By Mike Rudd
One of the memories of my childhood is of the Western Idaho Fairgrounds. The Fairgrounds is where I first played t-ball, first rode a ferris wheel, and first went to the annual summer time fair. But besides these typical experiences and reasons for loving the Fairgrounds, I loved going to the different conventions the Fairgrounds hosted, or booths sections that they always had during the fair. I wasn’t really interested in all of the things that were being promoted at the booths; I was more interested in the free candy and “swag” items that I could get. Sometimes, the booths even had a spin wheel or a small game that I could play to get a better “prize.” Most of the time, the items I received were thrown away as soon as all of the candy I had collected was gone, because I either didn’t know what it was or didn’t want it. Perhaps it is the good feelings that I associate with those memories, or the craving for some fun size candy, that draws me to different trade shows or conventions now. Trade shows, business fairs and conventions nowadays are a lot different, though. They are more organized, bigger, and seem to be more about raising money than about raising awareness. But one thing that hasn’t really changed is the “swag.” One thing you can always count on is getting a bunch of small, sometimes interesting items that will most likely be discarded or stuffed into that junk drawer that everyone has.
And why is that? Why have booths at these types of gatherings failed to keep up with the rest of the business world and completely change the way they promote their product or service? The ability to target a very specific market that technological and industry advances have created has eliminated spreading a message to the masses with hopes that it will reach that specific person who needs what’s being sold. But, these advances are only helpful if you know who you are targeting and how to use those advances. At a trade show or convention, this can be hard to do. You don’t know who will be there or what they will be interested in, so most booths just keep sowing seeds, hoping to reap anything. But in the world outside of conventions, those advances allow a business to direct its message more clearly and directly than ever before. Blogs, websites, periodicals, TV channels, radios, and many other media sources are so segmented and specified that you can stop casting your message everywhere hoping it will take, and instead pick a specific place to place your message and watch the results grow.
But, just like trade shows, there are challenges associated with sharing your message that haven’t changed and probably never will. Identifying your target market, optimizing your message for that market, and knowing how to be relevant now and in the future are challenges that technological and industry advances haven’t and can’t fix, because it isn’t a formula that leads to the correct answers. It’s trial and error, hit and miss until you develop a feel and an understanding of what will and won’t work. It’s not empirical data, but intuition and experience that gets a message developed to the point that the advances will help it be successful. Some people think that they can bypass the learning process and simply succeed in developing a message in the right way for the right audience. But, the message that results is usually similar to giving a seven year old a pad of sticky notes with your business logo on it and expecting sales to increase.