How to stand out from hundreds of competing trade show exhibits.

The aisles were not all that crowded from the projected 30,000 attendees at IHMRS in NYC in November. Yet, some booths remained consistently busy while others were mostly dead. Why the difference?

Based on my observations, busy booths were staffed by engaging, purposeful, positive individuals. Also the busy booths clearly displayed operator benefits, while quiet booths merely exhibited equipment or supplies with no clearly defined benefits or ROI. In which camp does your exhibit stand?

Based on attending IHMRS, NRA, NAFEM, FMI, RBA and many major trade shows for more than 30 years, let me share some of what I’ve learned. To help you make the most of your upcoming trade shows, I can boil it down to 7 primary principles:

1. DEFINE WHAT EACH SUCCESSFUL TRADE SHOW WILL LOOK LIKE. Do you want to establish new contacts with XX attendees from chains? Schedule XX meetings with current customers to introduce a new product? Start conversations with XX new distributors or sales reps? Present new products to XX industry editors?

2. SELL KEY PROSPECTS IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS. Can you communicate – in the length of a tweet – why a qualified visitor to your booth should want to buy?

If not, you may need a Messaging Workshop to hone your mantra. Or you may want research to verify the importance of the message.

3. REACH KEY PROSPECTS BEFORE THE SHOW. Which of the thousands, or tens of thousands of attendees would make your show a success if they visited your booth? 75% of today’s attendees come to an exhibition with a “must see” list. (Center for Exhibition Industry Research)

If you want them to schedule time to visit your booth you need to get on their list through pre-show promotion. Yet, less than 20% of exhibitors actually conduct some form of pre-show promotion! Here’s a big opportunity to make key prospects want to visit your booth.

4. TRANSFORM YOUR BOOTH INTO A BILLBOARD. The typical attendee walks by a 20-foot booth in less than 5 seconds. How quickly, clearly and powerfully will your booth communicate a compelling reason to slow down and look at your booth?

5. WHEN THEY SLOW DOWN, START TALKING. A Skyline survey of 3,000 trade show attendees reveals that booth staffers started 89% of the engagements with the attendees. So you need to train booth staffers how to engage visitors and create leads.

6. CONVERT NAFEM LEADS TO SALES. 50% of leads buy within 24 months and 80% of sales occur after the 5th contact — but only 20% of leads are followed up. (Sources: Sirius Decisions, Aberdeen Group) When you increase meaningful contacts with qualified leads after the show, you increase your conversion of leads into sales.

7. MEET WITH 8 OR MORE INFLUENTIAL EDITORS. Trade editors have the power to carry your message beyond the show. Don’t neglect them. Do you have the resources and relationships to deliver key editors to your booth and maximize post-show publicity opportunities?

As you can see, when you’re in the speed-dating environment at trade shows, your exhibit and your booth team need to work hard and work together. How many tools can you use to proactively draw in prospects?

I love your watch, but are you a brand ambassador?

I recently attended the Fabulous Food Show in Cleveland to gauge what’s hot in the food industry. The show produced a wide spectrum of brands from the largest duck producer in the country to local barbecue sauce companies. One distinguishing trend emerged from brands large to small. Within five seconds of viewing a company’s booth or talking with the owner, it was apparent who was truly invested in the brand and who was just a clock-watcher that day. By far most people truly cared about the brands they represent, but for the select few who were just earning a paycheck during the show, the bigger question is if you don’t care about your brand, why should consumers care?

This speaks to the importance of brand ambassadorship. A wise philosopher somewhere spoke to having to love yourself before others can love you. I say the same applies to brands. At all levels of a company, it’s so important to get everyone to buy into what a brand stands for and its aspirations. Once this top-down brand structure is in place, it’s time to connect with your customer brand ambassadors. These are the people who love your brand so much they’re willing to tell their family and friends about it. They should be seen as an extension of your marketing team because what’s more powerful than word-of-mouth endorsements from trusted friends! Catering to these ambassadors should always be a part of your marketing program. It may range from tough to painstakingly difficult to reach brand ambassadors, but lifelong customers can be your reward. Not to mention a ready-made test market.

Start inside and make sure you have a team of brand ambassadors internally. They’ll likely develop some foolproof ways to reach external brand ambassadors. Once you have brand ambassadors on your side, you’ll have a group of customers who will excitedly anticipate and promote everything your brand does instead of constantly staring at the clock.

Hurricane Sandy prevents several companies from exhibiting at IHMRS

Although IHMRS sent a pre-show/post-Sandy email that assured “…all areas of the Javits Center remain fully available to the IHMRS” they didn’t mention that IHMRS also offered exhibitors the chance to back out because of shipping and other concerns. Nor did they mention that several companies lost their displays when the staging warehouse flooded in New Jersey. The disaster kept away about 5% of exhibitors. Others performed heroic feats to ship in additional equipment and cobble together a stripped down booth at the last minute.

Construction Services and Hotel Operations exhibitors are growing at IHMRS, while Foodservice is shrinking. Meanwhile, more foodservice equipment and supply manufacturers are grouping small exhibits within a large, local distributor such as M.Tucker.

The aisles were not all that crowded from the projected 30,000 attendees. Yet, most of the exhibitors with whom we spoke were satisfied with the show. Serious buyers did attend. NYC pulled itself together. Overall, the mood among the exhibitors and attendees was cautiously positive.

Convert more: The inescapable 80/20 rule of sales leads

Too many companies focus on generating new leads to fill the pipeline.  Too few companies concentrate on increasing the percent of leads that convert to sales.  Here’s the ugly truth: 80% of sales occur after the 5th contact, but only 20% of leads are followed up. (Sources: SiriusDecisions, Aberdeen Group)

Imagine the positive impact on revenue of converting just a small percentage of existing leads into sales!  Is your marketing team ready to take these five steps to turn sales leads into hot prospects for your sales team?

  1. Collect and deliver meaningful lead data to sales
  2. Shorten sales-cycles with timely and relevant follow-ups to prospects
  3. Keep long-term prospects engaged with valuable content so that when the timing is right for them, you are on their short list of potential vendors
  4. Keep your sales team engaged by decreasing the number of low-quality leads and increasing the percentage of high-quality leads passed to sales
  5. Give your sales team something to talk about when they contact a qualified lead and provide the sales tools to effectively present your story

Do a majority of your company’s sales leads fall into the chasm between marketing and sales?  If so, shift a portion of your 2013 marketing budget from sales generation into sales nurturing, and bask in the sunshine of increased revenues.

Will Google+ become THE communication hub?

This was the question Sage Lewis put in my head today at a Cleveland Web Association event.

The thing is I’m not yet on Google+. Doesn’t exactly qualify me to blog about it, does it? Not in specifics, but as a person who has a need to communicate and receive relevant communication from other people, I think it does qualify me.

Like everyone else, I receive and communicate thousands of messages everyday. “Good morning” to my wife (personal face-to-face communication), quick update on the “news” courtesy of Matt Lauer (broadcast communication), “grande decaf, room for milk” to the Starbucks barista (transactional face-to-face communication), email review, check Twitter, staff meeting, return client call, etc., etc., etc.

Most of these interactions are so ingrained, I’ve never contemplated them being conducted digitally. The fact is, even the commonly conducted digital communications, email, blogging, Tweeting, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. seem like related but separate activities to me.

So here’s the question: would you eschew other “online communications” avenues and even some traditionally analog ones and concentrate all that activity in Google+?

Is that just feeding the potential for creating an evil (or eviler, depending on your views) Google empire? Something on an even bigger scale than Microsoft enjoyed for decades (and still does to a great extent in desktop computing)?

Or does it make sense? You’re going to conduct these communications either way. They’re online somewhere and don’t belong to you anymore as it is. Wouldn’t it be more convenient to consolidate them? Then you would have more time for leisure (oh yeah, that old myth again!)

I don’t know what will ultimately come of Google+ — I’m not even registered for Google+, after all — but as improbable as it may seem right now, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch. If it’s well executed. All the risks aside, I think people are willing to sacrifice some control and (lots) of privacy to make their lives easier.

Not only do I think it’s possible, I think it’s inevitable. Maybe not on Google+. Maybe it will happen on Facebook or some other network we haven’t even seen yet. It’s happening in other aspects of life: subscription services (phone, internet, TV), city services (regional collaboration between police, fire, sanitary, etc.)

The most recent proof I can point to is the smartphone. “Experts” talked about convergence for a long time before it happened. At any point, did you think it was silly to attach a low-quality camera to your phone? I remember saying, “why in the world do I need the internet on my phone?” And, in the beginning, we were right, those things were stupid. My actual camera was much better than my phone and the time it took to type out a URL on my phone wasn’t worth the trouble. So what changed?

The execution got better. Sure, my actual camera still takes better pictures, but they’re not so much better and my camera can’t upload those pictures to the cloud, my Flickr account and send them to my wife with a few presses and swipes. My iPhone can though.

So, Sage Lewis, my answer is (conditionally) yes, I believe Google+ if it’s well executed will become a communication hub for people. (can’t wait to read this again in 5 years…)

What do you think?

Why didn’t I think of that?

At the NRA Show (National Restaurant Association) a couple weeks ago, I was struck by several really smart, really simple ideas I saw on display.

Each one did just one thing, each one was simple in its construction and each one solved a problem that restaurant operators have accepted as normal for decades.

That last part, “accepted as normal,” is really important.

Too often, we let the customer, the market, the situation, etc., define the problem, then we go about solving the problem they’ve defined. We learn to ignore things that at first seem illogical, incomplete or inconvenient.

To be truly effective, sometimes we need to step back and forget a little bit – or a lot – of what we accept as normal and take an unbiased look to idenfity the problem.

Without knowing then how well it would serve me in business, I learned the best way to do this in my college newswriting class. The professor drilled into us the basic reporting questions also know as the “5 Ws”: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

By systematically answering each of these questions, I’m forced to first acknowledge, then either accept or reject existing assumptions, either mine or someone else’s. For example, let’s say a client or prospect says, “I need a new Web site.”

In this scenario, The 5 Ws must be applied at several levels. First, they must explore whether a Web site is even the right approach. Then, what kind of Web site: informational? Transactional? Social? Then, how will the Web site differentiate itself? And so on.

The entire nature of this approach is on first identifying the problem. The solution and the steps needed to implement the solution are secondary and reveal themselves along the way. Together with the client, we begin better equipped to truly solve a problem and produce value.

That is what impressed me so much about the smart, simple ideas I saw at the NRA Show. Each one is an elegant solution, but more importantly, each one solves a problem everyone else either didn’t see or chose to ignore. Check them out here:

Flat Table leveler identifies and solves the problem of unlevel, rocking dining tables in restaurants:

Instant-Off Water Saver identifies and solves the problem of needing to turn on/off faucets in environments that require frequent hand washing:

Stove Shoes identify and solve the problem of moving heavy kitchen equipment:


Converting trade show leads to sales

It’s a reality that many trade show leads, even qualified leads, don’t receive a follow-up. Show leads have a cost – an average of $212 each to generate according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (how are you doing against that average?). And when qualified leads aren’t followed-up properly, there’s a potentially much greater cost in terms of hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost sales for your company, and potentially negative brand perception.

When should lead follow-up begin? Good lead follow-up actually starts well before the show begins. In pre-show planning, a process can be developed to maximize lead qualification and documentation at the booth. The process should include an examination of exactly who constitutes the best type of show lead, and how to generate more appointments with the best type of lead at the show. Generating more appointments with the right type of lead, if you have a relationship with the prospect, can be as simple as calling them or emailing them prior to the show with an invitation to schedule a specific time to meet at the booth. If you don’t have a relationship with individuals you’d like to meet with, but have identified their general titles or areas of responsibility, then lists of show attendees can be secured and pre-show email and/or high value mailers can be sent with an invitation to visit your booth. The invitation can and typically should include a promotional offer as an incentive, doubling as a vehicle to increase product and brand awareness pre-show.

As an example, for a B2B client that manufactures metal shelving products, we increased the number of qualified sales leads at a major trade show through pre-show direct mail and email targeted to show attendees, using messaging and a specific call-to-action, which creatively tied-in with current branding and a trade show giveaway. Both a postcard and email offered three free inches of storage space (a computer thumb drive loaded with product specifying information) at the client’s booth if prospects registered for the grand prize giveaway. The client received 250 qualified sales leads – double the projected total.

Pre-show planning should also include how to execute on timely lead follow-ups, including providing the right tools, with the right message, at the right time and with the right frequency. There should be a strategic approach to lead follow-up, in bringing prospects through the sales cycle. Based on your particular objectives and goals, follow-ups may include opportunities to call or email prospects several days after the show to schedule an on-site product demonstration or cutting conducted by a local or regional sales representative. As an additional incentive to accept the product demonstration invitation, prospects receive significant “show special” discounts on their opening order.  Post show follow-up can also include opportunities for continuing online engagement with qualified leads. For example, you could tie-in a prospect’s booth visit to promotional or contest activity, including encouraging regular visits to your company’s Facebook page or a dedicated microsite, for a two-to-three week period following the show.

What if your trade show starts in a week, or you’ve just returned from the show and you’re reading this in hopes of finding a way to capitalize on the leads you’ve collected? Not to worry, the above practices can be considered and implemented at some level now. Consider this a test for, and precursor to, making pre-show planning a priority for your next show, in making your lead qualification and conversion efforts even more effective.

SmartMarketing™ 101

Decades ago – when I was a young associate creative director at Johnson & Dean – I grappled daily with the sign that my Creative Director, Jim Ens, had taped up on the wall above his desk.


Although Jim was indeed a very creative guy, he certainly didn’t birth this concept. In fact, when Jim was a young copywriter for the Sears Catalog – honing Good, Better, Best product copy – his first copy chief constantly demanded he SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY. As you can see, there’s some serious provenance to this mantra.

SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY obviously drives clarity of creative execution of copy and design. Simplicity should also be a key goal – and unnecessary complexity should be avoided – in strategic planning for many marketing campaigns, as well. In fact, simplicity is the essence of SmartMarketing™ 101.

Just as great coaches focus their team on a handful of fundamentals, SmartMarketing 101 will focus your team on just five crucial decisions:

  1. Define target audiences. Segment consumers by demographics, psychographics, media habits, awareness and usage patterns. For B2B buyers, identify industries, company size, channels and titles. Unsure about who buys and should buy your product? Then, market research is a worthwhile investment – at least for each major brand or product line.
  2. Identify key messages for each target audience. For each target audience, establish key reasons they buy or don’t buy from you. Identify message content – what to say to hook the client, overcome objections, close the sale. However, it’s too early to address how to say it – creative execution comes later. Include both your marketing and sales teams to contribute key messages. Ask your top customers – informally or through a formal research project.Depending on client requirements, we guide messaging by conducting a Brand Building Workshop to determine a client’s key differentiators, a Messaging Matrix Workshop to identify and align key messages with each target audience, and VIP Customer Surveys to verify how your best customers perceive you and your competitors.
  3. Allocate marketing budget to deliver key messages for each target audience based on projected sales. Where’s your low hanging fruit? Best bang for the marketing buck? Based on sales forecasts for each product line and target audience, where should you direct resources to return the highest ROI?The marketing budget for each target audience includes packaging, PR, advertising, social media, Website content, SEO, etc. Budgets for B2B channels and buyers should also include trade shows and sales support materials.
  4. Select cost-efficient media to deliver key messages to each target audience. Start with an agnostic attitude and a proven methodology to compare apples to oranges across all available media platforms – print, broadcast and digital. Include person-to-person social networking as well as the online options.
    Seriously consider spending as much as you can on public relations before you spend on paid advertising. PR is your best bet to leverage your budget and return multiples of exposure and impressions compared to what you would get through paid media.
  5. Establish goals and metrics for each target audience. Build in measurable goals so that you can determine how well – or poorly – a project or campaign is working. In addition to tracking sales, goals can include an increase in awareness, additional distribution points, specific actions on your Website, and improved rank in organic searches. With today’s technology, you can monitor and adjust campaigns early and often. For B2B also measure increases in sales presentations, proposals and closing rates.

SmartMarketing 101 is a distillation of the complete SmartMarketing System. But, in many situations it is a great start or a sufficient improvement. Just as 80% of your company’s sales most likely come from 20% of your clients, you and your department will be more productive when you focus 80% of your time and energy on 20% of the work that is most important.

Starting up a SmartMarketing 101 program will help focus your resources. Already running a robust marketing program? SmartMarketing 101 will help you focus on the most productive processes and target audiences. Either way, if you agree with SmartMarketing 101, but think there’s a step that’s more important than the five I’m offering, by all means adapt it to your needs. Just keep it simple. Please let me know how you customize, implement and evaluate SmartMarketng 101.

Become a smarter marketer

When I sat down to write this inaugural post for the Benghiat blog, I debated about its topic. It is the first post, should it be about that? About our blog and the work we put into creating it? Or, should I get right into it and make this a post about marketing (and more specifically, SmartMarketing™)?

It only took me a second to realize that it should be the latter.

Why? Because I believe the Benghiat blog should make you a smarter marketer.

Now more than ever, people –including you and your prospects – are consuming huge amounts of information. But, the shape of that consumption has changed. The curve is broad and shallow, not narrow and deep.

That means your customers are juggling small bits of information about many things. So what small bits of information are your customers and prospects retaining about you? (Hint: they’re retaining information that is going to: make them money, save them money, save them time, make their lives easier, etc.)

It shouldn’t be too hard to define the 1 or 2 things that set you apart, should it?

You would be surprised.

When we conduct a Brand Building Workshop for a customer, our primary mission is to distill a Unique Selling Proposition about and for their business. Even though we are simply looking for the 1 or 2 things that truly differentiate the company (or a product), it takes hours of structured discourse to arrive at that Unique Selling Proposition.

Why is that?

It’s because all of us invest so much of ourselves into our work. We know every intimate detail of every product, project and campaign. They are like our children, and like proud parents, every one of them and their accomplishments seems special and unique. It’s hard for us to boil something so special down to a sound bite.

I was guilty of this last weekend.

I’m a home theater hobbyist. My mom and dad came over to babysit and my dad picked up the remote control and asked, “How does this work?”

So, I told him.

“Well, Dad, I programmed the remote with my computer so it knows all the commands for each piece of equipment, then I programmed activities, so if I press a certain button, it turns on the needed equipment and switches it to the proper settings. The signal is sent through a receiver in the wall to infrared transmitters. These buttons here control…”

That’s when he interrupted me and asked, “No, I mean, what do I press to watch TV?”

I hadn’t bothered to really hear his question. Like my explanation to my dad, so much marketing doesn’t really answer the right question, which is, “What does it do for me?”

To be effective marketers, we need to step back and view our work as if it was not our own child but someone else’s. It’s human nature to view the world from the inside out. Effective marketers view the world from the outside in.

How many times have you read a brochure/ad/catalog/etc. filled with features and specifications – “made from 18-gauge steel” “roller bearing mechanism” “hand-picked?” If the marketing piece doesn’t first – and quickly – answer the question, “What does it do for me?” the rest of it is worthless.

That’s how your customers and prospects process information about your company and your products. Don’t try to fight it. Exploit it. Make it easy for them. Put it in simple terms. Not everyone is your prospect, but if you communicate well, those who are will embrace you.

So, what does putting it in simple terms sound like? Here’s an example:

The Benghiat Blog will make you a smarter marketer.