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Whether You Know It or Not, Trade Show Marketers Are Brand Managers

Trade show marketers are also brand managersTrade Show Marketers Wear Many Hats.  Brand Manager is One of Them.

As a trade show manager you probably think of yourself as a lot of things: a project manager, a firefighter, a purchaser – even a babysitter.  But do you consider yourself a brand manager?  If not, you should!

I attend 20 or 30 shows a year.  I observe and I ask lots of questions.  One of my favorite questions to ask exhibitors is why they’re there.  I’m curious about their objectives because, ultimately, my role is to help achieve them.  The most common response: to get leads.  Trade shows are a great way to fill the sales funnel, so that’s no surprise.  What does surprise me is the complete absence of responses such as “To change attitudes among my target markets,” or “To increase the relevancy of my brand,” or “To accentuate the unique characteristics of my brand,” and so on.

Sure people tell me they’re there to increase brand awareness, but Awareness (recall and recognition) is just one component of total Brand Knowledge – an important building block of brand equity and value.  The other primary facet is Image (see Keller, Aaker and Young & Rubicam for starters), and I think it’s ignored way too often to the great detriment of many a trade show program!

Why Should You Care?

You have a trade show booth to rent, a show book to complete and flights to book, so why should you add another entrée to your Mexican-restaurant-sized plate?  Because you may be missing the perfect opportunity to significantly enhance the value of your brand and the amount of value you bring to your company!

Too often we confuse branding with marketing aesthetics (e.g., how nice our brochures look or whether our web site has flash), and brand management with making sure we’re consistent in our use of colors and logos.  These are, of course, important aspects of brand building, but branding and brand management is much more than that.  It’s an important business process, a system that has a measurable impact on the bottom line.  Increase the value of your brand and you will likely:

  • Earn higher prices
  • Reduce switching behavior
  • Acquire preferred distributors
  • Have more successful brand extensions

Why, then, do we focus most of our brand-oriented trade show objectives on merely building awareness?  It occurs to me that there is no better opportunity than a trade show to manage the Image aspect of Brand Knowledge, and, in so doing, to systematically manage your brand in a way that will create real value.

So How Do You Do It?

Before I share some thoughts on how you might go about it, let me start with what not to do.  Do not completely ignore passersby because you’re busy staring impertinently at attractive shoppers.  Do not engage in a knock-down, drag ‘em out fight with your significant other in your booth.  And please, oh please, do not fire up a Marlboro Light while staffing your booth!  Yes, I’ve seen all these things and more and they never cease to amaze me.  Suffice it to say that it’s important to select the right people to be your brand advocates in the midst of thousands of members of your target market.  Obvious, I know, but…

A trade show is an excellent way to move the Image dial in a positive direction.  So once you’ve decided to send people who care enough to go outside to smoke, consider this:  Image includes a number of variables that are strongly associated with brand equity (see K.L. Keller, Y&B’s Brand Asset Valuator and others), including:

  • Your brand’s personality
  • The promise your brand is expected to deliver
  • Perception of quality
  • How relevant your brand is to an individual or organization
  • How believable your brand is
  • Level of satisfaction
  • How different your brand is from your competitors’

Indeed, Image is Everything!

In short, Image is about the types of associations (i.e., positive or negative, unique or not, relevant or irrelevant) your customer has relative to your brand and the strength of those associations.

How your target markets perceive your brand’s personality is crucial.  Personality enables potential buyers to link your brand with the image they have of themselves (or their company) and how they want others to perceive them.  Make a connection between brand and self image and you’ve created latent value that you can later extract.  How do your most important market segments – thousands of whom are walking the show floor – perceive your brand’s personality?  Is their perception right where you’d like it to be?  If so, couldn’t you bolster that strength at the show?  If not, isn’t your major trade show, with all the press and buying power present, the perfect opportunity to begin changing the perception?  Whether you’re a precision component manufacturer whose brand is witty and sophisticated, or a surf gear retailer who’s quirky and eccentric, making sure staffers understand acceptable themes, content and subject matter, desired behaviors, proper attire, etc. can go a long way in developing precisely the personality you’re aiming for.

Promises, Promises

Delivering on the promise your brand represents couldn’t be more important when it comes to building value and customer loyalty.  Are there promises you can make to attendees before the show that you can deliver upon at the show?  Can you make explicit or implicit promises at the show and deliver as part of your post-show process?   Whether your brand promise is to be the most durable or to provide the most fun, your trade show program can play an integral role in forging the one-to-one bonds that you need to build a strong brand.

Lastly, the impact that your trade show efforts can have on perceptions of quality should be blindingly clear, yet smokers, fighters and ogling creepers abound.  Whether you use banner stands or a double deck island exhibit, trade show marketing can be a significant investment and should be treated as such.  As part of your brand management system it’s an important strategic investment.  If your graphics are soiled or your prototypes are falling apart, you may be spending tens of thousands of dollars to move the dial in the wrong direction!  Conversely, if pre-show research indicates that perceived quality is less favorable than you’d like it to be, why not leverage the unique tactile and experiential power of trade shows to stage a side-by-side comparison of your product against a competitor’s, or a hands-on demonstration?  And, imagine the added credibility and increased cachet you’ll enjoy in your organization when you provide hard data showing that your program has enhanced perceived quality!

Is brand management a key aspect of your trade show program?  If so, or if you have additional insights on how to align trade show marketing with brand management, we’d like to hear from you!

Is brand management part of your job?  What else is? Learn more about how your job compares to your peers by getting your own copy of The Evolving Role Of Exhibit Marketers, the new 36-page White Paper from Skyline Exhibits and Tradeshow Week Magazine.  Get your free copy by clicking here now.

About the Author

Steve Dunn was a marketing manager at Skyline Exhibits, located in St. Paul, Minnesota.

4 responses to “Whether You Know It or Not, Trade Show Marketers Are Brand Managers

  1. Great post Steve but you scared me a little bit at first. My eyes tend to glaze over when I hear brand managers talk about increasing brand awareness at trade shows. This is usually code for, “we kinda threw this together at the last minute and no one really has a clue for how to measure the show’s impact.” I’ve never heard a CEO say, “I know sales have been down the last two quarters but our Brand Awareness is doing just awesome.”

    But then I got to the section “Why We Should Care” and it kept getting better and better and now we can be friends again.

    I hope that everyone reads this post. I see many companies struggling with the issue of brand at shows. They are barely recognizable in the booth from the rest of their marketing. I think this is mostly at companies where there is a disconnect between the marketing group and trade show group. Even when trade shows fall under marketing.

    On the flip side you will also see so much go into the branding they forget the purpose is to increase sales. Oh no, I guess I gave it away there. I’m one of those people who think it’s all always about increasing sales in one way or another.

    Keep ’em coming Steve.

    1. Thanks, Traci!

      Yes, it does seem to be a common catch-all phrase whenever lead generation isn’t the top objective.

      Even so, and even when measurements aren’t taken, let’s hope we can all be aware of the impact we can have on our brands when a bunch of buyers are walking around with the sole purpose of learning more about us!

      Where are all the marketing managers who’ve made it work? I’d love to read a case study about how XYZ Company reversed a negative perception at ABC Expo, complete with pre- and post-show numbers!

      Glad we’re still friends!


      1. Hi Steve

        Any trade show where we hear a current customer say “I didn’t know you could do that too” is successful in my eyes!

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