IBS/KBIS Recap - From a Veteran and a Rookie

April Wonsick (the veteran) and Nick Pfahler (the rookie) talk about their experiences at IBS/KBIS 2019. 

From the IBS/KBIS Veteran: Building a Storytelling Experience
In the nine times I’ve attended the International Builders’ Show (IBS) over the last 15 years, I’ve seen the best of times (pre-housing crisis circa 2004 and 120,000 attendees) and the worst of times (2010 post-burst of the housing bubble and barely enough exhibitors to fill two halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center). Through it all, one thing has always held true: Building and construction brands succeed when they nail the in-booth storytelling experience.
There’s no doubt that how the brand story comes to life has evolved since my first time at IBS. Storytelling often relied on printed literature, in-booth signage, giveaways and, in some cases, booth models hired to help tout new product features and benefits. Success was measured by the number of badges scanned, with very little focus given to qualifying those leads and few tools in place to track digital traffic let alone social media channels that were still only popular on college and university campuses.
Fast-forward to 2019: The IBS storytelling experience started well before you stepped foot onto the tradeshow floor. A well-planned mix of preshow communications, social media content, influencer programs and sponsorships helped cut through the tradeshow floor noise, teased exhibitors’ stories and built the case for offering a must-see experience.
Once inside the convention center halls, the best storytelling experiences balanced equal parts engaging and educational content, creating an entertaining and unexpected opportunity to learn something new about the brand, products and technology. Two of the most memorable booths this year came from Rinnai Tankless Water Heaters and LP Building Solutions, both using virtual reality (VR) to create immersive in-booth storytelling experiences. Perhaps the best part—this wasn’t the use of VR for the sake of using VR. Both interactive exhibits allowed customers to better understand why their products offered a better alternative to the competition.
For example, Rinnai’s “Yank the Tank” VR experience takes you step by step through the process of installing a tankless water heater to help dispel a common misperception that they are more difficult to install than traditional water heaters. For some added fun, you can remove the existing water heater with either a sledgehammer or light saber.
For LP Building Solutions, the VR experience sends you under the sea in a shark cage built with LP Legacy® sub-flooring for an up-close encounter with great white sharks. It’s part of LP’s Tested Extreme™ campaign where it puts its products under some of the harshest conditions. And the storytelling experience didn’t end in the booth. Anyone who tried the VR shark experience got photos of their experience sent via text or email to share on social media, extending the brand story.
Beyond VR, many brands found storytelling success by creating an emotional connection to their customers through the use of video, interactive displays and in-booth demonstrations. Booth layout also played a role in bringing a brand story to life, taking customers on a journey when entering the booth from one side or the other, creating reasons to stay and explore the space while surrounded by opportunities to learn more or have a conversation with the sales team.
The key takeaway? With a crowd of more than 100,000 attendees at this year’s IBS/KBIS show, several brands recognized that the tradeshow is often someone’s first interaction with their stories. They invited attendees in and were thoughtful with their messaging, their booth layouts and even how their sales teams were trained to carry through the story when talking with potential customers. This combination is a blueprint for success and builds opportunities to extend the brand story beyond the tradeshow floor.

From the IBS/KBIS Rookie: Personalization
Although this was my first time attending the International Builders’ Show (hence “the rookie”), I’m no stranger to tradeshows and all the hoopla that comes with them. Over my 15 years in this industry I have conceived and designed many booths as well as attended plenty of shows. The one thing that has always held true as the top objective for anyone displaying at a trade show: You must stand out.
There are plenty of ways to be a standout at one of these events, and some work better than others. The booth with the best gimmick or giveaway might have the largest crowd but chances are most visitors are not viable leads. And the most beautiful booth might garner attention but if you have nothing to offer all you have is a car with no engine.
The best and perhaps quietest way to stand out is trendsetting. Those walking the show can begin to get a sense of who is truly on the forefront of their industry. Those brands seem to be a step ahead and everyone else will try to catch up  ̶  at next year’s show.
This year, the trendsetters were those companies whose stories revolved around personalization. They had a complete offering of products, designs and options to allow consumers the opportunity to feel a sense of ownership of the final product. Perhaps one of the best examples of this was Kohler’s booth. Their experience centered around “complete customization.” They had vignettes that acted as design moodboards and showcased products in ways that piqued the imagination. There was a large hands-on display that made the pairing of different colors and finishes easy and engaging. But most importantly, they made it easy to explore the range of options and make decisions/selections based on your preferences.
Another trendsetter was GE Appliances. Their beautifully designed booth included a series of curated vignettes that showcased possibilities through design. Although the idea of personalization was front and center, GE Appliances’ expression of it had a different yet significant take. While Kohler’s messaging was about customization and product options, GE Appliances focused on “You.” This made it less about the products and more about the individual.
Either approach, Kohler’s “Maximalist Customization” or GE Appliances’ “You,” both worked to accomplish the same thing – to create a one-on-one relationship with their audience, hence developing a brand affinity. My guess is that at next year’s show we will see a whole host of additional brands touting the personalization story and attempting to capitalize on this trend. The thing is they’re not setting a trend, just riding it, which means someone else will be at the forefront of the next big thing.