1. Bigger Isn't Always Better

    Bigger Isn't Always Better

    If your like me, you watch the superbowl for the commercials just as much, perhaps even more than you do for the game. This year, it seemed clear that bigger spending dosn't mean you get a better message across. Which is exactly what we have found out recently with our latest project...

    The GSMA’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona (MWC) is just a week away starting on the 15th of  February. As an intern, this is my first experience with a major tradeshow.  When I say “major” I mean 50,000 attendees from all over the world. I am learning that there are about three months worth of details that need to be sorted out in the last three weeks. Every piece of a company’s presence at the exhibition is interconnected with other elements.  If you thought that some things were done just by “chance” or that things were picked out just because the events manager “liked them”, let me assure you that isn’t the case.  We are fortunate to have a few clients in the mobile telecom equipment industry and for them; MWC is the biggest annual event.  Each company is a little different and the process varies greatly between organizations.  Needless to say, it’s complicated, but it is also going to look fantastic once all those pieces come together.

    We are constantly asking ourselves what the return on investment (ROI) is for each element within a company’s strategy for the exhibition.  Everything at these events is wildly expensive.  Advertising at tradeshows is anything, but cost effective.  The majority of our clients are small to medium size organizations, which means that building name recognition via a $20,000 sign placement during a four -day event, isn’t something we recommend.  Our team’s approach is to focus on activities that extend the physical boundaries of the exhibition.  We look for innovative ideas that let attendees experience how the company exhibiting solves a business problem.  Many companies feel that their technology is targeted at complex network problems that don’t resonate to a “customer experience”.  We tend to challenge that idea because solving business problems creates positive impact – especially in the super cool world of mobility. 

    The tradeshow year kicked-off in Las Vegas at CES.  This annual event is renowned for flashy technology and customer applications.  It is also the land of the big brands.  There are some great examples of customer interaction exhibitions here and have the budgets to match considering they have budgets that compare to one of our client’s annual marketing spend.   If there are some early observations from tradeshow season it is that you don’t need a lofty budget to have an impact. Taking into consideration that every dollar spent while achieving your objective is important, and that there are many, many ways to participate in an exhibition that won’t break your budget, including not actually having a stand at the event. 

    For example, PrimeSense did a fantastic job of creating “buzz” without investing in even a small stand.  http://www.networkworld.com/news/2010/011010-minority-report-interface-shown-at.html  Network World, AdWeek, Computerworld and more all covered this start-ups entrance onto the scene.  It just goes to show that great technology, a solid plan and a little ingenuity can create pay off in a meaningful way. 

    In contrast, Alcatel Lucent did a good job of maximizing dollars spent on stands by sending out a low-cost video showcasing their demos. We liked both the concept of the video and what it showed.  That’s a great example of making really complex technology seemingly something that we can’t live without.  http://www.youtube.com/v/Ehdf0GpNUiM

    A few key questions that we repeatidly ask our clients related to their exhibition:

    1)      Is this a new application or solution?  If so, what does it offer?  If not, why are you showing it?

    2)      How does this solve a business problem?  What is the return on investment?

    3)      Why would anyone care?


    If you can answer these questions, you are in the path toward great customer meetings at the show, which after all is what these exhibitions are all about providing in a single venue.

     So, what have I taken away from all of this?  Don’t be afraid to ask the obvious question of, “Why?”.  It turns out that the answer is far too often, “Because we’ve always done it that way.”  vs. an actual business plan.  Unfortunately, companies  reserve space a year ahead of their actual exhibition, which means there are constant changing variables between the time you book your space and when you actual show the world what you have development.  

    Tradeshows like CES, the North American International Auto Show or Mobile World Congress are significant investments of time and resources.  Our team likes to say that anytime a company is interacting with the public they need to be polished in order to make sure the company is represented in a way that advances it goals.  Unfortunately, you can get attention for all the wrong reasons if you mess them up.

    Take this recent mishap at CES 2010. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcdtpIYJhMI

    The CEO of Sonim challenged attendees to break their “unbreakable phone” boasting that it can survive a fall from ten stories or a submersion in water of over 20 feet. No doubt people had been trying to break the phones all day and were unsuccessful but when this reporter is put to the challenge, he manages to smash the screen with a few well-aimed blows. Unbreakable? Ooops… Perhaps the title should have been, “Nearly unbreakable” or “Unbreakable except in the hands of an average BBC reporter.”

    The detail that Sonim failed to remember in that scenario is: never challenge the consumer’s ability.  We are smart, and we love to call advertising bluffs. If you’re going to make a promise about your product, you better be prepared for an army of consumers coming at you with mouths watering for the opportunity to prove you wrong.

    Another tradeshow blunder occurred when a writer from Gizmodo, an online, tech guide, decided to play a prank on CES by walking through the show with a TV B Gone remote. The universal remote functions in one way, turning Televisions on and off with one click. You can imagine the effect of someone walking through a tradeshow wielding this kind of weapon. The prank was not well received, especially by some of the companies who had their presentations clicked off in the middle of press conferences and demos. Oh yeah and this writer was banned from CES for life.  One of our newer clients’ marketing VP is famous for his take on planning.  Contingency planning is always part of any plan he wants to see and that makes our team rejoice.  Although, I’m not sure what our back-up plan is for reporters with universal remotes.  We definitely plan for customers missing executive meetings, under attended cocktail receptions, video equipment that doesn’t turn up, problematic demos, on and on. 

    These contingency plans for all crises are just one part of our Successful Tradeshow Recipe. Wondering what the other ingredients are? We combine innovative demo ideas, training for booth attendants, and our expertise at finishing last minute details with the industry savvy that is applied to all of our projects. Sprinkle on top of that our willingness to get answers from anyone across the globe through e-mail, phones, (even messenger pigeons if all else fails) and BAM! Sit back, relax and watch the buzz accumulate over your tradeshow victory.

    I’m still new to the tradeshow scene and expect I won’t fully have it figured out for a couple more years. I know that every experience will be different and unlike when dealing with real recipes the result will never come out quite the same. However I’m enjoying the complicated nature and speed that comes from working out all these details. I can’t wait for the finished product, but for now I’m off to send some e-mails and check on that messenger pigeon circling the skies of Barcelona.

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