Saturday, October 11, 2008

Uncommon Marketing: Giving it all away

The longer I'm in the industry, the more it appears that the most commonly overlooked marketing tools are common sense and common courtesy. Note: today's entry talks about traditional marketing with no mention of social networking.

It hit me recently following a trade show I had visited. As the marketing guy at the show, I have several roles: marcom (booth manager), competitive intelligence (visiting other booths with a high level of curiosity) and lead generation (approaching potential customers or partners.) Within this framework, I can't help but noticing the absurdity and lack of common sense of the giveaway and lead follow-up cultures. In this post, I'll talk about the giveaways and speak of lead follow-up in a future post.

The marcoms of the world have an established giveaway exchange system going. At the end of the show, nobody wants to ship extras back home, so we give them away to whoever is around during those last few hours of the show. In other words, we swap with other marcoms. We also trade info during the show about who has what, so we know who we want to swap with, if we haven't already just gone by and boldly asked for the item we want.

On the other hand, when I go to booths with genuine interest, either as a potential partner, customer, or supplier, almost never am I offered a giveaway. Since what I really want is information, I never ask for one, unless I've been tipped off (and as the lead generation guy, I might not have a good marcom to tip me off).

In other words, if you are sending giveaways to trade shows, you can be pretty sure that the majority of them are going to marcoms or giveaway-hunters. Almost none of them are going to the people you want them to go to, that is potential customers or partners.

Just to give people an idea of the cost of participating in these shows, companies who do booths put out from US$20,000 (for a tiny booth and associated costs), on through upwards of $1M for the big booths and big productions. Generally, the total costs for a medium sized booths runs in the neighborhood of $300-500K. Giveaways are a small part of the outlay, something like $5-$10 a piece. The total might be $1000-$3000 if you give out one to every serious booth-visitor at a good show.

In other words, if you are already spending half a mil to show up in the first place, it's worth putting in the extra grand to be remembered. After all, that's why you made giveaways in the first place. Most brochures don't make it to the hotel room, much less the luggage of the person who took them. Most people have poor filing systems for business cards (more about that in the lead follow-up post), so that's not going to remind them. Give them an item, they will at least pack it and get it home and remember the visit to your booth when they unpack.

Some companies will claim they just don't have giveaways or don't give them out at shows anymore. Yeah, right. We all give them out less than during 1999, but any company with one or more salespeople either has giveaways or an open account for alcoholic beverages at the duty-free (or both, depending on the target market).

I used to have common-sense ideas about giveaways, but I've been proven wrong repeatedly. For example, I said not to get things for the kids, because people just give them to their kids, instead of remembering the brand themselves. However, I must have tripped over that noise-making light-emitting bouncy-ball at least half a dozen times this week. I used to say don't give useless gifts, but I swear I've dreamed about Light Reading monkeys and Hatteras cows (boy, am I ever sorry I googled that one). My common-sense theory is that it should be visible and useful, but given that the most memorable giveaways for me were neither, just go with whatever strikes your fancy. Just don't forget to give it away to people who you want to remember your company rather than just swapping with your fellow marcoms.

If you are making a cheap (under $2) giveaway as a way to get people to come to your booth, then you want to proactively give it away, by having a booth hostess actually offer it graciously to passers-by. This mostly is relevant to companies doing mass branding campaigns, or in very targeted conferences. Bottom line=common sense. If the gimmick is for a purpose, use it for that purpose. If it is not, don't bother to produce it.

Incidentally, I found the booth stinginess syndrome runs over into coffee and chairs. Many booths have drink or food bars, or comfortable sitting areas. The concept is that if you spent a quarter of a mil, you want as many people as possible to visit the booth.

Yet in several cases I was either refused a drink or asked to leave the booth area if I wasn't talking to a company rep at that moment. I found this particularly odd at booths which appeared empty. If your booth is empty, you should be pleased that me and my buddy are free-riding at one of your 3 empty tables. If we are there, at least your booth isn't full of your own staff with no visible interest from anyone else.

Even for a customer truly in need, there is something off-putting about stepping into a 20-foot square space with 8 logo-shirt-clad sales guys ready to jump you. OTOH, if you are a competitor, it warms your heart to walk by a booth with nothing but logo-shirts. Plus, just between you and me, I'd rather waste the coffee on anyone in the industry who might have a good word to say about us afterward than to my own staff, who I can treat to cheap instant coffee at the office when we get back.

By all means, if your booth is bustling, kick out the freeloaders. Otherwise, offer me a coffee; or you know what, say coffee is on the house, but we are sending Bill over here to chat you up for a few minutes. At least find out if I am someone you want to know or offer your services to. You can be pretty sure that if you ask me what my company does, I will answer you; that's what I came to the show for.

At the very least, scan my badge, something more intelligent that booting me from your booth. Rather than saving $5 on bottle of fizzy drink, you can be building a story for your boss about how many people visited your wildly successful booth. Incidentally, I can tell you that just by this common courtesy I ended up talking to a number of people I had didn't have any business with. Mostly nothing came of it, but in some cases we were able to refer one another to someone who was of interest. It's called networking, but the basis is just common sense and common courtesy. Again, you've spent the time and money to be there: chat up everyone you possibly can. (Incidentally, I am serious about the $5 fizzy-drink; exhibition organizers force you to buy the drinks from their approved caterer, and that's what they charge. You get some plastic cups and a paper-bucket of ice thrown in for that price, if it's any consolation (which it isn't because you're paying $150/day for the mini-fridge rental).)

Again, I'm not saying you must offer this common courtesy to anyone, but if you aren't planning to, get a meeting room instead of open tables, and keep the coffee maker in the meeting room. Don't get couches. (In general, don't get couches and comfy chairs, unless you are a furniture manufacturer. You don't want people lounging around in your booth.) But if you are thinking "drinks attract people", attract them. Don't let your attraction go to waste by being inhospitable.

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