tall. An extra six inches to stand on only takes me to 6’3.” Plenty of people are that tall or taller on their own. While it may not please your finely tuned eye, having a stage that is higher (like 24″) maximizes the visibility of your presentation and enables you to leverage your mission-critical message.

Good Looking Sound
In an effort to make your exhibit sleeker, you have tried to hide your booth’s speakers behind a wall. While this may look better to you, the resulting sound is less than desirable. Often the walls can rumble, and you end up with distorted sound. Instead, ask a trusted AV professional for tried and tested powered speakers that can be strategically mounted on the booth to provide crystal clear sound and avoid all the distortion and feedback issues.

*My personal recommendation is the Meyer Sound UPM-1P powered speakers. And if you are wondering if they come in white, they don’t. Just black. If this concerns you, I suggest you reread this post.

At the end of the day you want to connect with as many quality booth visitors as possible. Do your research and make notes on how your booth does at various shows. There are many new technological solutions coming out that would enable you to easily test and measure what elements of your booth do better than others. If you are serious about optimization instead of constant innovation (reinventing your booth), then it may be worth looking into.

What function over form changes have you implemented/noticed that have made all the difference in your exhibits?


Anders Boulanger, who has been called the “Human Prospect Magnet,” works as a Trade Show Infotainer, presenter, and trainer for companies such as Veeam Software, Manage Engine, and Siemens. Give him twenty minutes, and he’ll swarm your booth with prospects. When he’s not rainmaking for his clients, he can be found at home with his wife and two kids, walking his wiener dog or making sushi. www.TradeShowInfotainer.com