Before the drug wars broke out, Mexico was a south of the border playground. It didn't matter what town you went to, you were guaranteed cheap beer, street tacos, fun and pharmacuticals. Ahh...the good old days. Cabo San Lucas was a particular good time. After having a few at Cabo Wabo, we decided to explore the shops in the tourist district. That's when I had a tequila inspired realization. This Mexican market was just like...a trade show! !Aye Carumba!
There were rows of shops with similar stuff. The owners sitting outside barked a familar message: "Great stuff! Almost free! Come inside, come inside!" Not much different than my 8-year old son's pitch in my blog entry Preprogramed for Sales. The shop keepers couldn't give two hoots about me. They just wanted to sell something. Row after row. Similar pitch after similar pitch. Until it was all a blur and we needed mas tequila STAT!
But who was I fooling? In reality, my company was, and most companies are guilty of the same thing at trade shows. "Come into our booth so you can get some free crap and hear our pitch!" How many times have you said something similar to that at a trade show? Why do you think prospects avoid eye contact?
There's nothing wrong with trying to make a buck, but when everyone is trying the same technique, why do you follow along? There have been many articles written about conventions and over and over again you see comments like: "We go because everyone else does. We have to be there." That, amigo is arguable. But just for grins let's say its true.
Where in the trade show handbook does it say you have to be in a booth to hand out a stress ball that you promoted with a post card mailer the week before the show? Aren't all the other lemming companies doing that, too? And you wonder why people get you mixed up with competitors after the show? What makes you so special when you do basically the same thing as everyone else?
Like in my blog on The Spotlight Effect you need to have the guts to break out of the pack, take a chance and truly stand out. You need to own the show by getting off the damn floor. You need to own the show by owning recess.
One year, when the big healthcare marketing convention was in Phoenix, we bussed all the attendees to our company campus for a private concert with Rick Springfield. Considering our average buyer was a 40-something woman, it was a huge hit. It was also a huge financial win to with a 10:1 ROI. Ever done that with a trade show booth?
We've done other, more subdued parties, even hosted a game show on the convention floor. Boy did that piss off our competitors because they were, of course, doing the Mexican market thing like everyone else.
This year we are (GASP!) not doing a booth on the trade show floor. Instead we will own recess with the opening cocktail reception and then as the sole sponsor of a "social networking" cruise on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. My team is simply going to walk around handing out flashing leis.
And you know what? People will remember they had a good time with us. They will remember we didn't harass them. They will equate us with recess. And they will buy.
As my wife and I strolled through the market in Cabo, we stumbled upon a little shop where the owner had set up a bar. Whether you wanted a shot or a soda, it was a nice place to get out of the malstrom of tourist store pitches. He never mentioned the similar stuff he had, just offered us a nice place to sit and have a refreshment. And you know what? We bought our tourist junk from him.
Plato said: "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation." The shop keeper with the bar figured it out. You would be wise to do so, too.