Your Step by Step Guide to Getting an Amazing Custom Exhibit

It’s safe to say that trade shows have come a long way from their Medieval European origins.

But, over the past few years, there’s been another major shift in how brands approach the trade show game. We’ve moved away from passing out branded pens from behind a gray tablecloth and toward this idea of trade show as a memorable piece of a larger marketing strategy.

And embracing technology means brands can turn a formerly analog experience into a cohesive, multichannel experience—with an amazing exhibit at its core.

What we’re trying to say is, it pays to go custom.

You don’t want a cookie-cutter exhibit, but building a unique booth that maximizes trade show ROI is tough.

Here are some tips for getting the best possible exhibit:

Click here to learn more about what goes into designing a custom exhibit

1. Know the Rules of the Exhibit

We’ll lead with the boring stuff. Before you start letting your imagination run wild, you’ll need to know what you’re working with.

  • How much space will you have?
  • Where is the booth located?
  • Are there any limitations/regulations that might present some challenges?
  • Logistics/arrangements?

Without a complete understanding of the “canvas” you’re working with, it might be difficult to for your booth design company to execute a vision that delivers your brand’s desired outcome.

2. Set Your Budget

According to Forrester, 24% of the average B2B marketing budget is spent on event marketing.
Which makes sense, as there are a lot more extraneous costs associated with setting up a trade show display versus, say, increasing your social media presence.

Plus, live events are one of the few opportunities brands get to make in-person connections with their target audience. When done correctly, a trade show appearance has the potential to deliver some serious ROI. But, before the planning begins, you’ll need to set a budget.

Establish a Baseline

Look back at information from the shows you’ve attended in the past.

While we get that designing a custom booth is part of an effort to revamp your show strategy, reviewing things like leads generated, conversions, and how much the end-to-end experience costs will give you a sense of where to begin.

Trade show costs span several different areas — a look at just some of the things you’ll need to include in your budget:

  • Booth space
  • Travel arrangements
  • Exhibit design
  • Booth construction
  • Marketing materials
  • In-booth technology
  • Furniture or structures used in the display
  • Shipping
  • Marketing costs like paid ads, partnerships, video production

Some of these elements are non-negotiable. Others, like buying or renting flat-screen TVs or investing in a few Oculus headsets, need to be weighed against your business goals.

Before diving in, you’ll want to run a cost-benefit analysis of your trade show. This will help you decide how to allocate your trade show budget and prioritize the display elements that best align with your goals.

Look at things like how much your competitors are spending and what kind of materials you’ll need to deliver an unforgettable experience. If you’re not sure—discuss this internally with event planning, sales, and marketing departments—so everyone is on the same page. From there, consult with your designer to talk about how to allocate your resources for maximum impact best.

3. What are Your Goals?

What do you hope to accomplish with the booth? To figure out your goals and how to achieve them, we’ll refer to the concept of SMART goals.

The idea is, you want to set specific goals that are measurable, achievable, results-oriented, and timely. See, S, M, A, R, T. Thinking SMART, in a trade show context means that every element that you bring into the booth should be tied to some type of business goal.

Is it an IRL awareness campaign, or are you trying to set up meetings with specific people? How will you collect leads? And more importantly, how will you measure success? Without a clear idea of what your booth is supposed to do, you won’t be able to measure ROI.

Here are a few common goals:


If your purpose is brand awareness, you’ll want to approach design with a high impact. Including a game or an interactive demo that draws people in is a good place to start.

Keep in mind, that a flashy display or a super-fun game isn’t the end goal. The game is a hook, designed to show off your brand—and prove the value of your products and services.

This example from Kelley Blue Book looks like your average arcade game, yet it still manages to be “on-brand.”

After the show, you might look at how much engagement you received on social media or how many people signed up for an account on your website. Brand awareness is a bit harder to track than say, direct sales, but looking at followers, likes, and shares is an effective way to measure success.

Lead Generation

Trade show lead generation is a powerful thing. Where else can you talk face-to-face with a captive audience within your target market? But, turning attendees into leads requires a systematic approach to collecting their information. You’ll need to welcome them in and exchange information collection for something appealing.

Marketing brand NewsCred created a brand activation with a coffee station in the center, alongside computers where marketers could “fuel up” and share their contact info. Whether your activation is something low-tech like coffee or an immersive VR experience, you’ll want to make sure you include an easy way to collect information.


If your goal is product sales, you’ll want to discuss the layout in detail with your booth design team. In this case, you might still collect leads or increase awareness, but you’ll need to account for storage space during the design phase.

Graphics and media integration will be central to the design process, but much of the design process will focus on creating a frictionless purchase experience for attendees and building in a way that directs users toward a purchase.

This wine company created a virtual reality wine tour where users could try different wines while playing as a critic in a VR vineyard. Here, users are drawn in, but because samples are part of the experience, they might be driven toward making a purchase if they like what they tasted.

You want to strike a balance between showcasing your products and storing stock—while at the same time, keeping traffic flow and booth experience top of mind. It might be worthwhile to create a booth that allows you to run a demo–giving the visitor the ability to make a purchase after the presentation. Or, you might want to make better use of your space and give users the ability to shop through an iPad or giant touchscreen and receive the product by the time they get home.

4. Define Your Audience

As with any marketing strategy, understanding your audience is at the heart of everything you do. You want to define your target audience and figure out how you can deliver value to those who attend.

Get started by reviewing your customer base—and learn what you can about the demographics, characteristics, and motivations of your target market. What do your customers think about your brand? What motivates them? What challenges do they face?

Understanding your customers will allow you to design a solution that educates visitors about your product and how you can add value.

5. Choose One Key Takeaway

What do you want visitors to remember about their experience with your brand? Are you launching a new product that you want people to buy? Or, do you want people to associate your name with that amazing AR experience or that show floor scavenger hunt?

That NewsCred example from above focused on content creation as guiding vision–with coffee as the tool for bringing people in–using the tagline “marketers need fuel.” The company said that the goal was to showcase their new branding, so they opted to deck out the booth with large signage you could see from a distance–and the furniture and structural components matched the company colors.

Your takeaway might change from show to show—so if you’re building a custom display, you’ll want to account for the fact that your Spring trade show appearance might have a different goal than the one you do post-holidays.

6. Branding is a Big Deal

Where budgeting should start about 12 months ahead of the event, branding and design can wait a little longer. In this case, we’re talking six months out.

Obviously, the more complex your vision, the longer your lead time, so you may want to discuss this with your design team early on to see what they’ll need to get started.

Businesses often look at trade shows as a one-off event, rather than part of a cohesive marketing strategy.

In reality, your booth’s design should fit right in with your Instagram persona and your website’s “About Us” statement.

For example, if your brand is big on sustainability, your booth should be made from sustainable materials. A plasticky booth with a bunch of flashing lights will create this jarring discord with attendees.

  • Graphics—The main purpose of 2D graphics is to reinforce your branding. This might include your logo and signage, and should match up with the aesthetics seen on your social media accounts and website.
  • Colors—Colors should stand out and match the look and feel of your brand. We recommend using a limited number of bright colors (like a website, around 2-3) to keep things simple.
  • Tagline—A compelling tagline goes a long way in communicating what your brand is all about–and will help capture attendees’ attention as they pass by your booth. Keep it short and sweet, rather than trying to be too clever. Clarity rules in this case.
  • Lighting—Lighting makes a big difference when it comes to making your booth inviting. It can highlight specific parts of your display, add a pop of color, and guide visitors through your booth.

Digital Graphics and Media

Digital graphics shown on display screens are not yet as pervasive as traditional printed graphics. They can do a great job of attracting attention by merely showing changing images, like your logo or videos of your product in action.

Digital elements attract users to your content, but if there’s too much going on, visitors can get overwhelmed fast. Instead, we recommend considering how each element—digital or analog—helps you communicate a single, clear message. If VR drives users toward a purchase or allows you to scan leads, then it makes sense. If you can’t think of a way that a video game works for your custom display, skip it. Share on X

7. Negotiating the Booth Space

Be it IRL or virtual, you want to create a space that combines style, function, and comfort. This example below is part of a custom booth we designed for McLane. Here, you’ll see that we’ve created multiple areas where exhibitors can prepare food samples, meet with attendees, and sell products on-site.

There’s an interactive touchscreen station, but the feeling is more like a cafeteria—which happens to be on-brand for this client.

Build Something Welcoming

Planning an exhibition is a lot like planning a party. Your booth is your home base, and you need to consider everything from the food and drinks to the theme.

If your booth is comfortable and inviting, people are going to want to stick around and listen to what you have to say. For instance, this Chrome display features soft (Google-colored) cubes where visitors can regroup and order food using large touch screen menus. This way, visitors will hang around, wait for a burger to arrive, and chat up a rep while they wait. It’s also worth mentioning that food makes for a perfect lead magnet.

Let’s Start Building Your Story

A beautiful booth alone will certainly draw in some curious attendees, but that’s not enough to deliver a high-impact, lasting impression.

Your booth needs to be designed strategically—functional, yet creative, and centered around your mission and business goals.

It’s that commitment to a single, clear vision that allows teams to develop a custom booth bound to dazzle, delight, AND deliver high ROI.

Now, you’ll want to start planning well in advance. Contact Echelon today and we’ll walk you through the process of turning your vision into a head-turning custom exhibit.

7 More Steps for Designing a Custom Booth–click here for your free download


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