Monday, August 3, 2009

To Food Show Or Not To Food Show

When I was brand manager for a national supermarket brand, I remember organising many a trade show. The proposals would come in and I would always decline them. Then those higher up the totem pole would approve them and I’d get stuck trying to figure out how to feed thousands of people with little plastic cups and spoons.

Because that’s all you do at most trade shows.

Feed and water people. Trade shows can be fantastic and a great way of introducing certain new products to market. You have one major issue though.

Clutter. Big time clutter. They are usually jam packed with people and the demonstrators have no time to sell the benefits of your product. You’re also generally grouped by category (e.g. wine) so customers jostle down the wine row knocking back thimbles and have no idea what they just sampled.

Things to think about:

If you’re going to do a show GO HUGE and invest properly. A half-baked stand will do very little for you. Macs Brewery often do full bar tap installations and take over the whole corner of a convention centre. As a customer, you know that you’re having a Macs brand experience. Think of the stand cost like buying a section of land. You still have to build a house, plumb the loo and throw in some furniture. Staff, marketing collateral, samples and AV equipment can soak up budgets pretty quick. Allow 4-5 times the stand cost as a starting point. Corporate stands often run at 20 times.

Demonstrators are salespeople. Make sure the people on the stand can sell. Make sure they pitch the product, then give the sample. You’re not there to feed people and hand out free stuff!

Consider demonstrating outside your category or industry. Do food at a home show. Do pet food at a baby show. At least you’ll be different and not get lost in the clutter.

Retailer demonstration packages are generally far more cost effective. Most supermarkets will let you demonstrate starting from around $50 per store. Smaller retailers will let you demo for free. Why pay for an exhibitor site with little customer engagement?

Don’t attend because everybody else is. I used to often hear “but our competitor is going to be there so we have to have a presence". Rubbish. Let them have it and go somewhere else, why shout over each other?

Founder of the advertising sampling movement Claude C Hopkins (1866-1932) says it best:

So with sampling. Hand an unwanted product to a housewife and she pays it slight respect. She is in no mood to see its virtues. But get her to ask for a sample after hearing your story and she is in a very different position. She knows your claims. She is interested in them else she would not ask. And she expects to find the qualities you told.