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Aligning Your Marketing With Your Markets, The Final Episode

Posted on July 17, 2006

By Rich Westerfield

Judging from the comments on this past week's posts - more specifically, the total lack thereof - it would appear that I'm completely out of tune with the Mimegasite readership. 

To give an indication of just how bad this week's gone, the one positive comment I did get is now inaccessible.  Thanks Kevin for the kind words, anyway.

My ego can take it.  As I no longer depend on this industry for my income, the blank stares aren't that disturbing.  But I'm sure it's not what Dave was looking for when he tapped me for this. 

Still, the copywriter/researcher soul in me wants to know why we didn't connect.

Maybe it's all the talk about tradeshows when you really want to discuss corporate and association meetings.

Maybe it's the talk of marketing strategy when you really want to talk logistics.

Maybe it's the discussion of new technologies you have no plans on using and social phenonemon that have no impact on your job.

Then again, maybe it's just the length of the posts that discourage readership.  As Kevin Holland said, I've apparently got a pent-up need to blog. 

One thing I'm fairly clear on.  Those of you who have read the columns don't think I'm full of bullbleep.  Because nothing gets comments flying faster than someone who challenges your position.

The thing is, I don't know whether to take that as a compliment.

Still, I committed to five days, not four, with Dave, so there's this last column to finish.  On the odd chance that you're just finding my guest column over here, I'll recap the week and try to tie together everything I've discussed since Monday.

As the masthead proclaims, the theme of the week was (is) "Aligning Your Markets With Your Marketing".  This week's posts touched on:

  • The American Idolization of events.
  • The need to create events people actually want.
  • Learning how to determine who is most important to your event.
  • Why being the first to market is both a blessing and a curse, particularly concerning technology.

To spare you having to go back and read everything, here's the nut in one sentence:

Attendees are going to take a more prominent role in driving the events business in the future.

You may argue that attendees have always driven events by their attendance or non-attendance.  Poorly attended events don't last very long.  Free markets and all that.

True enough.  But had attendees really been involved in the decision-making and planning of all events, there wouldn't be any poorly attended events in the first place.  There might be less events (certainly fewer tradeshows).  Then again, there might be more meetings.  Maybe they'd be smaller meetings, but there would be more of them.  And more focused and productive ones at that.

Remember how we originally thought the internet would replace many meetings?  So far, the internet has actually created the need for more meetings than the number it has disintermediated. 

Just a post or so ago I was talking about how "cloned" events are for the most part unnecessary.  Most clones seem driven by a company's need to generate more revenue for shareholders (or simple greed) or are just looking at a short term opportunity. 

No sooner do I post about clones than I get an email on the launch of Stone Expo East by Hanley-Wood. 

There are only two reasons to launch this new clone show:

1.  Capitalize on the Coverings show's move from Orlando to Chicago for 2007

2.  Put the ITSS Florida event out of its misery once and for all.

Whichever the reason, this new event was not created because buyers of stone products are clamoring for another show

If Hanley-Wood had decided to work with the Marble Institute of America (and I believe that this year is the end of MIA's agreements with Coverings) and the relevant active communities in the stone industry to create an event with the aim of offering more access to education, networking and community at a regional level instead of another cloned tradeshow, it would make some sense. 

But that's not what they're doing.  They're simply taking a product that worked in one place and creating a copy in Atlanta (and when you think "stone" and interior design, don't you think Atlanta?). 

As it appears the industry's online forums were taken by surprise, it doesn't look as if anyone at Hanley-Wood asked potential attendees for advice or discussed with them the wisdom of launching this clone event.

You can argue that Hanley-Wood is one of the fastest growing media companies around and everything Galen Poss has touched lately has turned to gold.  And you'd be right.  So why point a finger at them? 

Because even if Galen is right it's the "same old same old" style of "us first" show management that got exhibitors panties in a bunch of ROI in the first place.  If Galen and HW is successful with this, it'll be just the excuse needed for a dozen other media companies to fall back in love with cloning. 

Unfortunately, that type of development wouldn't be surprising.

What if Hanley-Wood had approached opinion leaders for buy in and got them talking about the event well in advance of a formal launch announcement?  Would that create more interest?  Would that imply a tacit third-party endorsement by these same opinion leaders?  Would it be more evident that Hanley-Wood had their audiences' best interest in mind in designing the event?

Yes, yes and yes.  At least I think so.

The reality remains that few "traditional" shows have taken the time (or shown an interest) to master usage of the internet as a 'word of mouth' distribution lubricant.  But that's really the web's most important use from a marketing standpoint, not contextual advertising or search optimization.

Seth Godin is fond of saying, "Small is the new big."  Hugh McLeod took that thought and created a concept of the "global microbrand" (hey, who's that coffee company?)

Small does not necessarily move from the New York Hilton to the Javits Center.  Small may decide to stay small in physical size, but become larger in influence.   

Perhaps the most influential small events of the past decade, TED and DEMO, still attract about the same number of attendees and sponsors as they did in 2000.  TED has no sponsors, and you have to be invited and then spend $4400 to attend.   DEMO is a relative bargain to attend at only $2995.  But only 70 companies get to showcase their products at DEMO, and those 70 need to apply and pass a peer review system to be selected.

In both cases, to grow physically larger would mean dilution of the concept that makes each of those events interesting and valuable for the participants.  Granted, you can't turn the New York Pizza Show or the Quad Cities Air Show into DEMO or TED.  They're not the same product. 

Or are they?

For a less "exclusive" example, AD:TECH could probably fill a hall at McCormick or Javits if it wanted.  But why?  That would only add an unnecessary logistical challenge and diminish the excitement and enthusiasm of essentially "owning" a hotel for a few days. 

The concept of "owning" a hotel is important.  When everyone you see in your hotel bar, gym and lobby are all attending and talking about the same event as you, it makes that event seem all the more important.  And you're more important just for being there.  That feeling doesn't happen in a room block of 35 at the Holiday Inn.

Even smart marketers miscalculate the power of buzz.  Case in point - there are hundreds of marketing seminars every month.  The two largest marketing associations, the American Marketing Association and the Direct Marketing Association both run dozens, if not hundreds, of seminars annually.  Each also has a larger annual event (in DMAs case, several).

But there's no buzz ascribed to those events.  How about that - our leading marketing associations can't create buzz.  What's a generalist to do if the marketing specialists can't do it right?  Easy.  Find a better example. 

Ad:Tech has buzz.  So does WOMMA (if it didn't, it shouldn't exist).  How did those two marketing events succeed in creating buzz where AMA and DMA did not?  Both heavily leverage attendees and speakers as ambassadors - the breakout rooms are packed with opinion leaders and "names".  Both take tremendous advantage of utilizing the word-of-mouth distribution capabilities of the web.

Both events recognize that the be-all-and-end-all of the event is not the exhibits or a specific session or keynote or event.  Rather, it's the whole experience.  The event's role is facilitating getting like-minded people together, not erecting barriers to the same.  They understand the importance of the "hallway conversation" concept (which is now even being baked into online distributed education applications).

In short, neither takes their audience for granted. 

If you've ever sold exhibit space to a luggage, furniture or costume jewelry distributor and you're not a luggage, furniture or jewelry show, you've broken the contract with your customers.  You've proven you're in it not for them, you're in it just for the money.  It's not as heinous a crime as those executed by Lay, Rigas, Koslowski, etc. but it's in the same family.  To me - and to many industry pundits - having those kinds of exhibits is an indicator your event is already terminally ill.  It's just a matter of time before it dies.  And the sooner the better.

In the end, the whole idea of matching marketing to markets comes down to mutual respect.  Events that try to take advantage of the relationship between show management and attendee or exhibitor or speaker will always pay the price. 

Cautionary tales - some recent examples of how once-mighty shows have fallen:

WestPack, a show once greater than 250,000nsf, compromised its show by coming out with space discounts once they were threatened by PMMI launching a second PackExpo event in the West.  Exhibitors weren't happy to pay less.  Instead, they were pissed off when they learned they had been paying too much all along.  It was bought by Canon and is now part of a "melange" of four or more packaging-related events in Anaheim.

Nepcon, once in the top 50 of the Tradeshow Week 200 not only fell victim to cost issues, but a host of other non-transparent policies that upset exhibitors.  It too was bought by Canon and is barely an echo of its former greatness.

Comdex was the second-largest show in the nation only five years ago.  Its organizers compromised the show by continually upping exhibit space costs and by using hotels to contribute to its coffers.  Some people attribute it to bellwhether exhibits bolting.  But why do you think they bolted?  ROI involves more than just the booth space and exhibit.  People expect to pay higher hotel rates when room supply is short, but they don't like it when show management is the one reaping the windfalls.

Add the National Hardware Show to this list.  Its organizer and association partner famously split a couple of years ago, each thinking it was the reason for the show's success.  Once again, turns out the reason was the market.

Good marketing aims to address a need at the exact moment that need arises or is most urgent.  Good marketing does not involve trying to convince someone to do something they don't really need to do.  That's what confidence artists do.

Therefore, the recent interest in data collection and mining is a positive development.  It shows a desire to better understand attendees - what makes them attend one event and not another, why did they stop at this booth and this session but not that one.

VNU started the trend toward greater data usage, hiring Michael Ousley from American Express to develop a datacenter in Chantilly.  Reed's recent love affair with BDMetrics' analytics should help them provide greater value to both exhibitors and attendees (although Reed apparently continues to only focus on the exhibitor side of that equation).

Using data effectively eliminates the often scattershot approach to third-party list rentals that's common in trade show direct marketing. By building profiles based on actual product usage, one can begin to look at patterns and use the resulting information to tighten and improve list selection.  While you may have higher CPMs for your rentals due to layering more selectivity, you'll also get higher response rates and a resulting lower cost per attendee.  At least that's how it should work.

VNU and Reed are large companies with money to invest in data.  You can assume that other publishing/show concerns are following closely - Hanley-Wood even built their own application to capture more customer information and process it for ready use by sales and marketing. 

If we assume that data is the way to go (and we should), what of current show marketing departments and the design agencies many major shows use?  People who can effectively read and parse data are usually not the same ones who design nifty brochures.  Left brain v. right brain.  It's rare to get someone good at figures and graphics.  And copywriting in general seems to be an art that's beyond most show marketing staffs.

Do you need two agencies?  After all, the industry awards prettiness in marketing (Art of the Show) over results.  Graphics must be the most important element of the package if that's what IAEM is telling us, no?

No.  I wouldn't trade you one Bob Bly for the whole IAEM executive committee when it comes to understanding how marketing works.

So we go back to our four posts once again.  What do you need to do to improve your show's marketing?

  • The "American Idolization" of events.
  • Give customers and prospects input.  The earlier the better.  Make it easy for the them to be involved.  More importantly, make it desirable for them to be involved - fun, simple and transparent.  Show them how important their assistance is.  This is especially true for younger audience segments so consider your media carefully when you try this tactic.

  • The need to create events people actually want.
  • You'd think there would be no need to state the obvious.  Unfortunately there is.  Again, ask attendees first before you launch an event.  Concentrate on the opinion leaders (as noted by the number of followers one has or posts about him/her, not the person's own hype).  They'll be able to give you an honest assessment of the market you're interested in and whether the idea you have is worthwhile.  Having these conversations might help you launch a better event that eliminates competition, or they might prevent you from throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars down the drain.  You can also use these opinion leaders to help you fix your show along the way.  Treat them well.

  • Learning how to determine who is most important to your event.
  • Attendees.  Need you ask?  If you get the right attendees together, exhibitors will come begging you to take their money.  Don't think in terms of, "I need 50,000 nsf of exhibits and 10 breakouts with 2,000 attendees."  Think in terms of, "I want to make this much.  What value can I create in concert with my audience that will allow me to do this?"

  • Why being the first to market is both a blessing and a curse, particularly concerning technology.
  • Bring your web and commerce applications in-house where practical.  Hire a great IT staff, two or three people, and give them the freedom to use open source products.  There are tons of pre-built chunks of component architecture for email marketing, web development, speaker and room management, event registration and commerce out there.  There are also more affordable hosted solutions being created all the time.  If you're not a top 200 show, odds are you don't need to "rent" an expensive registration solution like ExpoExchange each and every year for each of your events (an argument can be made that you never need ExpoExchange).  The result is you get - and pay for - only what you need, not everyone else's development costs.  It might cost you a year of development time, but once you've got the product up and working, it's yours.

    And one parting note on your direct mail just because... 

    Fire your designers and invest more in a great copywriter.  A simple #10 envelope with a great teaser and a compelling letter will outperform a graphics-heavy four-color every day of the week.

    Happy marketing.


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    Sue Pelletier

    Rich, I've been soaking all this up this week but keeping pretty quiet because, well, you've already said it all! I'm in complete agreement with what you've been saying, and think the past week's post are a must-read for all event marketers.

    On behalf of your silent majority: Thank you.

    David Gammel

    It was a great run of posts and it got me to subscribe to the turncated feed of this blog. It won't last long without a full text feed, however.

    Marshall Krantz

    Rich, I'd like to second Sue's comments. Your posts were a great read. Very thought-provoking. Thanks.

    The comments to this entry are closed.

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