Mind Matters: Five Customer Psychology Principles To Boost Your Exhibition ROI

Put these five principles into action for your next exhibition, and watch your visitors, leads, and sales numbers increase.

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By Omar Rahman • Sep 3, 2018


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We often imagine our motivations are highly complex, but extensive research proves that this isn't always so. In fact, we act and react to a variety of stimuli in predictable ways.

So where does this fit in with your exhibition stand and your potential attendees?

Well, if you understand these psychological buttons, you can press them to make your desired outcome more likely. That applies to every customer decision about every product or service in every setting, including exhibitions.

So these are the five psychological principles you need to know to boost ROI at your next exhibition.

1. Loss aversion

Tversky and Kahneman identified the loss aversion principle in 1983, showing how we frame decisions because we fear losing more than we desire gaining. For instance, when they made people choose between a sure gain of US$240 or a 25% chance to gain $1,000 (but 75% chance to gain nothing), they found 84% chose the guaranteed $240. This shows most people make decisions that minimise loss. They'll prioritise sure gains and gamble to avoid losses altogether.

Leverage this principle to boost exhibition ROI by doing the following:

  • Offering visitors a sure gain to visit your stand: Competitions are a well-known marketing strategy, but you might do better to offer all visitors a small guaranteed gift, rather than (or as well as) a chance to win a big prize. This could help attract more visitors to your stand, and so, secure more leads.
  • Creating ownership of your product: Make visitors feel they've already bought your product, and they're more likely to then buy from you, because not doing so means they "lose" that sense of ownership. Samples, product demos, or a free trial are fantastic options– the more you bring your product to life, the more pressure you apply to the loss aversion button and the more sales you get.
  • Using language that instils fear of loss: Consider the language you use on your pre-event and on-the-day marketing materials. Classic fear of loss phrases include "an opportunity not to be missed;" "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity;" "don't miss your one chance to…;" and so on. Using phrases like this can get more visitors engaging more with your products– to increase your leads and sales.

Related: Showcase Yourself: Seven Major Pitfalls To Avoid With Your Exhibition Stand

2. Reciprocation

One of Robert Cialdini's principles of persuasion is the idea of reciprocation. In his words: "We should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us." It's the idea that favors, gifts, invitations, and the like create obligation. For example, when the Disabled American Veterans organisation sends a simple mail appeal for donations, they see an 18% response rate. When they include an unsolicited gift of personalized sticky address labels, the response rate is nearly 35%.

The easiest way to leverage reciprocation is giving gifts. This applies on-the-day –when gifts can encourage visitors to become leads– or pre- and post-event. You might send pre-event gifts with personal invitations to current customers you think are good up-sell prospects, for instance. Or you could send post-event gifts to encourage and reward social media sharing, to amplify your reach and spread word-of-mouth.

3. The paradox of choice

"When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of available choices increases, as it has in our consumer culture, the autonomy, control and liberation this variety brings is powerful and positive."

That's Barry Schwartz in his 2004 book on the subject. Sounds good, doesn't it? Well, then he says this: "But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begins to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates."

In other words, too many choices lead to decision paralysis– and the consumer makes no choice at all.

This principle comes into play when you decide which products to discuss, demo, sample or give away. You might have multiple products and offerings, catering to different audiences, segments or price points. But the paradox of choice suggests you should limit those you include.

For instance, a catering company might offer several different packages for different events, for businesses and consumers, each with different food and beverage options. If you present everything, you risk getting fewer leads– and lower conversion post-exhibition too.

If, on the other hand, you give some representative options, you'll get more leads. You can segment further after you've qualified the lead, so your later communications are more targeted and you get better conversions.

Related: The How-To: Increasing Your ROI From Your Post-Exhibition Strategies

4. Liking

One of Dr Robert Cialdini's principles known as "the liking rule" states that "we most prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like." Cialdini shares the example of Tupperware parties, which positions customers to buy from a friend rather than an unknown salesperson.

The stronger your existing relationships with customers, the more likely they'll visit, engage, and buy from you. That's why exhibitions are a great way to extend the lifetime value of existing customers, or re-engage past customers. Ensure you're targeting these people and not just new customers, and you'll be putting the liking rule into action.

However, Cialdini proves you don't need a long-standing relationship to capitalize on liking. Here are some of his other pointers:

  • Similarity: We like people who are similar to us in opinion, background, personality, lifestyle, or appearance. Reps who match your customer profile will be more relatable.
  • Compliments: We like people who like us. Cialdini mentions the world's greatest car salesman, who sent a monthly card to each of his 13,000 former customers stating "I like you." It sounds ridiculous but his phenomenal sales results don't lie.
  • Contact and cooperation: We like people we've had lots of exposure to, particularly when we get a real feeling of connection. Like the "Everyman" salesman who "fights" with his boss to get you the best deal. You like him, and likely buy a car from him.
  • Conditioning and association: We like people we associate with good things. Celebrity endorsements are a classic example that translate well to the exhibition environment.

Use the above to resonate with new customers and you'll increase the number of leads –and ultimately sales– from your next exhibition.

5. Social proof

This rule –another from Cialdini– states that we mostly act in accordance with social evidence. We make decisions based on "what other people think is correct."

Cialdini gives the example of canned laughter, highlighting that even though canned laughter is patently fake and most television viewers dislike it, its use still tangibly increases how funny viewers find the programme.

There are several ways to leverage social proof at your next exhibition:

  • Get more visitors: Make your stand look busy, and more attendees will come over. So, the first thing to focus energy on once the exhibition starts is attracting visitors, to get the ball rolling. Get people from your exhibition team to mill about your stand, or send reps to fetch visitors from the crowds. Consider an impactful product demo/event, as soon as the exhibition begins, to lure people over. If visitors see other visitors giving you contact details or taking product information, they're more likely to do so themselves. You should also look to include stand-out branding on materials visitors might carry around. Walking social proof.
  • Get more customers: The more customers you have, the more customers you'll get. That's why customer milestones (10,000th happy customer, for example) and customer testimonials make for great inclusions in your marketing materials. Use an important customer milestone as the lynchpin of your exhibition, for instance, using social media to build hype around a big on-the-day celebration, where you award a prize to the winning customer. That would increase social reach and brand awareness, and, crucially, establish social proof, and so, encourage even more sales.

Hack consumer behaviour at your next exhibition

Human decision-making is largely predictable. That means you can "hack" the responses you want, simply by pressing the right series of psychological buttons. Put these five principles into action for your next exhibition, and watch your visitors, leads, and sales numbers increase.

Related: Why Entrepreneurs Should Better Understand The Psychology Of Their Collaborators

Omar Rahman

Co-founder, TGP

Omar Rahman moved to the UAE from the UK in 1991 to take a business development position in the sales department of EMA Lubricants, a joint-venture with Exxon Mobil. In 1995, he teamed up with Alexander Maddock to launch Top Gear Promotions LLC – now known simply as TGP – an exhibitions and events solution provider, having executed over 2,000 successfully delivered projects locally, regionally and internationally, for organisations including Etihad, Dubai Holding, General Electric, Dubai Tourism, IPIC, Masdar, Qatar Airlines, Emaar, Expo 2020, and many more. Rahman studied Civil Engineering at the United Kingdom’s North East Surrey College of Technology.

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