Rich Westerfield Aligning Your Marketing With Your Markets

Aligning Your Marketing With Your Markets, The Final Episode

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.

    The American Idolization of Events

    July 14, 2006

    By Rich Westerfield

    American Idol.  Whether you watch the show or not, you can't escape the phenomenon.  I don't mean being exposed to mindnumbing songs from Clay or Kelly or Taylor (actually, Kelly is pretty good these days).  I mean the concept of "American Idolization" - marrying content with audience participation technology.

    Yes, American Idolization has roots that go all the way back to the Coliseum and gladiators, with the emperor's thumb up or thumb down usually reflecting the wishes of thousands of spectators.  But the emperor didn't have text messaging technology.

    Some 17 months ago I posted about using SMS (text messaging over cell phones) for event promotion and participation.  SMS marketing has been around a few years in Europe and parts of Asia and is fairly well accepted, especially by younger generations.  I used American Idol as an example of a popular application.

    But American Idolization means much more than just using SMS for marketing feedback.  The success of the show - and resulting popularity of its winners - has more to do with the needs of under-30s to have the opportunity to offer feedback AND have that feedback acted upon.  Some psychoanalysts have pointed out a generational shift that has gone from, "the Me Generation" of selfishness and gluttony in the 80s to the, "Look at Me, Aren't I Special", generation of self-aggrandizement that exists among much of today's youth - best explained by their worship of celebrity for the sake of celebrity.

    This trend isn't just apparent on reality shows.  Some feel the trend is (or should be) already leaching into areas beyond entertainment, like politics*, media*, news, even how the news is reported* (or at least some "news features".  (Being from Pittsburgh, we'll add that getting Jason Bay enough votes to start in Tuesday's All-Star Game is another example.)

    Why is this important to know?

    Your word for the day:  Unconference.  Learn about it.  And how this concept is being executed for numerous technology and marketing events.

    Before anyone gets their panties up in a bunch, I'm not suggesting that the folks who've been contributing to the unconference trend are of the same intelligence level as the autorantic moonbats that vote for American Idol.  I'm simply suggesting that the need for inserting their own input into the final product appears more generational than anything else (then again, it could be argued that unconferences are a direct result of the open source movement, which itself wouldn't exist without technology and the behemoth which is Microsoft which has been open source's primary target - therefore the environment for unconferences didn't exist until just now). 

    We're also not suggesting that you turn your entire event into a free-for-all (although it would be incredibly amusing to watch the entire CES conference devolve into a frenzy - it would be like the trading pit for frozen concentrated orange juice).  But, if you're finding your events beginning to skew older than usual, perhaps its something to look into.

    Even if you just took a part of your conference - say a couple of hours in the afternoon - to do an "unconference" type format, you might find it worthwhile, both in terms of attendee interaction and buy-in to the concept, as well as being able to learn more about your audience and the key topics and level of detailed discussion that really turn them on.

    Of course if you're going to persue this type of format change, you have to let this same audience know in your marketing. 

    But more often than not, this same generation is tuning out traditional marketing from traditional marketing delivering systems.  That's why if you want to proceed with an "unconference" strategy you should also be thinking about an honest appraisal of your show's "word of mouth" value. 

    Yes, word of mouth.  That's what younger generations heed, not ads, not direct mail. 

    But aren't today's youth walking billboards themselves?   Doesn't everything they wear, touch and consume blatantly send a message about who (they think) they are?   Well, yes and no.

    (Confession:  Although I actively resist being sucked in by ego purchasing of brands, back in the disco era I used to wear Levis so as to stand apart from our generation's version of metrosexuals who wore Jordache and Calvins.  Levis were more "cool" than Wrangler or Lee, which were viewed more as the 'budget' versions of denim.)

    We get confused ourselves - while under-30s generally disregard mass advertising, they do appreciate a broad range of event marketing and are also the most brand-concious generation in history.  We prefer to believe that this generation's apparent schism between self-aggrandizement and self-actualizationit's is explained away as it is simply taking a bit longer for the generation currently entering the workforce to find its true identity. 

    And that's probably the same thing what our parents said about those of us now entering our 50s.  Except they didn't use as many big words.

    While WOM has always been the most effective marketing medium, technology has made it possible for fewer people to influence how and to whom WOM messages get distributed.  That's why personal publishing (blogs, online forums) and broadcasting (podcasts/vidcasts) have become extremely important to marketers.  Generally speaking, there are hierarchies in every community - some blogs/podcasts are viewed as more important than others.  You could call these the "A-list" of a given community. 

    When you can convince the "A-list" of the merits of your event, then you've set into motion a cascade of downward influence on the masses that will exponentially grow as long as your event continues to be well-thought-of by the key opinion leaders in your community.

    In other words, you're not going to sucker Simon Cowell with a phony act.  He's got to be able to see your actual talent in order to sell it.  If you suck, he'll call you out. 

    Sounds like the same need for authenticity/passion/transparency that has become the blogger/podcaster credo.

    So in some ways, being 'American Idolized' is a positive.

    *We're not taking sides.  We're just showing examples.

    Easiest Path to Attendance: Events People Want

    July 13, 2006

    By Rich Westerfield

    NB: There was no post yesterday due to a service problem with this blog's authoring application.  The following is the post that should have ran Wednesday, July 12.  Today's blog post will be up later this afternoon.

    For some reason I've got a strong affinity for the movie, "about last night...".  The movie was an adaption of play written by David Mamet, which would usually imply a quality production.  In this case many reviewers considered, well, awful.  After all, Jim Belushi was a key character as was the pre-enhancement-surgery Demi Moore.

    It's one of those guilty pleasures I usually keep to myself, but as I need to borrow a line from it for today's post, I'm admitting my poor taste in movie preferences. 

    If you haven't seen it, I'll spare you the story.  But there's a line in it, spoken by Danny, a restaurant supply salesman played by Rob Lowe, that goes like this:

    "I've spent my life stuffing more unneeded restaurant supplies on the shelves of more unneeded restaurants than any salesman in Chicago."

    Change that quote to, "I've spent my life sticking more unneeded conference brochures in the mail for more unneeded conferences than any marketer in the nation," and you'd be adequately expressing why I've become extremely selective in who I work with.

    Had there been web-based communities back in the 80s, it would've been different.  But more on that in a few minutes.

    I suppose the reason for all those unnecessary shows and conferences is that for about as long as I can remember, the process for launching a trade show has been exhibitor-centric.  In the show divisions of mammoth media companies there was usually some offshoot of Reed's PLP (Preliminary Launch Proposal) vetting device, which separated ideas that could potentially make millions in profits from ideas that would generate only mere hundreds of thousands in profits.

    Regardless how much due diligence went into the PLP, the "go" decision usually came down to whether or not at least four of the top ten industry bellwethers would commit to exhibiting in the launch.  If you got that far, you could start spending some money on exhibitor marketing. 

    But that was just the first barrier.  Your market had to have at least 100 or so potential exhibitors to provide the critical mass on the exhibit floor.  And that market had to be growing, because a show with a ceiling of only 100 or so exhibitors was not worth pursuing.

    From what I understand from my association colleagues, the experience wasn't that much different for many of them.  New events were generally created not out of customer demand, but out of need for additional revenue.

    Back in the 1990s I helped launch 14 different shows, five of which I personally created.  Among those I created were:
    - a West Coast clone of a national design engineering show
    - a Northeast clone of a national electronics component show
    - an East Coast clone of a national carpeting/flooring show
    - a niche event for CRM software capitalizing on another show's brand
    - a control engineering conference that would co-locate with two vaguely tangential engineering shows
    - five clones of US shows for the Mexican market
    - a niche event for F500 corporations interested in developing intranets

    I also did due diligence and launch plans for another two dozen events that didn't pan out and were never launched.  These included a slew of regional "clones" of Tradeshow 200-type events, but also some interesting new launches for flat screen manufacturing, internet investing, technology for the pet market, and third-party warehousing and logistics.

    Not surprisingly, the market at the time for those last four opportunities wasn't all that large in the mid-90s.  But before the end of the decade smaller entrepreneurs launched events in each of those markets.  While the markets may be small, there was a need for those events.

    Until very recently, "need" seemed to be fairly far down the list of reasons to launch a show.  More often, launches at the publicly traded big media companies were done because the show division's CEO commited some number of new shows to the Board of Directors in order to prove there was growth potential.

    In the entire decade of the 90s, with the possible exception of the five Mexican events, there wasn't a burning need for anything I worked on that was greenlighted.  All those projects were clones of sorts, usually regional events that would be convenient for some people in that market to attend.  But in no case were they "must-attend" events representing a market niche. 

    Not that regional convenience is a bad thing.  The engineering event clones I created are still going on, having been bought by a producer that now specializes in producing regional engineering events.  It's just that those events are so... unfulfilling.

    While the situation has improved somewhat, the above exemplifies a problem I've seen with our industry.  Many shows and sponsored conferences get created not because they're necessary or have the potential to be great value for exhibitors, sponsors and attendees, but because they're assets that can be relatively easily developed into something to be sold. 

    Perhaps that's just the American Way.  It just seems that when I talk to tradeshow entrepreneurs these days, they're usually not personally involved in the area in which they launched.  There's no passion about the subject matter of the event.  But there is passion about discussing their exit strategy that includes a minimum of a 3x multiple within five years.

    Many of them have their dreams derailed when they find that their attendance projections (quantity and quality) aren't increasing year-to-year, followed by sponsors and exhibitors demanding more value and eventually pulling out.

    It's that "events as assets" attitude that has invited and enabled people with no career tradeshow or conference organization experience to launch events that have become extremely successful.  A look at this year's Tradeshow Week Fastest 50 is evidence of events being created by "industry outsiders" (smaller and non-traditional media companies, non-associations) and enthusiasts that are making a name for themselves.

    CoffeeFest - managed by David Heilbrunn, a Seattle-based entrepreneur and coffee fanatic.  Recently launched their fourth show in China.
    VON Conference - originally run by Voice-Over-Internet guru Jeff Pulver, now grown to size where he needs Jason Chudnofsky's help.
    Electronic House Expo - Yes, John Galante is techincally a "show guy", but he's also a huge home electronics enthusiast who was talking about doing this event as far back as 17 years ago.

    Other events on the TSW Fastest 50, like Kioskcom, Lubrication Excellence and TEAMS, are currently connected to publications, but those publications were launched by professionals and enthusiasts in the field who also happened to be entrepreneurs.

    From personal experience, I can guarantee it's a lot more enjoyable working on an event that people consider "must-attend" and "voice of the industry" than an event that's simply there as a convenience.  Many of you know I did two tours of duty on Internet World in its halcyon days.  It doesn't get much better than that.

    Surprisingly, the biggest difference between must-attend industry vs. convenient regional/clone events is not the profit margin.  It's the community.  It's rare you'd find innovation at regional or clone events.  Because you won't find community.  There's nothing compelling about attending other than the convenience and cost-savings for your company.  It's almost a chore.

    When you do an event just for the money, it shows.

    And when you do an event because you love the community, that shows too.

    This is where the internet has had its biggest impact on the show industry.  While most industry observers continue to believe the benefit of the internet is in the sale of web advertising and online delivery of paid seminars, those are simply distribution methods that may or may not come to a quick end.

    Rather, the impact of the internet is that it has made it extremely convenient for us - the general public - to self-identify ourselves.  This has two major benefits:  1) If you know where to look in your chosen industry, prospecting for attendees is much easier than it was pre-internet.  2) It is "democratizing" the events industry. 

    To the first point, we are becoming a product of the online groups to which we belongWorld of Warcraft has been called "the new golf".  An increasing number of us spend more time interacting with others over wireless and wired networks than we do in person (your kids would often rather text on their phones than talk on them).  That will become even more common as broadband access expands.  And the faster access we have, the more time we'll spend online (FACT: about twice as many broadband users get news over the internet as dial-up users). 

    On the second point, by "democratizing", we mean making it more affordable for non-show people to get in.  If you can identify a large enough online community (or several communities) interested in a given topic (and every topic has at least one online forum, if not a half-dozen), then you don't really need to invest in print marketing to sell your event.  You use word-of-mouth, forum participation, blogs, maybe even podcasts and vidcasts from other participants. 

    The cost to start up a small event from a marketing perspective can be as little as next to nothing.  Meetings logistics are still expensive, but once the lion's share of marketing costs has been eliminated, operations costs seem, well, managable.  And those costs can be covered by sponsors, who will happily give you money once you've proven you can attract enough attendance in your selected narrowcast niche.

    Back when I was regularly publishing TSMR, I posted fairly often on Gnomedex, the grassroots social networking event created by Chris Pirillo that is limited to about 300 people in its "live" format, but which attracts hundreds of thousands to its daily podcasts and blogs during the event.  Gnomedex might be the "perfect storm" of user-driven events:

    - geeky attendees (heavily involved with the subject matter)
    - attendees eager to communicate and share experiences with one another
    - attendees able to use technology to evangelize the subject
    - a charismatic leader (Pirillo)
    - sponsors willing to fall over themselves to throw money at the audience

    It's an audience that has come together not because anyone told them to or marketed some B.S. about the value of CEUs.  The Gnomedex audience came together because they wanted to.  It was in their own best interest - or at least that's what their egos told them.  And they made everyone they knew with similar interests aware, if not involved, with the event.

    THAT'S what we should all be aiming for.   Events people really want.  Events that people want to attend so bad it hurts to stay home.

    Now, how to get there.

    Who's the Attendee? Who's the Exhibitor? Who's Creating the Content?

    July 11, 2006

    By Rich Westerfield

    The traditional exhibitor/attendee/speaker model of shows/conferences is all but kaput. 

    "What?", you say.  Why there are still a number of very successful shows out there that continue to use old models that are very successful.

    True enough.  But we think you'll be seeing those shows start to disappear very soon.  Big shows built on the traditional model typically draw audiences that skew older (except CES, of course).  They are not bringing in new blood to replace the growing number of their attendee base that's retiring from the workforce.  Thus, extinction is on the horizon.

    And we're about to explain why.  Enjoy the ride.  And if you disagree, feel free to comment - that's why we're doing this, to start a dialogue.

    Industry consolidation, the aftermath of 9/11/2001, broadband proliferation and just good old-fashion American entrepreneurism have conspired to create a scenario where home-based small businesses are booming and more corporate bees have side gigs that help them stay sane.  More people are consultants and independent contractors (full time and part time) than at any period in history. 

    And more consultants means there are more people exerting influence over what products are bought, even though they're not doing the actual buying.  That's a big part of what consultants do.

    Blogging, along with sites like, Squidoo and ChangeThis have also helped create a whole new breed of experts.  Name a subject, any niche, doesn't matter how small.  You have about a 99% chance that there's an "expert" publishing a blog on it today.  These people may or may not be actively consulting (some make a living from ads on their sites) but they are also important influencers, usually called "opinion leaders".  Get these folks to your show and lemmings will follow.

    In short, what we now have are millions of people who should or could be attending events but can't be classified as primarily an exhibitor or an attendee.  They're both - and all three when you consider potential speakers. 

    These folks are interested in selling their services (or at least increasing their influence), but they're not ready or willing to plunk down $2800 on a 10x10 space to do so.  They're interested in learning things at conferences, but not willing to spend $1295 for a three-day conference when they really only need four sessions, a floor pass and an invite to a couple of networking receptions. 

    So they do what anyone in their position would do, submit speaker proposals in order to get free admission to the conference and full networking privileges so they can buttonhole their short list of top prospects in the hallways and at the bar.  Surprised?

    This trend has been building since the mid-1990s zeniths of events like Comdex and Internet World (who?) when it seemed every fifth attendee was actually a budding CEO or CTO of start-up internet companies - potential exhibitors/attendees/speakers all in one.   That's why the parties at most tech and tech marketing events became more important than the show itself.

    With the convergence of internet technology into all areas of life, the line between who's an exhibitor and who's an attendee has blurred further.  With the possible exceptions of poster sessions and seminars that offer CEUs, relevant content can pretty much be created by anyone with an interest in the subject at hand.

    Let's use me as an example.  I've often thought about exhibiting at IAEM.  Not sure what I'd showcase in my exhibit since I offer services from copywriting to show management to internet marketing consulting, but with my 20 years of knowledge of our industry I know I'll get very little new information from walking the floor or sitting in sessions that I haven't already received prior to the show from talking to people.  The value of attending IAEM for me is the conversations I have with other attendees.  The networking.

    Why don't I exhibit?  That's simple.  It's the expense.  I know that many of the people I want to meet are not walking the floor analyzing the exhibits just for the heck of it.  And they're not looking at pre-show mail.  The only way to reach them before the show is to get them on the phone or through email or messaging to set up an appointment.  But why does that interaction have to be at booth?  Why not the coffeeshop in the convention center lobby?  Why spend $2000 or more on a display and space?

    Every industry consultant does exactly the same thing.  And without all those consultants walking the floor, IAEM's attendance would plummet.  Trust me on this.  Consultants know how many other consultants are in the room.

    IAEM is not unique.  Many, if not most, shows are in a similar predicament. 

    But the rise of the consultant is not the biggest threat to the traditional show model.  That threat is the public in general.  They are increasing distrustful of mass marketing.  And increasingly discontent over the content they're being asked to watch and read by traditional media.  Especially those under 30 who've begun to learn that by raising their collective voices and combining their collective talents, they can almost willfully create their own entertainment and educational environments, walled-in though those environments may be.

    In the period of just one decade we've seen the emergence of the public from a more-or-less willing stooge to be broadcast at to becoming active participants in the development and publication of content.   Some call it citizen journalism.  But most of it isn't journalism.  Most of it is more like an ongoing audition, whether as a writer/columnist through blogging (or podcasting), a video director through YouTube, a potential platinum recording artist through MySpace, a business development guru through any of the thousands of mash-ups being created or a coding wunderkind through some new open source project.

    Let's consider a couple of the more notable and utlitarian success stories:

    Wikipedia is the second-most visited reference site in the US (although #1 globally) and closing in on #1.  It has no advertising.  It's content comes from people like you.  It pays its bills through donations from people like you.

    Craig's List is the seventh most visited English-language site in the US, trailing only Yahoo!, Microsoft, Amazon, AOL, News Corp. and eBay.  It's content is advertising - for the most part FREE advertising from people like you.  It pays its bills by charging below market rates for classified and help wanted ads placed by businesses.  But there are no Google ads or banners.

    Movie attendance is down.  DVR rentals are down87% of DVR users skip commercials.  Local search has become a viable alternative to newspaper and yellow page advertising.  Personal publishing site Blogger had the largest percentage growth in usage of any major site last year.  The closed garden of MySpace was right behind it - once the favored community of musicians and teens, it's now attracting businesses and professionals.

    And Open Source seems like it's everywhere.  Flickr for sharing photos.  Planzo and Eventful for sharing calendars. for sharing links. for sharing maps.  And many others.

    It's not a secret that there's a growing animosity towards marketing.  At least towards marketing that's not relevant to this person at this very moment.  Banner ad buys are falling.  Contextual ad buys are rising.  Where most blogs (reading) failed to generate significant ad revenue, podcasts appear to be doing well, possibly because of the (listening) delivery system.  And users of sites like YouTube, iMDB and popular vidcast sites don't seem to be too put off by ads, although we don't know the actual returns that advertisers on these sites are generating.

    It's not just the animosity towards advertising that is behind the creation of new communication and marketing models.  It's the antipathy toward much of the pre-programmed content that's out there.  If you haven't noticed, there are a lot of unemployed television writers out there.  Every network, including just about every cable niche network, has a stable of cheap "reality" shows where audience participation is a part of the deal.

    While the open source movement was created to counter the growing influence of Microsoft, much of what's happening today has nothing to do with Microsoft.  And in many circles Microsoft isn't even viewed as public enemy #1.  The open source movement has grown to include content production (see: Creative Commons).

    The generations entering the professional workforce demand influence.  If they're not happy with what they're seeing through their media, they'll create their own content.  At the very least they seem to demand interaction with the people producing the content, either through ripping on/supporting their favorite shows/products in blogs, satirizing them on YouTube or CurrentTV or voting for American Idol.

    They first wave of "citizen journalists" have already exerted influence on newsrooms at the major networks and leading newspapers.  They've been followed by a generation whose "right to personalized content" has been the driving force in the continuing growth of reality shows as well as the trend toward alternative endings of DVD releases (to make them similar to the video games they grew up with).  Soon they'll be creating their own events - which we're seeing happening already on a small scale as with MeetUp and a larger scale as with Gnomedex.

    So how do you plan shows and conferences that will satisfy this generation while keeping your bread-and-butter "traditional" attendees and revenue streams content? 

    We have three days left to explain.  See you then.

    You First

    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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