Sensory Experiences for Trade Shows: How to Create Lasting Memories

sensory experiences for trade shows

Can you recall the first car you ever owned? More specifically, can you remember how it smelled? Liberty Mutual Insurance thinks you probably do. They recently debuted a print ad with a peel-back fragrance strip that emits not the lofty perfumes of the rich and beautiful, but a more surprising and powerful scent: new car.

That’s right—Liberty Mutual’s ad is tapping into your experiential sense memories by wafting a familiar scent in the hopes of sparking a positive response. Designed by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Adweek reports that the ad was created to “to catch car buyers at the moment that matters most.” According to their thinking, it’s the scent of the moment when you first step into the magical experience of owning a new car.

This does, of course, assume that the experience of buying a new car is positive. For some, it could recall the stress of negotiating a price and handing over a sizable down payment. But it could also bring back a moment of freedom: driving away victorious, all by yourself, cruising down the road in your new-car-scented new car.

Liberty Mutual is banking on that upbeat sense memory. But does this autobiographical memory play really work? There’s good reason to believe it does. The experiences we build into exhibits or booths are designed to bring positive sense associations to a brand, and our industry is built on the evidence that they do — creating multi-sensory experiences for trade shows is simply taking the craft to the next level.

How to Create Lasting Memories

“Creating an exhibit means creating a full sensory experience,” says Group Delphi’s Chief Creative Officer Tony Erpelding. “You are thinking about how they will see and move through the journey of your story.” Offer fragrance, food, sight, sound, and touch in a positive fashion, and they are forever associated with your brand.

Follow Your Heart incorporated a fully functional kitchen into their booth and cooked up their line of vegan treats on the show floor, using both the aroma and activity to draw people into their space at Natural Products Expo West, finishing with a delightful bite for attendees.

Sensory experiences help create atmosphere and mood that can bring your brand to life. How does a cloud-based product like Slack translate to physical space? With a living wall that creates a warm environment that smells like fresh plants, an inviting space softly lit by Edison bulbs and paneled with wood, all designed to match the beauty of the brand’s design and make attendees feel calm, even when surrounded by the buzz of a busy trade show.

A well crafted sensory experience can change an attendee’s mood — if they’re tired from travel or long conference sessions, the right experience can turn their day around. At a recent CEMA Summit, we created a relaxation lounge for attendees. The furniture was powered for devices and, more to the point, plush and comfortable. Bright flowers filled the space, surrounding a pamper station with oil blotting papers and mints. We invited attendees to sink into our lounge and relax, all within our branded space.

Playing with the Past

But what happens when you stake your marketing dollars not just on creating new memories, but on tapping into past memories? You must bank on the idea that the experience was a positive one. It’s a catch and release kind of marketing that is risky, but it can be extremely powerful.

In fact, evidence points to the fact that not only are our sense memories driving our consumer habit, but our memories can also be reshaped by present experiences. One study out of the University of Washington shows that memory can be modified by advertising. As its authors write, “participants viewed an ad for Disney that suggested that they shook hands with Mickey Mouse as a child. Relative to controls, the ad increased their confidence that they personally had shaken hands with Mickey as a child at a Disney resort.” The study’s authors felt that this confidence “could be due to a revival of a true memory or the creation of a new, false one.”

By this thinking, the scent of new car can absolutely make you feel positive about buying auto insurance. Even if the experience wasn’t all positive, your subconscious may rewrite it to be.

Experiential marketing can fill a convention hall or it can be as small as an ad in a magazine; size does not necessarily create stronger memories. Will the Citizen Kane of the late 21st century turn longingly to the memory of a scented newspaper insert? Only time and modified memory may tell.

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