I started going to trade shows when I worked in the jewelry business in 1978. The biggest jewelry trade show in the U. S. at the time was in New York, but there were others in Dallas and Los Angeles. This is when I began to love trade shows. I enjoyed the action of making sales and meeting customers face-to-face. My passion exploded when I entered the computer business; Comdex, West Coast Computer Faire and SoftCon were amazing.
And then came Macworld Expos. Being a Macintosh evangelist at a Macworld Expo was as close to being a rockstar as I will ever get. For a while, I considered putting directions in my will for my ashes to be scattered in Moscone Center so that I’d never miss a Macworld Expo. The point is I love trade shows: going to them, working in them, whatever.
I’m back from the 2011 CES in Las Vegas, which is like attending 10 Macworld Expos at once. I noticed a few principles of trade-show marketing that companies should adopt.
1. Inform, not entertain.
The purpose of a trade show is to sell, and the way to sell is to inform consumers of your product. Consumers will either buy your product at the show or after the show, and if they don't, you won’t be able to exhibit at trade shows for very long. It’s true that you need to get people into your booth to sell products, but this doesn’t mean you should try to entertain people with skits, celebrities, contests and sand sculptures. If you look across the aisle and see that your competitor has a huge crowd because people are watching a skit or trying to win a contest, you should be happy that your competitor is wasting money.
2. Focus on the product, not the booth.
I saw a lot of companies compete to have the most magnificent (i.e., “expensive”) booth. True, a booth can make an impression and build an image, but let’s be honest: many booths seem to be focused more on the grandeur that the product. I’d rather see a great product in an adequate booth than a mediocre product in a great booth. Take the money you would have spent on a fancy booth and give it to your engineers as a bonus instead. At CES, the best booth expenditure per dollar was Showstoppers: tables in a hotel ballroom staffed mostly by company founders. (The picture above is Just Mobile at Showstoppers.) That should be your model.
3. Use knowledgable booth staff.
You can’t inform customers if you have ignorant staff. I walked into a car manufacturer’s booth and asked if one of my friends who worked at the company was there. The person’s response was, “I don’t know anyone from the company. When I get here this morning, they didn’t tell me much.” In other words, the company spent millions of dollars on a booth, brought in its hottest cars, and staffed the booth with temps whose primary qualification was looking good. It's far more important to bring in people who know what they're talking about.
4. Bring your product managers and engineers.
The best people to keep in your booth are product managers: the folks who sit between sales/marketing and engineering. They have none of the power but all of the burden of shipping out great stuff. They must understand the technology and be able to communicate it. The second best group to bring is engineers. They may not be able to communicate -- or even tolerate -- customers, but no one knows what a product can do better than engineers. And interacting with customers in person is a great experience for engineers. If nothing else, it will convince them that sales and marketing aren’t so easy, so maybe they’ll make better products.
5. Let people try your products.
In the Microsoft booth, people were lined up to try Kinect with various games. In the Taser International booth, the lines to try its products were shorter, but there were many people who wanted to see other people use them. Enabling people to test drive your products in a trade show is a good thing. You are essentially saying to people, “We think you’re smart. Try our product, and you decide.” How can prospective customers not like that attitude?
I hope you’ll take these recommendations to heart. They would improve the trade show experience for everyone: you, your employees, your customers, the press, and me.
Find more highlights from CES -- including insights on social media, innovation, and technology from Guy Kawasaki, Chris Brogan, Scott Belsky, and Ramon Ray -- at openforum.com/ces.