Design a Better Trade Show Display Using Customer and Buyer Personas

Savvy marketers understand the value of customer personas in developing high-conversion funnels, email marketing campaigns and social media content. But customer personas aren’t just for digital marketing. They can also provide exhibitors with valuable insights into how trade show displays should be outfitted and configured to draw in more qualified leads.

Do You Really Know What Booth Visitors Want?

In general, the layout of most trade show booths — including where and how to position banner stands, seating areas, workstations and kiosks — is based on two things:

  1. The exhibitor’s performance goals for the booth
  2. The exhibitor’s idea of what they think is important to attendees

Laying out your booth’s floorplan based on performance goals is absolutely a best practice. However, as a 2016 study conducted by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) revealed, exhibitors often have a distorted view of what trade show attendees really, really want, so designing your booth based on presumed attendee preferences and unproven assumptions can be risky.

Ideally, a trade show display design should be optimized to achieve your performance goals and appeal to attendee likes and preferences. And that’s where customer personas (also known as buyer personas or marketing personas) can help.

Tools for Developing Marketing Personas

If you haven’t developed your own marketing personas yet, there are several outstanding online tools, such as HubSpot’s free Make My Persona Tool, that can walk you through the process of collecting all the necessary data.

Most companies will want to create multiple personas — reflecting clients of a variety of spend levels and lifecycles. You could start by filtering your customer database into a simple scatter diagram similar to the one below, then selecting a nice cross-sample from each of the four quadrants.


Your persona research should focus on collecting data regarding the customer’s:

  • title or role within the company
  • personal background and demographics
  • favorite leisure time activities
  • job challenges and department goals
  • communications preferences (phone, email, Skype, text)
  • vendor evaluation process

It’s also a good idea to consult with your sales team, asking for their insights and impressions of each of the customers you chose to include in your persona-building research.

How to Enhance Your Trade Show Display with Customer Persona Data

Let’s say you’ve come up with two primary personas (ideal customers) and you’d like your trade show exhibit to be a big hit with these particular folks.

Persona #1 (“James”)

James is a 52-year-old vice president with an established national corporation. He is adept at communicating on many levels, but his time is extremely limited, so he appreciates people who can get right to the point. He is a strategic thinker with a high-level view of the entire organization. He has been with his company for over 20 years, first starting out as a sales rep and working his way up the corporate ladder. James is an avid reader who also enjoys boating and vacationing abroad.

 Persona #2 (“Susan”)

Susan is a 29-year-old mid-level manager with a fast-growing regional startup. In the three years since she joined the firm, she’s earned two promotions and now oversees 17 employees. For her department to be successful, Susan’s team must have access to the right tools and resources. That means Susan is always on the lookout for ways to increase productivity and reduce costs. Due to the company’s aggressive growth arc, Susan rarely gets to take a “real” vacation, but she works out at the gym and likes to go mountain biking on weekends.

Taking what we know about each persona, we can more accurately determine the types of in-booth interactions that will appeal to James and Susan. Below are a few examples of how you might tweak your trade show display based on persona data.

What We Know

Neither James nor Susan has a lot of time, so we need to get them deeper into the booth QUICKLY so they can have a better chance at a face-to-face conversation with one of your sales staff.

Booth Suggestion: Pique James’ and Susan’s sense of curiosity with a very bold but direct statement about what you can do for them, preferably on a banner stand placed near the aisle. For example, try something along the lines of, “Our clients saved an average of 22% on [ABC] services last year. ASK US HOW.”

What We Know

Both James and Susan are competitive, as evidenced by their career trajectories.

Booth Suggestion: Add gamification tools — either via kiosk or mobile event app — to encourage more brand interaction and prompt Susan and James to remain in your booth a while longer.

What We Know

Susan is constantly comparing vendors, services, products and pricing. She enjoys digging into the nitty-gritty details like a detective and is able to assimilate new information quickly. Plus, as a millennial, she is always eager to try new technology.

Booth Suggestion: Incorporate an interactive LED touch screen or video wall into your exhibit. This will give Susan the opportunity to compare your product or service to the competition’s side-by-side, see client testimonials and ratings, watch short video case studies, and more — all in high definition and at her own pace.

What We Know

James’ career path from sales rep to VP indicates he’s likely an extrovert. In addition, his love for international travel lets us know that he enjoys new, unique experiences and social interaction.

Booth Suggestion: Invite James to a private VIP event to be held either in the hotel ballroom or on the upper level of your double-deck truss exhibit.

Now That You Know, Take Action

The results of your persona research will likely also shed light on elements of your exhibit strategy that really aren’t serving your ideal customer — such as the live, 15-minute presentation or the hands-on product display — and should be removed.

That’s okay. What’s important is that you be willing to modify and adapt your booth and exhibitry based on what you now know about James and Susan.


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