Trade Show TalesBlog

Posts Tagged ‘marketing’

10 Things Zombies Can Teach Us About Tradeshow Marketing

October 30th, 2012 COMMENTS

10 Things Zombies Can Teach Us about Tradeshow MarketingSeveral weeks ago, Tim Patterson at Tradeshow Guy Blog wrote the blog post, 4 Ways to Avoid Tradeshow Exhibiting Zombies. His excellent article inspired me to write a companion post, which Tim generously posted on his website. Below are the first three, then a link to the rest. Or simply go directly to the article on his website.

10 Things Zombies Can Teach Us About Tradeshow Marketing

1. Single-minded Focus. You may not appreciate their all-consuming desire to eat your flesh, but they are committed to the task. They let nothing get in their way, except an ax to the brain. Your next trade show will be wildly successful, if you make it a priority, not an afterthought.

2. Teamwork. Zombies travel in packs, like ravenous hyenas. That teamwork ensures them a much higher percentage of kills. There’s a reason “We killed it” signifies success. By working together, those poor doe-eyed attendees don’t stand a chance.

3. Appearance Matters. You never forget your first encounter with a zombie: filthy clothing, rotting flesh, vacuous stare, and rancid halitosis (that alone is enough to make you hurl). It’s sad but true. We judge people by their appearance. Your company spent considerable money to participate so shine your shoes, press your shirt, and dry clean that blazer.

Continue to “10 Things Zombies Can Teach Us . . . .”

–Mel White
http://www.linkedin.com/in/melmwhite
mel@classicexhibits.com

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Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions and engineered aluminum extrusions (ClassicMODUL). Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100.


 


The Fallacy of Running a Small Business

August 22nd, 2012 1 COMMENT

Sales/Marketing, Finance, and Operations: Choose One

In a former life, I was a small business consultant for start-ups, mostly technology companies and inventors. It was rewarding . . .  and it was brutal. Nearly every day, I worked with entrepreneurs on their financials, marketing plans, and operations. Most were obsessive and deluded. They knew their product or service, but they struggled with long-term planning, raising capital, implementation, and customer service. I loved them for their vision but was exasperated by their inability to tackle all facets of starting and running a business.

Then one day I shared my frustration with a really smart woman named Cheryl. Cheryl had been working with traditional small businesses for 20 years through state and local assistance programs. She had guided them at every stage:  research, business plans, financing, launch, growth, and in many cases, bankruptcy. We’re talking about restaurants, beauty salons, car repair shops, and franchises of every make and model. She was good. And for these types of businesses, there were very few unknowns, except the owner.

Here’s What She Told Me

She said, “Mel, the small business model is flawed. It always has been; yet, we continue to expect it succeed. Read any book on how to start a business or grab a pamphlet from the SBA and you’ll get the same message. To be successful, you must devote equal time to your company’s financials, operations, and sales/marketing. Neglect one and the three-legged stool collapses.”

“How is that flawed?” I said. “I see it all the time. A business owner spends all their time in sales, but doesn’t address operational issues and then the business starts to fall apart.”

“Correct. But, here’s what no one ever tells them. I’ve been doing this for a long time, having worked with several thousand businesses, and during that time, I’ve never seen any business owner, not even one, good at doing more than two of these skills. Most are only good at one. They can sell, but they can’t handle the finances. They love accounting, but hate marketing. They are operational wizards, but are terrible managing people. They want to do all three. They intend to pay bills for instance, but they work on a newspaper ad instead. They do what they like and what they understand.”

“So it’s not really about discipline or time management,” I said. “It’s just human nature. We gravitate to the tasks we enjoy and we avoid those that are unpleasant, hard, or bore us. If that’s true, and knowing that most small businesses have limited resources, what’s the answer?”

“It’s not always easy. Most are unwilling to admit that they can’t do everything. I tell them that there’s a reason that businesses hire a sales manager, an accountant, and an operations manager once they reach a certain size. You may not be able to afford that now, but you can probably afford to offload your day-to-day financials to an independent bookkeeper or task an employee with daily operations or have a local marketing firm or graphic designer create your ads, letterhead, website, etc. Do what you are good at and enjoy. Assign what you don’t to others, but always manage and review the process. It’s still your business.”

I’d love to tell you that all my clients took that advice when I shared it with them. Some did. Most didn’t. Others appreciated the advice much later. I even had one client give me the same speech, never realizing that I’d given him that advice six months before.

There are lots of reasons why small businesses fail, such as poor cash management, too much inventory, not delegating, ignoring customers, or not knowing your costs. But those are only symptoms. We can’t be good at everything. Nor does it does mean that a small business owner has to relinquish control. “It’s still your business,” as Cheryl said. Identify your strengths and admit your weaknesses. Then let others do what they do best.

What do you do best? Worst? Share your experiences as a small business owner.

–Mel White
http://www.linkedin.com/in/melmwhite
mel@classicexhibits.com

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Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions and engineered aluminum extrusions (ClassicMODUL). Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100.

What’s Your Brand?: Word on the Street — July 9th thru July 13th

July 16th, 2012 COMMENTS
What's your Brand?: Word on the Street -- July 9th thru July 13th

Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Feeling Inspired

I’m back from the inaugural E2MA Association / The Red Diamond Congress in Chicago. And, despite my initial misgivings, I am inspired.

Let me back up a little and explain. On Monday, I was in Chicago for the EDPA Board Meeting (Exhibit Designers and Producers Association). Like all EDPA Board meetings, it was productive — planning, industry discussion, and talks related to the growth and betterment of EDPA and the industry as whole. For anyone considering attending ACCESS 2012 in Palm Springs, it’s primed to be a stellar networking and educational event.

Tuesday through Thursday, I attended the 2012 Red Diamond Congress, an event associated with the former TSEA. It’s now an event organized and hosted by the newly formed E2MA (Exhibit and Event Marketers Association), an association with members from the former TSEA and EACA.

In quick summary, kudos to Jim Wurm and his team for putting on a thought-provoking three days of discussion related to the future of the new E2MA. My compliments to the educational seminars taught or hosted by Marlys Arnold, Justin Hersh, Tony Earping and Gary Slack (The Keynote) to name a few.

What I appreciated the most was the sense that Jim and his group used this time to truly gain a historical perspective from the two old associations and work to set forth a clear direction for the new E2MA. It’s not often that someone takes such a bold and transparent approach. It’s clear from what I saw that it will be inclusive, with a strong exhibitor and education focus, in addition to participation by show organizers, labor, general contractors, and suppliers.

You may be wondering, “Is that truly possible?” I’m optimistic. I left with a real sense that the association (and yet to be named board) will be digesting everything that was said during those three days and using it to chart a positive future for E2MA and our industry.

As with any meeting or show, I not only learn from the speakers, but also from industry colleagues. This week was no different. I would like to share an exchange I had that really stuck with me.

Seth Godin

During one of the morning sessions on Tuesday, I was sitting with Chris Griffin from Tradeshow Supply, someone I’ve know for many years. He’s a colleague, a distributor, and a friend. The Keynote Speaker, Gary Slack, was discussing the “Brand” for the new association. In that conversation, Gary referred to Seth Godin. I do not know a lot about Seth, except his name and his reputation, but Chris follows his daily blog and reads his books. According to Chris, Seth’s take on “Brand” is . . . loosely, “Your brand is not your logo or your tagline. It IS a set of expectations.” Take a moment and think about that.

I hesitate to say this, so please understand that this comes from a truly modest place, but the definition above really speaks to what we have striven for at Classic Exhibits regarding our “Brand.” Our Brand is not our logo or our tagline; it’s the service and the products you have come to expect from us.

Now, we are not Nordstrom or Apple. Their “Brands” speak to that very definition. And while their logos are instantly recognizable, it’s their product and services that really speak to what they represent to customers.

Make sure to subscribe to Seth’s blog. It’s daily and not time intensive. You won’t regret it: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/

The week left me with lots to think about and share in upcoming blogs. This week’s post would be four times as long if I shared everything.

Hope you all had a great week and an even better one to come.

Be well!

–Kevin Carty
http://twitter.com/kevin_carty
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/kevin-carty/3/800/32a

Pajama Jockeys

June 10th, 2012 6 COMMENTS

When all you own is a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail.”  Abraham Maslow

Let's Build a Rocket Ship!

It Should be Humiliating . . . For Everyone

What I’m about to discuss will make some of you really mad and some of you really, really happy. I’m not sure whether to point the finger at the trade show industry, manufacturers, distributors, or exhibitors.

Over the years, I’ve written about trade show marketing from multiple angles. I don’t pretend to be an expert. Unlike you, I’m not on the front lines working with clients, nor am I attending a dozen trade shows every year. On the other hand, I have the luxury of seeing your projects and hearing about your orders from you, our designers, and our project managers.

What I’ve learned is that trade show marketing is tough. There are some easy answers, like clear, attractive graphics that address a problem and training your staff how to work a show, but most answers are not so simple. They require in-depth conversations with clients about what they want to achieve, who is their customer base, what is their budget, and what are their overall marketing goals. To get there requires forming a partnership where each side shares information and learns from one another. That takes time and trust.

PJ’s and Dabblers

That said . . . from time to time I run into what I’ll call “Pajama Jockeys” (or PJ’s) in our business. Now, let me qualify this before I get myself into too much trouble. I have no issue with Pajama Jockeys. Their business model works for them. It’s uncomplicated, straight-forward, and often cost-effective for their customers since their low overhead allows them to sell on tighter margins. The same can be said for “Dabblers.” Dabblers are small sign shops that list trade show exhibits in their bag of tricks.

I’ve found that Pajama Jockeys and Dabblers know enough to sell banner stands and basic pop up displays. Occasionally they’ll add Outdoor Displays to their mix. PJ’s are most often home-based businesses with one, perhaps two employees. They have a website, but not a showroom. Nothing gets shipped to them . . . ever! They know their products, and in general, they have satisfied customers. It’s a model that works. Products are sold, customers get what they order, and someone has a job and a business.

That should be enough, right? But it’s not. I’m always surprised when I discover the following:  a) They’ve never been to EXHIBITOR (or TS2 when it existed), b) They never attend trade shows, c) They are perplexed by terms like “modular,” “hybrids,” “silicone edge graphics,” and “cam lock construction,” and d) All their products come from one or two suppliers that pull boxes from shelves and print graphics. Their suppliers don’t build anything. And in many cases, don’t attend industry trade shows either because they don’t believe they’re worthwhile.

It’s Either a Profession or It’s Not

Now we’ve all been in this business long enough to know that most clients come to us with little to no knowledge about trade show marketing. Many are going to a show for the first time, or they are replacing someone who used to handle trade shows for the company. Nine times out of ten, the new person may understand marketing, but trade shows are a mystery. These people need guidance. So where do they turn — the web. The web is a glorious thing . . . if you do your research and explore all your options. Too often, we click whatever is on Page One, look at a site or two, and then start the buying process. That’s scary. We all know the path of least resistance is tempting. This site has hundreds of choices, most good, some really expensive. This other site has 25, all at prices that my boss will love.

"Booyah! That's four sales in the last hour."

I’d love to believe that the Pajama Jockey takes the time to consult with their new client. In other words, what are they trying to achieve, what have they done in the past, has it been successful, what’s the budget, etc. But, honestly, when every other customer wants a $99 banner stand or a $599 pop up, you learn not to ask too many questions. It complicates things, and it’s not financially viable or your model. It’s easier to be a clerk than an exhibit consultant in those circumstances.

The Proof is in the Pudding

Just last week, I attended a two-day show in Portland for a regional association. There were perhaps 130 exhibitors, all in 10×10 spaces. On principle, we work through distributors, but our local IT provider asked if we would work with them on a booth for this show. We agreed since they have been good to us over the years. We rented them a VK-1032 (iPhone) after meeting with them several times, reviewing their objectives, making recommendations, and then introducing them to a graphic designer with a background in trade show graphics.

I walked the show on the last day. How can I say this tactfully? I was embarrassed to be in the trade show business. Wobbly banner stands, broken pop ups, vinyl banners hanging from the pipe and drape, and something resembling shelving from Big Lots. Now this wasn’t a local arts and crafts fair or a home improvement show (which are often very creative), but a professional show. What kept crossing my mind was . . . “Did anyone consult with them and advise them of their options. Where did they buy this stuff?” Our client, on the other hand, told me, “We had 10 times the business we’ve ever had.” Why? Because their message was clear, the booth was professional looking, the accessories were appropriate, and they trained their staff.

Now, I’m fully aware that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Some exhibitors are going to make poor decisions based on stubbornness, budget, or stupidity. That’s their prerogative. What worries me is this:  Are these new exhibitors getting bad advice or no advice because the tool box they turn to consists of a hammer and nails? They don’t know any better, and the options they are offered are both inadequate and counterproductive.

Which brings me back to my earlier point. Who’s to blame here? I want an easy answer because that would make is simple. But it’s not simple. Yes, I hold PJ’s and Dabblers responsible for clerking rather than consulting, but we’re all culpable when we focus on the transaction rather than the interaction. In our haste to close a sale, we do a disservice to our customer when we fail to behave as exhibit consultants and professionals. That said . . . I know from experience how painful and frustrating it can be to care more about your client’s success than they do. But, that doesn’t excuse us from trying each and every time even if  they select a $99 banner stand and a $29 literature holder for their annual industry show.

I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts . . . just count to 10 before hitting the enter button on your keyboard. ;)

– Mel White

http://www.linkedin.com/in/melmwhite
mel@classicexhibits.com

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Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or www.classicexhibits.com.

How to Win a Gold Metal at Your Next Trade Show

May 21st, 2012 COMMENTS

Stand on the Podium

Yeah for Me!

The Sochi Winter Olympics is just around the corner. We love watching the competition — who wins, who loses, and the  inspiring stories about athletes who participate but do not win a gold, a silver, or a bronze metal. Athletes want to win, even if they know it’s a long shot, so they plan, prepare, and train for a chance to stand on the podium. No one prepares for the Olympics just to win a participation trophy.

Trade shows are no different. For anyone new to trade show marketing, here’s an important tip no one’s ever going to share with you (except me). You can waste LOTS and LOTS of MONEY participating in trade shows if you don’t know what you’re doing. I don’t care how smart you are. You are going to make mistakes. Lots of them, but the key is to minimize them from the get-go. The trick — learn from the folks who have already made those mistakes and who have stubbed their toe(s) more times than they want to be reminded.

Here’s what they’ll tell you.

#1. What’s Your Goal. Why are you participating in a trade show? To build the brand, increase sales, meet new customers, find new markets. All are legitimate reasons to exhibit at a show. Bad reasons . . . Going on a whim, because it sounds like a good idea, or because your dog Rex tells you to go (What a bad boy!). Without a goal you have no way of measuring your success. Get a goal. Write it down and share it with your team. Then and only then should you consider trade show marketing.

#2. What’s Your Budget. If you say, I don’t know then fold up your tent and go home. The number doesn’t matter, except as a baseline for what you can and can’t do. It’s all relative. $10,000 will get you one thing . . . . $250,000 will get you something else.

Visionary Designs VK-1319

#3. Do Some Preliminary Research. It’s easy. It’s called Google. Is it going to confuse you? Hell yes. You’ll see stupid numbers like $79 for a banner stand and $1.5 million for a custom exhibit. Imagine walking into a new car lot not having seen or driven a car before. You need a point of reference, but you don’t need to be an expert. That’s impossible. You just need to get a sense of what’s on the market and how much displays cost. That’s it.

#4. Work with a Seasoned Exhibit Professional. Why? Why not! I’ve never met anyone in this business who wants a customer to buy the wrong display. You’ve got a budget, right? That will narrow the choices. During the initial meetings, an exhibit consultant will spend more time talking to you about your goals, your message, and your shows than they will about what display to buy. The display is important, but it’s simply a tool. They want you to succeed. Then you’ll come back and buy more. Yippee! It’s a win-win.

#5 What Shows. Now you may already know which show(s) you must attend. Every industry has a trade show. That’s the first step but hardly the only step. Are their other shows you should attend because you want to expand into other markets? How about local shows where all you need is a table top display or a pop up. Ask your vendors which shows they attend. Or use one of many online tools like the www.thetradeshowcalendar.com. Or, here’s a thought — ask your exhibit professional to assist you.

#6. Plan, Plan, Plan. I know. It’s boring. But, apart from identifying your trade show marketing goals, nothing is more important. You need to put in the work. You need to complete the required paperwork on time. You need to conduct pre-show marketing to get potential clients to your booth. You need to create a project list and check and double-check every last detail. You’ve heard it a million times, but this time it’s true:   Fail to plan, then plan to fail. Planning makes the difference between pouring money down a rat-hole and complaining that trade shows don’t work and becoming the next CEO of your company. Well, that may be a little exaggeration (but not much).

#7. Who’s Going to the Show. Working the booth is neither a punishment nor a vacation. It’s a job. There’s no in-between. The folks who work the booth have to understand that. They must know the products and services, possess outstanding customer service skills, and be willing to meet clients before, during, and after the show. They must know the difference between entertaining clients and a felony. They must understand the distinction between social drinking and detox. If they don’t, no matter how charming they are, leave them home.

#8 Train Them. Yes, train them. Before the show, meet with your team and review the goals, the schedule, and the products

Bazinga!

and services. Who handles which product line? Who’s the expert on specific services? Who greets clients as they enter the booth? How do you plan to handle leads? Are there meetings and presentations in the booth space? Who cleans in the morning? Who cleans in the evening? How do you handle competitors who enter your booth? There’s a lot of questions and situations that can happen during a one to three day trade show. Do not leave them to chance!

#9. Leads. Treat them like a credit card. You never know if the limit is $500 or if you found an American Express Platinum with no limit. There are really three keys to managing leads. First, qualify the lead and take lots and lots of notes. You may think you have an eidetic memory, but trust me, unless you are Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, you don’t. All the details you capture only increase your odds exponentially of making a sale. Knowledge is power on the trade show floor. Second, review the leads with the team at the end of the day. Don’t leave the booth and head for the bar UNTIL you’ve reviewed every single lead. Those that need immediate action should be handed to the right person that day. Third, they are sales leads, not confetti. Too many companies treat them like scraps of paper which can be tossed at the end of the show. How you treat leads tells the potential customer everything about your company.

#10. Post-show Analysis.   All too often, when the show is over, the show is over until next year. Big mistake. We learn from our successes and our failures. The trade show team should conduct a “post-show” review within a week. These ideas need to be captured and recorded so the lessons learned can be implemented at the next show. Even better, meet with your trade show consultant as well. He/she can offer advice based on their experience with other clients and show you how you can improve your trade show marketing and save money.

Don’t be shy. Put in the effort and plan ahead and you will be standing on the podium wearing a little gold.

– Mel White

http://www.linkedin.com/in/melmwhite
mel@classicexhibits.com

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Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or www.classicexhibits.com.