Personal Connection: Your Single Best Trade Show Investment
by Steve Multer
It’s no secret business successes are built on relationships. Endless data over decades and thousands of measured interactions proves that our customers doesn’t buy what we do, they buy why we do it.
In The Golden Circle, Simon Sinek tells us the Why always wins out over the What or the How in business interactions. The Why comes from a person – one human conveying and sharing emotion and enthusiasm with another human – and rarely from a thing, product, or brochure. Your product is subservient to your story which creates two fundamental foundations of successful branding: Desire and trust. People tell your story best, and far better than your product can.
Extrapolate that out to the trade show or live event setting and your booth staff will always tell your story best, connecting with potential customers in the aisle in a way your dazzling booth won’t. Even the best stand filled with a bright LED wall, strong technology, impressive signage, intelligent lighting, and flashy video assets won’t tell your brand’s story like the right people will.
So if we recognize the well-documented best path to ROI is our people, why do so many event marketers continue to spend their precious and constantly contracting trade show budgets on things while treating their personnel as an unpleasant and costly afterthought?
The answer is simple even if the reason is fiscally unsound; things are easier to buy and to manage than humans. Humans can be challenging; they’re demanding, unpredictable, and each comes with their own needs, wants, and baggage. A thing does what it’s designed to do, no fuss, no drama. Yet those great people, challenges and all, are your shortest path not just to a sale but to reliable, valuable long-term client relationships. Your people deserve the bulk of your trade show budget and will deliver the highest potential for measurable payoff.
Enhancing your company’s position and market share means connecting with customers where it counts, in the head and the heart, not the eyes or wallet. Your company may provide the best product to serve the market or best solution for real world demand, but neither will create the Why we’re looking for to build our client base. That logic plays out in multiple arenas.
If a new 4K UHD panel displays the best picture it should sell itself. If a burger from Restaurant A is tastier, healthier, and a better value than the one from Restaurant B it should attract more customers. In reality, neither will sell for their attributes alone as we assume they would. Why not? Perceived value. Personal connection to customers trumps quality, metrics, or price. We buy with our hearts, not our heads or dollars. We buy people, not things.
Take that TV; a shopper is more likely to value the name on the plastic housing over the picture on the screen. This is based on emotional response, subjective valuation of the manufacturer, personal purchase or owner history, recommendations from friends and family, a sense of human connection created by the brand, and the response that elicits. Yes, for a TV. Or a stick of butter, a car, or any other product. We buy people, not products, the Why, not the What.
Likewise, the better burger may struggle for market share against a vastly inferior product despite benefits that seem obvious on the surface. Food and image go hand in hand, taste and even health can’t override the human touch created by a brand or our personal connection to the story the people behind that brand tell us. Need proof? Go to a shopping mall food court and watch the lines for McDonald’s versus the competitor offering fresh, low-fat, made-to-order burgers with real potato fries instead of the frozen, preservative-laden option sold by the national brand. Story and connection over quality and value.
If your dad taught you about Ford, and you bought your first Ford in college from your neighborhood dealer after working and saving to buy that Ford, you’ll probably maintain a lifelong preference for the brand even if other manufacturers outperform or underprice Ford.
Your trade show booth offers you similar testing ground as attendees float between islands, booth to booth, comparing and contrasting your solutions and services with your competitor’s offerings. They’re at the event seeking the Why, not the What. They want your story – give it to them, from a person rather than a product.
The strongest strategy for hooking your next potential client starts the moment she arrives at your booth and immediately feels welcomed and valued by the people who represent your brand. Put yourself in that attendee’s shoes; see your brand through her eyes as the relationship starts with a human connection, faces and voices engaging her on a human level, listening to her needs, addressing her as a valued peer. Passing her off to a video wall or handing her a brochure won’t get the job done. There’s no Why, no connection.
Sometimes that attendee is already embedded with or dedicated to another brand. Odds of converting are lower, but perhaps she doesn’t feel the Why from her current supplier? Maybe she’s not properly supported by the competitor or her loyalty has begun to flag. A human will only switch to another human, not to a product or capability. Give her what the competition can’t. Make a human connection in your booth, tell your personal story, and your chance of winning her loyalty skyrockets. Humans turn trade show leads into quality ROI potentials.
Media, lighting, printed documentation, and giveaways do bring guests in the door. None of those elements lock in a relationship or close a deal. Media can reach a broad and diverse market in the initial stages of enticement or awareness, but too many event marketers over-invest in this first layer and fail to convert initial interest to deep brand connection. No Why.
Assess your trade show budget carefully; electronics, graphics, printouts, or gimmicks should be leveraged in balance with your personnel capitol at any live event. ROI on media is a fraction of ROI on a human – as long as it’s the right human. Many event marketers go wrong by hiring and relying on the wrong humans.
Know and trust your support vendors and agencies. Assure they only deliver the best people on the planet to enhance and tell the story of your brand. Using the wrong agency, who supplies the wrong storyteller, will undermine your brand and chances for success. Seek out and partner with dedicated, specialized professionals to keep your Why front and center at all times.
We’re social creatures, taking our cues and forming our opinions by watching others and gauging their satisfaction levels. To know the customer is to know and respect your own business values. That should be reflected in your live marketing strategy, and in your people.
Weigh the cost of 10,000 printed brochures against the cost of the right expert speaker in your next trade show booth. Price an LED wall against an increase to your booth staffing and personal marketing team. What will you spend to give away 10 iPads compared to giving a human to your potential customers, someone to hear them, connect with them, and increase their trust in your brand? It’s clear which investments truly pay off.
We’d all like to win an iPad, but for every one winner you create thousands of losers. Once the drawing is over you’re left with a floor covered in ripped ticket stubs and the scans of 2500 worthless leads . A human will connect deeply and meaningfully with dozens or hundreds of A-list other humans on the trade show floor, and those connections will reach far into the future with valuable results.
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