Honesty with Attitude From an Industry Insider

Kirby Wadsworth

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like you, I have attended many trade shows. More than you, perhaps? We are no longer taught to respect the wisdom of our elders in this culture. However, perspective is very hard to acquire.

Sure, some things have changed since I wrote the rules on technical trade show strategy in 2007. Ironically, I wrote that at the urging of the sponsors of your upcoming all-natural show who were flumuxed about how my little startups always got so much attention while other huge sponsors went lacking.

In North America, people no longer come to technical trade shows to have thoughtful discussions with technical experts at exhibit booths. Nowadays, in North America people come to technical trade shows to get drunk in the hotel bar, hang out with their peers, ogle the unattainable and collect stuff. Oh, and if they see something cool, maybe take a look and pass info on to some other people who didn’t come back home to justify the trip. They don’t have the patience or the attention span in a crowd of thousands to follow a live demo. They do not line up at your booth so that you plant a tree for them. Ask the lonely dark booth full of bored shuffling technical experts in the back corner of the next show you visit.

Whippersnapper…at the last SNW, were those your lonely sore little feet in that lonely little booth in the back row?

Bright shiny loud things attract a crowd – even today in our current all natural, politically correct, sensitive new age, anti-plastic, pro-environment, gender-neutral, healthy, crunchy, flaky, non-deodorized society.

Politically correct or not, sexual attraction is still the strongest and fastest human response. Now, even I, the OSG, have been beaten into submission on the subject of booth babes. OK. OK. Hot guys DO work just as well as hot girls. I give. I give. Use both sexes. Here’s why – and it’s not what you think.

Technical experts are basically almost always shy. Sales people prowling like wolves scare skitterish attendees away before you even start a conversation. Babes are different – they bridge the gap. They are confident. They smile. They come bearing gifts – ok, make the damn chotchkee an all-cotton, child-labor-free tee-shirt, dyed with natural fruit based ink – it’s still a gift - an tiny little enticement to stop and pay attention. There… we’ve broken the ice and created a sense of obligation on the attendee’s part to ask, “So, what does your company do, anyway?” Gotcha. That’s what it’s all about. With BB’s you get conversations, without them you don’t.

By the way, BB’s do not have to be from a modeling agency. Our most successful BB’s have been the least kitten and boy toy ish. Anyone can be a BB – they just have to be confident, outgoing, smiley, and understand their job.

As for uniforms – if you can’t stand out in the crowd, you become one of the crowd – a tree lost in a forest. Ok, so nurse’s, schoolgirls, strippers, alien goddesses and those infamous twister girls are over the top – nuts, pointless and rude. I am not talking about that nonsense. I am talking about making sure that everyone who sees you knows you are their representing your company, and you are ready and willing to have a conversation. Whatever that takes, do it. I personally like bright shirts because they work. My team likes black shirts with red logos – I got tired of fighting about it. I’ve proved my point too many times.

As for purpose and strategy - trade shows are a bad investment for vendors who want real sales opportunities. The numbers just don’t work anymore – customers get their information online now. That’s why shows are shrinking, failing, consolidating, and closing by the dozen. Big vendors don’t need more lists of attendees; they have finely tuned marketing databases. If you’re a startup, Jigsaw gets you any name, phone number, and email you could ever want, practically for free. Besides you don’t have the resources to sort through the haystack of tradeshow leads to find real opportunities anyway so why do you want them? See my comments on LEADS SUCK – nothing’s changed there – lead management technology is better, sure, but tradeshow leads still suck.

Tradeshows are not so much about demand generation anymore, and if you are spending your tiny little startup marketing budget on them, whippersnapper, you’re going to crash and burn before you get that puppy off the ground.

Tradeshows are useful for positing a new concept into a market – speaking at them if it doesn’t cost you’re a fortune – is how you get this done. The speaker should be the CTO, not the VPM. The topic is the new concept or idea, not your product or service. You are trying to open up new concepts for debate and buzz.

Tradeshows are also useful for finding and talking to other vendors you might want to partner with – this is done at the aforementioned hotel bar after 10pm. Ditto industry analysts, although time moves to after midnight.

Tradeshows can be ok for (re)positioning your brand in the market – getting on the radar screen if you are small, or repositioning yourself into larger markets if you are bigger. This is done with keynotes or major announcements.

Mostly tradeshows are about connecting with friends, colleagues, peers, competitors, and the industry in general. So go have some fun, come by the booth and say hi, get yourself another tee shirt for your significant other to sleep in, or a big red bouncy ball to take home to the kids.

And for heaven’s sake, whippersnapper, lighten up before you pop something.

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More Stories By Kirby Wadsworth

Kirby is widely recognized throughout the storage industry for his expertise in marketing and business strategy.

A veteran of both startups and established storage vendors, Wadsworth was a founder of Storability and served as vice president of marketing prior to its sale to StorageTek. Earlier, as vice president and general manager of Compaq's Network Storage Services Business Unit, he envisioned and introduced Compaq's Enterprise Network Storage Architecture (ENSA) which is still widely recognized today.

As vice president of marketing for Digital's Storage Business Unit, Wadsworth launched Digital's StorageWorks product line into the open systems marketplace, and led the creation and introduction of the Enterprise Storage Array product family.