Interview with Matthew Funge, founder of Your Stand Builder

Name: Matthew Funge
Company: Your Stand Builder (World Exhibition Stand Awards 2020 Sponsors)
Job Title: Managing Director & Founder

What are the big trends in exhibition stand design?
Perhaps predictably given we’re now in 2020, the biggest trend that I’m seeing with regards to stand design is the increasing use of technology and the creative ways in which it is being introduced. As the technology advances year-on-year stand contractors are able to offer their clients more exciting ways to attract visitors onto their stand, and there are always new tools and gadgets available on the market. Exhibitors of all sizes can now take advantage of features such as video walls, tablet based interactive games/activities and even 3D hologram projectors! Looking forward to the year ahead my prediction is that AR/VR will become huge at exhibitions, and therefore stand design will need to be tailored accordingly. I can’t wait to see what some designers come up with!

How international is the exhibition industry becoming?
The beauty of the exhibition industry is exactly that – it facilitates face-to-face interactions with a truly global audience, and regularly brings international industries together in a single place for a few days at a time. Previously perhaps international trade shows were something which only larger companies could make use of, but with long distance travel becoming more efficient and affordable each year, these types of events are now available to almost anybody from any location. Through attending events in different countries we all expand our cultural appreciation and can develop valuable business relationships with relative ease. That can only be a positive thing in my opinion.

What are clients currently asking for in stand and experience design?
The answer may actually be in the question – “experience”. The days of an exhibition stand effectively being a glorified billboard displaying company branding and a slogan have gone, and instead exhibitors are wanting to give their visitors an overall experience which will live long in the memory and tell them the story of their brand or product. Will visitors remember a simple exhibition stand, regardless of how good the design is, after a few days of seeing hundreds of them? It’s unlikely. Will a visitor remember an exciting and informative experience which is totally different to anything else they’ve seen during the event? Absolutely! How this is achieved can be varied, and there’s no simple way to provide a memorable experience to visitors, but if you manage to do so then you’re definitely on to a winner at the event. Thinking “outside the box” is key and this is where creativity takes centre stage. Often exhibitors will rely on stand designers to guide them in this area, and seek expert advice on how exactly they can give their offering the “wow factor”!

How are exhibitions and stand design staying relevant in a digital world?
By embracing change and being open to adapting alongside the rapid technological advancements. If stand designers and exhibitors weren’t open to change, and simply kept the same design year after year they would soon be left behind and end up with very little traffic on their stand during the event. There’s so much technology available these days, but the real tricky part is finding a way to successfully use it within the limited space of an exhibition stand – there’s a fine balance between not having enough and overpowering visitors with too much. While it can be exciting and beneficial, we must also avoid getting too far away from the fundamental advantage of exhibitions which is the face-to-face interactions that a digital alternative simply cannot provide. This is what will always keep the exhibition industry relevant regardless of how much other areas advance in the years to come.

Do exhibitions get the status they deserve versus other marketing channels?
I think they do actually – which is perhaps not what most people would say. In a digital world it would have been very easy for exhibitions to have become “extinct” by now, but if anything they are actually becoming even more important with each year that passes. There’s a reason that thousands of global companies still routinely rely on exhibitions in 2020, and I’m absolutely sure that they will continue to do so for many years to come. There are so many new, exciting ways in which companies can approach marketing these days and these can prove incredibly successful – however one thing that almost none of the technological advancements can offer is the face-to-face element of exhibitions. As the old saying goes, “people buy from people”, and the only real way to build a strong relationship with a new customer is to meet them in person. It’s for this reason that exhibitions are, and will continue to be, of huge importance worldwide.

What’s the best exhibition stand or event you’ve seen in the last year?
The one that really sticks in my mind is actually a fairly small stand which I saw at an event in London, for a world famous coffee company who had done a brilliant job of perfectly portraying their brand to visitors. The brand was instantly recognisable simply by looking at the stand design, and although there was some branding visible there really didn’t need to be. Before even seeing the branding or products it was plainly obvious what this company did and they appealed to their target audience without relying on the brand name alone. For me this was a fantastic example of how an exhibition stand should be executed, and in my opinion this company hit the nail on the head when it comes to exhibiting at an event like that. They even converted me into a customer of theirs as a result!

If you could change one thing about the world of exhibitions what would it be?
The effect that is has on the environment. For all of the positives that the industry offers, it does unfortunately come at a price. Whether it’s the materials used for an exhibition stand, the amount of electricity used on-site, or even the travel involved in everybody getting there – there’s no getting away from the fact that it has a significant impact. Thankfully the industry is becoming more aware of this issue and is actively trying to minimise the impact on the environment as much as possible, which is great, however there is still so much more which could be done to make the industry as a whole more sustainable in the long term. If we, as an industry, focus on trying to achieve this together then I’m absolutely sure a real difference can be made.

Does stand size matter?
It depends on the exhibitor’s aims and objectives for the event in question really. Sometimes yes, sometimes no – and this will change on a case-by-case basis. For example if you’re a new company trying to make a name for yourself in your industry, and the key aim of exhibiting is to increase brand awareness among all visitors then my advice would be go big! However if you’re an established market leader who already has a really strong core customer base and instead you’re using the event for some very important meetings with specific clients then why spend on something extravagant? In this scenario a smaller stand which is well designed can achieve much more than a large stand with every feature imaginable. Careful consideration should be given to what you’re hoping to achieve at the event before deciding how big your stand needs to be. By getting into the routine of doing this, you’ll potentially save tens of thousands in unnecessary stand costs at future events!