Customers, Maslen on Marketing

Why you should make an exhibition of yourself

Let me ask you a question.

What can you do at exhibitions that you can’t do with any of your other marketing channels?

Put your hand up if you said “meet your customers”. Now help yourself to a chocolate from the box on the table.

But what do we mean by “meet”. Not just “talk”. You can, effectively, talk to your customers in your copy. (If you do it well, that is.)

The thing you can do when you meet your customers is listen.

Oh all right, you can listen to your customers on the phone, but telemarketing agencies usually handle all of that so it’s not so good for your direct experience,

If you’ve ever planned, run or staffed an exhibition stand, you’ll know what a lighthearted feeling it gives you … when it’s all over.

As you break the stand down and visualise that cold glass of beer in the bar, you breathe a huge sigh of relief. “Well chaps,” you intone as the pop-up display panel collapses into a heap on the carpet, “that’s Rubber Bung and Grommet Solutions over with for another year”.

Question is, did you get anything out of it? We do so much business by email these days that meeting customers face-to-face is a rare and joyous occasion, a bit like swimming with dolphins.

If you get people on your stand, or you’re talking to them in the aisle, you’ve got a unique opportunity to find out what they think…

…about their job. Their industry. Their prospects. What they worry about. What they like about your company and its services or products. What they don’t. What stopped them from placing that big order last year.

Why they keep buying from you even though you’re twice as expensive as your nearest competitor. You get the picture I’m sure.

As well as being invaluable in a broad commercial sense, and for deepening your relationships with them, you can build this insight directly into the next piece of copy you write. Why try to imagine what your customers are like when you could find out at first hand?

Finally, a little story about the value of exhibitions

As a callow 24-year old marketing executive, I worked our company’s stand at Online Information, a big show for the business information industry at London’s Olympia.

Each day, we talked to our customers, assiduously collecting visitor forms listing their budgets, purchasing intentions, contact details and so on.

Every night we’d lock them in a cupboard on the stand. By the lunchtime of day three we had over 250 forms. Enough leads to keep me busy for months.

On the final day, I went off to find some Gaffa tape during breakdown and returned to find … the furniture guys had removed all our stuff. Including the cupboard with the forms.

I ended up, after a few frantic minutes of phone calls, on an industrial estate in the suburbs, facing a warehouse of identical white cupboards a little like the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Some time later I emerged with the forms.

And I’m telling you this because?

Often it’s the only option, but writing copy is a poor way of communicating with your customers. There’s no dialogue, no chance to listen. No chance to hear what’s on their minds. No chance to see them and shake hands as you make eye contact.

Exhibitions are a great way to do this. So get along to one if you have the time.

But don’t lock your contact forms in a cupboard.

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