On Trade Show Exhibit Justification

How do you justify exhibiting at a trade show? I suspect this is a thorny issue for a lot of companies. It’s a large expense, it’s not usually measured very well by the exhibitor, and the show company can’t measure the benefit to the exhibitor directly. With no one measuring, it can be hard to justify trade shows in the marketing mix.

People think that trade shows are about getting new leads. This is a little like saying going to the mall is about increasing your self-esteem and life outlook. Yes, the trip may result in that, but what you do at the mall is shop and buy stuff. What you do at a show is meet with people and communicate with them. They may become leads, but really you’ve made a connection that can’t easily be made any other way.

So rather than calculating what a lead is worth, or wether or not a sale would have been made but for the show, let’s consider this on a much more basic level. It’s about visiting with people.

Let’s start with a basic assumption: On average, your company meets with one person per hour per employee while at the show. I’m not considering just planned customer visits, but all the contacts that happen. Industry colleagues you chat with, but otherwise wouldn’t. New people. Competitors. Suppliers. Press. Your network, old and new.

Sure, there are empty hours, but there’s also the 3-hour dinners with customers and others as well. I think one visit per employee hour is probably quite conservative, the real answer is probably closer to 2-3 per hour.

So let’s say you have a small booth at a major show. You’re going to take 5 employees, and the show is 4 days long. That’s about 200 visits that will be made at the show. What would it cost to make those visits? Would you even bother, with most of them? Now many of these visits wouldn’t merit a trip on their own, because it would be far too expensive. But that’s where the value of a show really comes in – bulk buying of visit hours, with very low marginal cost per visit. It’s a unique situation in business, except for similar events like conferences.

Going back to our example, you have 5 employees going to a show, travel’s probably $7000, booth is $3000, another 5k in other stuff. Let’s round it up to $20k and you have $100 per visit. that’s pretty cheap.

But STEVE, c’mon, what about shipping equipment and samples and what not to the booth? What about the booth itself! Do you know what these things cost?!?

Yep, they’re expensive, but they’re not really part of the visit, are they? Companies do these things for branding and image related reasons, not because they couldn’t meet with customers without them. I’m not advocating they just put up card tables and leave all the product at home, I’m simple stating that costs need to be allocated where they belong.

Even so – let’s add them in. Wow, that per visit cost went up, didn’t it. BUT you have to remember that now we’re talking about a visit where your employee toted along some rather expensive equipment just for that visit, including a custom-built meeting room. That doesn’t happen very often, does it?

Now let’s consider another aspect of this: Scheduling.

In our example, there were 200 visits. Do you think you could schedule those 200 visits in four days without the trade show? Do you think you could get them all in even in a year? Probably not – many of those visits were ‘dry holes’ – people you thought could help but couldn’t. Or thought would be interested in having help but weren’t. Or whatever. 1 in 10 perhaps turns out to be valuable, but that one probably wouldn’t have taken your call without the show. Think about it – many of the people your company met with aren’t friends or acquaintances, they’re people who don’t really know you. Are they going to jump at having you come visit them in their office – let alone fly to see you? What would you have to offer (i.e. dinner, lunch, whatever) to help persuade them to give you some time?

Consider the opportunity cost of this.

When I was a product manager in the printing equipment business, I remember one show where a customer had come to talk about a rather involved, space-age kind of project. Very cutting edge, and there were a number of technical issues. Because I was at DRUPA (the largest printing equipment show on the world), in one day I could meet up with the relevant people to determine the feasibility of the project. Outside of that show it would have taken months. The point here is not that new projects are likely to crop up, but that you have access to a huge array of people in a very convenient way.

One last thing

Do you have employee meetings? They’re expensive, right? How about team building sessions, or other events designed to get people out of the office together for a little bonding? Travel to trade show, along with the time spent a trade show provides some of the same benefits.

Online Bully Defense

Yesterday I wrote about how one’s email address has become their online identity. As I think about online identity, it occurs to me that a difference in strength of identity might be enabling online bullies. Just as a physical bully seizes initiative to exploit another’s physical weakness & lack of vigilance, online bullies can operate in the same way. If your whole online life revolves around one site, and the bully has a stronger presence, bullying is enabled. It’s a difference in strength of online presence and reputation.

The internet is so new, has moved so fast, its not surprising that this is happening. Even well-funded corporations who have devoted huge resources to PR are still challenged to manage their reputation online. No wonder kids can find themselves exposed.

Helping my kids develop a stronger online identity, in advance of them really needing it, will help them be more bully-resistant. Having their own place to publish content is also a hedge against social sites changing terms or moving from free to paid. At the end of the day, what will matter in the long run is what comes up when someone types my daughter’s name into a search engine.

I’ve pulled their firstnamelastname.com domains, and when needed we’ll develop sites for them. They have control over the content, and can build whatever presence fits them. They can probably manage the SEO of their own site well enough to make it place higher than Facebook or other pages, which is a hedge against the inevitable, regrettable social media content. It can be the site they mention to prospective employers (preferably, investors) or whoever else they need to impress.

They can still enjoy all the fun and drama that comes with Facebook and other sites, but they will have their own presence on the web as the anchor. This is the same strategy recommended to businesses, and the same logic is applicable to personal brands as well.

How not to have a web presence

So I’m after some woodchips to use as mulch, and I was very happy to find this great offer on the Dorshak tree service web site:

Dorshak Tree service is offering free woodchips to anyone interested. No hidden costs, no catch. Woodchips can be used for many different things including landscaping around your home, flower gardens, areas you would like to keep weeds to a minimum and many other uses.

The woodchips come from our daily tree removals and may contain various different species of trees. We do not distribute pine (unless requested) or diseased material. We will deliver to you a full truck load which may contain from 15-20 yards of chips. We do not deliver specific amounts and what you will receive will be within these totals.

I fill out the form they provide, and off goes my request. I’m wondering if I’ll get a response because last year when I was thinking about having someone take a tree down I filled out their quote request form, and after the obligatory ‘We got your message, and we value your message, and we will respond to your message Real Soon Now” kind of email I never heard from them. After a few days, I make a mental note to give them a call, and of course forget.

Yesterday I took a moment to look through my spam folder and happened across this message from Dorshak:

Thank you for your woodchip request through Dorshak Tree Specialists.
From tree removals to stump grinding and plant health care, Dorshak Tree Specialists can take care of all your tree care needs.
A delivery of woodchips will arrive to you shortly if you need more information please call one of the numbers below.

Uh oh! I was headed out of town (As I write this I’m on a train to Cleveland) and not going to be back for a few days. I suddenly had this vision of my poor wife coming home from a day with the girls and finding 20 yards of mulch in the driveway. I call Dorshak to find out if they can at least tell me when to expect my bounty of chips. Brad, the first guy on the phone, gets my name but doesn’t really know anything about chip deliveries, so he puts me on hold to check with someone. Someone else picks up. The next guy, who’s name I missed, explains that due to customer complaints they really didn’t do residential deliveries anymore. He explains this in a voice that makes it clear the policy has been changed for a long time, and I’m one of the infrequent folks who uses the web form.

Now I haven’t yet had the pleasure of doing business with the Dorshak Tree service, so they may be phenomenal with trees.

However, as a web presence they are similar to far too many other companies who get a nice site put up, implement some features to respond to customers, and then fail to follow up on the implementation. I’m sure they got busy, had enough business where they could just accept the customers who are willing to call and ignore the rest. It might never be a problem. Or, a big recession happens, and then every customer is dear…except those that were alienated during the boom times.

It happens, and it always will happen, but it should happen because of things that are hard to fix. Text on a website is NOT hard to fix. I’m sitting on a train right now, and there’s maybe 15 people in this car. I bet if I got up and asked if anyone did website work I’d get 3 or 4 takers. Heck, I’d fix it for a load of chips. Or two.

Fix your web site and stop annoying people who might otherwise be your customer someday.

Hey VMWare, did you notice the missing sale?

From time to time I need to run the odd Windows app, and while I still have a few laptops that have XP on them, it’s more convenient to do it on my mac. I’ve tried both Parallels and VM Fusion, and to be honest I don’t think I could differentiate them. They’re both the same price, and since the latest trial I used was VM Fusion, when I decided to buy this morning I figured I’d stick with them.

I am always amazed when I see how hard companies will make it to do business with them, and VMWare proved to be like so many others. Instead of just taking my money and giving me a product, they want to waste my time create a “relationship” first. I must have a login. Of course, I already have one because I had to create one to get the trial. But now it doesn’t work. So I try to recreate it. They won’t let me – they say that the account already exists.

Let’s clarify what should be happening: I give VMWare $80. They give me a very large number that makes the software work. What could be simpler? I should be able to go to a single page, enter my credit card info and email address, click, get email with magic number, done. It should be easy, but it isn’t.

Most transactions are like this. I will have very little interaction with the company once the sale is made, but they always want me to make an account. It is almost always just a speed bump for all future transactions. The only time I actually use these accounts is when I go back looking for tracking info to find out what happened to the package. Not much tracking to be done for software downloads.

Some companies, like Land’s End, are smart enough to know that I may not care to create an account. They’re smart enough to give me the option of just making the sale. I wish more were.

Bad Market Research

I just got done signing up for Tumi’s “Advisory Panel”. Yes, I was hoodwinked into thinking that they’d actually selected me because of my extreme insight into luggage. In actuality, they probably culled my name from their bag registry when I registered a bag with them many moons ago.

Anyway, I took their survey, and the first signs this whole effort was underdone came when they asked what brands of bags I own & buy, and had only ONE place to add new brands. They didn’t list Red Oxx, Tom Bihn, Timbuk2, Chrome or anything else unusual. I haven’t bought a “popular” brand of luggage in years, mostly because they’ve all lost their way and have begun making luggage as a fashion accessory first and a functional item second.

So I took their survey and it was mostly incoherent because first they ask how many bags have been purchased, then they ask for the brands to be listed & ranked, but since they don’t have the brands I’ve bought the two sections don’t agree.

The rest of the survey was tired old buyer behavior questions on whether I prefer to buy brands I know and whether I’ll pay more for better quality. Sheesh! Can’t you buy that data from here?

Once I finished the survey I was directed to a site quickly cobbled together and asked to enter a profile, and then I was dumped into a set of polls (read: another survey). The link for the polls was actually “Forums”, but given that I can’t start a new thread, enter my own poll, or do anything else but respond to their questions I think they should rename the link to “Survey”.

Did I plan to continue checking bags with increased baggage fees? Do I think it’s important for my luggage supplier to be green? I entered my response along with the other 5 suckers respondents. Wow. I’ve known that Tumi has slipped further and further down the slope of fashion over function, as all gear suppliers eventually do once they get big (TNF, Eddie Bauer, countless others) but I thought their marketing was more together than this.

Not one question about why I wouldn’t buy from Tumi, or why I like other brands, or even what I want in luggage.

Jim & Tom seem to have this insight, and without asking me to join some bogus panel.

I guess it’s because Tumi’s really not in the luggage business anymore, but in the “pretty thing for sale at the mall I’ve got to convince people they need” business. Great.

More competitive intelligence in printing?

I’m at Print Outlook 2008 in New York City, and I noticed during Andrew Paparozzi’s presentation on commercial printing in 2008, based on survey results, that there were several themes revolving around competition. Print is more competitive than ever, and he stressed differentiation and not doing things just because competitors were doing them.

Will this drive an increased interest in competitive intelligence in printing? My experience is that this is one industry where CI hasn’t really taken hold, at least not in the same way as in medical/pharma and other industries. Perhaps as print gets more competitive and more dependent on innovation and positioning we will see a growing demand for CI in print.

Don’t think too hard about that video, Dr. Joe.

You know you’re out of touch when a friend sends a link to a YouTube video, which you forward to friends in the press only to find they’d covered it a week earlier. That happened to me a few weeks ago when I forwarded the now-famous-among-printers Pazazz Printing video to Adam Dewitz at PrintCEOBlog only to have him reply that they’d covered it more than a week earlier, and just what rock had I been hiding under?

What can I say? I have kids. I just moved. Work’s been busier than usual…and I’ve been out of touch. Ouch!

Anyway, Dr. Joe Webb wrote a short bit about it last Monday,(paid subscription required) that was generally not too flattering.

Lighten up Joe. It’s a YouTube video. It’s “New Social Interactive Media 2.5”. It’s all a grand experiment, and while the language and attendant bleeping was a bit tiring it was very refreshing to me to see a) folks excited about printing enough to make any video, or even a book with that kind of message, b) printing folks internet savvy enough to make the video and see any benefit to doing to, and c) a printing company president gusty enough to do it.

My parent company’s web site, qg.com, has an Alexa rank of ~622,000. Lower is better – Google’s rank is 2. My best-friend’s wife’s site, http://www.breakfast-and-brunch-recipes.com has an Alexa rank of ~250,000, just lower than whattheythink.com’s 270,000. QuadTech’s site (10 million), as well as that of it’s competitors (qipc.com = 8 million, gmicolor.com not ranked) are generally in the millions along with this blog (2.3 million).

The web doesn’t seem to be very strongly embraced by the “ink-drinkers” in general. I think things are changing, and it will be some day. In the mean time, I say applaud those with the gumption to give it a try who can show the rest it’s not fatal.