I recently attended a major dog show where I was reminded of the most important trade show lesson. It was driven home to me by Soupi the owner of Sand Scribbles with her first booth at a dog show. Not because of any mistakes she made or anything she did wrong as she did neither.
A little background first. Soupi is an artist and a very good one, a bit unusual in her medium (sand) but an artist none the less. ( www.sandscribbles.net ). Her booth was set up to show off her products in the most positive manner. While she did not have a professional booth she did have an attractive exhibit with many of her products ready for sale. (This show like many B2C shows allows exhibitors to sale from their booths.) Her products feature many dog images and seemed to be a natural fit for this show.
At the end of the show I talked with Soupi about how the show went for her, since this was her first dog show I was curious to get her reaction. Her answer at first took me by surprise, I have 25 years trade show experience and looking at her booth I could not find real fault or any apparent reason as to why she felt the show was not what she expected. I figured, like her this should have been a good show for her products but I forgot the most important element in having a successful trade show.
Know your audience.Sure they were dog people and her products were about dogs and she actually sold some of her cards, the Bulldog owners brought cards with Bulldogs on them, the Terrier people brought Terrier cards and so on. The dog owners were only interest in cards with their dogs featured on them and not any other cards.
The lesson is no matter how relevant your product or targeted your audience if you don't understand your audience's basic motivation a great booth presentation will not help. In this case the audience were all dog people but they were “Bulldog” or “Terrier “ or “German Shepherd“ or whatever type of dog they owned people. So on the surface they seemed to have a common interest but upon further examination it was clear the audience was actually fragmented into smaller interest groups.
Had Soupi known this before the show she could have taken steps to address the commonality of the audience without playing into the fragmented groups. Instead of showing a hundred cards with different dogs and designs she could have address the “custom or personal” aspect of her art. She could show how “their” dogs would be used to create a card, message or art work, not by showing all the different dogs she uses but by NOT showing all the dogs. Using a few (as in very limited numbers ) of examples but many examples where the dog is actually missing from the picture. This gives here audience a chance to picture “their” dog in the picture. Their imaginations would have created a buying situation for Soupi that all her samples prevented.
“Your Dog Here” is far more compelling to a Bulldog owner than seeing a picture of a Collie on a card despite the message. It forces the reader to see the message on the card and picture their dog.
What does this lesson mean to your trade show efforts? How can you learn from this when you don't attend dog shows?
The point is to know the attendees not just the audience, what do they have in common is important but what makes them different is more important. It is safe to assume a trade show is going to attract an audience with common interest (i.e. doctors, engineers, programmers, retailers, etc.) but what makes or breaks a trade show is being able to attract the attendees that are most valuable to your business. Knowing the motivation of “Your” target attendees is critical to success.
When you plan your next show ask yourself what do the trade show attendees have in common and what makes them different. Know before hand if you need to address the commonality or the differences then figure the best way to present your message. You do that and I guarantee you will have a successful show.
Don't make the mistake of assuming since it was a consumer show the same rules don't apply to a business to business shows. Not only do the same rules apply but they are magnified in a business to business environment where sales have a longer lead time and effective feedback is a lot harder to get. At a consumer show you know right away if the attendee is a buyer where at a business to business show they may say all the right things while at the show, but it is the follow-up that will determine the final results. Many things can go wrong once they leave your booth. But that is a subject for a different post.