Creating a new trade show exhibit design is a unique challenge. Especially considering the multiple functions you need your booth to perform—from articulating your brand and drawing prospects to product demos and facilitating cross-selling among your existing customers. Failing to mention even a single aspect of what you require to your exhibit designer could result in a final design that comes up short.

Unfortunately, there isn't a shortcut to pulling your program needs and brand guidelines together for your exhibit house. But you can expedite the process and use your time more efficiently by assembling and deciding on all of the information your design team will need BEFORE you sit down with them. (If you're not sure exactly where to start, your exhibit house will provide you with a questionnaire or guidelines to get you started.)

"Our best exhibits are always the product of a client articulating exactly who they are, what they want, where they intend to go and their confidence in their designer's ability to help them get there," says Jeff Bartle, Chief Creative Officer for 3D Exhibits.

If you're looking to create the best exhibit design possible in the most time efficient manner possible, Jeff suggests you do the following six things before you meet with your exhibit designer.

1. Know your audience. What is the targeted attendee age group? What region of the country do they live in? What do they do for fun? How educated are they? What is their preferred means of connection? This information is imperative to creating an engagement strategy.

For instance, if your audience is younger, your designer will know they'll be comfortable interacting with technology and receiving content digitally. If your audience is generation X—they will likely want to go hands on—actually touch and feel the product. And if you're aiming to reach multiple generations—you may need both high and low tech experiences in your booth.

2. Understand how your company is perceived internally versus externally. "I can't tell you how many times we've met with a company that tells us they are the Mercedes of their industry only to learn later that their customers think of them as the Toyota," says Jeff. When this happens, the exhibitor may miss out on an opportunity to shift perception—or worse, reinforce a perception they don't want.

Jeff shares the example of a company that finally realized they were thought of as being difficult to approach when they wanted customers to think of them as collaborative and service-focused. Armed with this knowledge, the designer positioned the speaker at ground level rather than looking down from a pedestal. The designer also repositioned the product demos so the presenter stood next to the attendee rather than across a table from him.

"By removing the physical barriers we were able tear down the negative image rather than reinforce it," says Jeff.

3. Have your message established. Too many companies develop their message after the booth is designed—which forces the exhibit house to then fit the message to the booth. The better way is to have the message first—which enables you to design the booth to support and reinforce the message.

4.Know what is—and isn't—working with your current booth. Jeff recommends marketers use an exhibit audit or other measurement technique to assess what tactics and messages are doing their job and which are falling short. That way, you can avoid fixing things that aren't broken and focus your attention (and budget) on reinventing the things that are. This will both improve your results and increase your spending efficiency.

5.Determine how you'll define the success of your program. Do you want a large quantity of leads—or are you seeking quality? To develop new business or cross-sell to existing customers? The answers to these questions will determine the numbers and types of engagements and areas you'll need in your booth, types of demos, key messages—and more.

6.Have a defined budget and BE WILLING TO SHARE IT. Too often marketers don't share their exhibit design budget with their exhibit house—either because they are hoping the exhibit house will create something amazing for less than the budget allowance or because they think defining a budget will stifle the designer's creativity. In reality, what happens is that the designer goes all out and shows you all that your exhibit could be—only to have to pull back and cut out features and details later to fit the budget. Not only is this an inefficient use of time, you're likely to feel dissatisfied with the exhibit you actually get. Test driving the Mercedes, only to be told you can only afford a Toyota, is never a positive experience.