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You First


Posted on July 10, 2006

By Rich Westerfield

As any professional copywriter could tell you, the phrase, "You first," is a quick reminder that your marketing messages should be outward-focused, not inward.  You the customer, not "we" the company.  Benefits, not features.  Reasons, not platitudes.

But that's not why were here.  Our industry rarely spends on professional copywriting, so to discuss it would be spitting into the wind.  After all, if anyone in our industry did employ professional copywriters, we'd be seeing more letters in #10 envelopes and fewer overblown media kits, wouldn't we?

But I digress.  Again.

In this case, the reference to, "You First," is to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of first mover advantage.

This Friday, July 14, will be the third anniversary of the Trade Show Marketing Report.  It was the world's third blog on tradeshows.  I was also author of the first two, one which lasted all of five posts in early 2003, and one that was part travelogue, part tradeshow marketing blog, which I authored from Sofia, Bulgaria during Spring 2003.

I was one of the early adopters of blogging for practical reasons.  The guy who designed the content management system behind my tradeshow portal disappeared without getting me the code.  So I was left with a portal where I couldn't control the positioning or timing of the content.  Not what you wanted to find out after dropping a few thousand dollars on design.

Blogs were cheap.  Some were free.  And under the hood, blog software is nothing more than a content management system.

When we first began blogging, there were about 100,000 blogs being tracked by Technorati.  Today there are about 30 million - 300 times as many.  Back then, bloggers were looking for anything to link to.  Linkable informative content was scarce.  If you had something to say, it was easier to be linked by the so-called "A-list" of bloggers simply because there was less noise.  Not so today.

On the one hand it was great to be somewhat of a pioneer.  We made great contacts, got some notoriety and became somewhat of a de facto expert in this industry.  On the other hand, being first didn't amount to a dime of revenue.  If anything it was a losing proposition, traveling to numerous conferences to speak, all on our dime.

And that's why, "You first!" seems to be the clarion call of the trade show industry.  There aren't many brave souls who want to be the first to experiment with technology.  Rather, most of our leaders seem to prefer to wait until some other sucker has worked out the bugs and made a few bucks.

Which explains why Bob Krakoff said to me in a 1997 budget meeting for the Internet and Electronic Commerce Expo I was running, "Electronic commerce isn't real."  It wasn't until later that I'd learned Bob only bought iEC because it was part of the deal to acquire the OnDemand and Licensing shows from Expocon. 

The internet bubble killed that show three years later.  I had already bolted for Passkey, thankfully.  But we all buy over the internet, don't we Bob?  How else to explain eBay and Amazon?

Here at TSMR we've often noted that our industry is among the last of the late adopters of technology.  As an industry we were woefully late to embrace email and the web and when we did so it was with the worst profit-sucking intentions (see: virtual shows). 

We were late to database marketing and customer relationship management for attendees.  Most of our meetings still don't offer wifi (or power outlets) and when they do they're rarely free (the rare exceptions generally being events about social networking).

Well, maybe that's not being fair.  We were early adopters of spreadsheets.  And sales force automation software.  And electronic floor plans.

Come to think of it, when it comes to technology that assists exhibit sales and clearing up financial gobbledygook, the tradeshow industry may not be that bad.  In retrospect, it seems that the real resistance is when it comes down to investing in attendees.  Hmmm.

And that's what we're going to talk about this week - why the pyramid is being set on its head.  Why and how attendees - not exhibitors, not sponsors and not show management - will be setting the rules of engagement from here on out.  And how they're going to do it.

You can look at the news from IAEM and the trade publications to see that all seems healthy in our industry.  Growth among the biggest shows.  M&A activity seems on the upswing again.  And BDMetrics is here to make everything better.  At least for those shows who can afford it.

For the sake of your entertainment, let's spend this week posturing that we might be seeing Rome burn as Nero fiddles.  At least as far as the traditional tradeshow model goes.

Are you ready?  OK, then... you first.

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