Whatever day you go to Vegas, you'll find a lot of action in two places: a business convention and a roulette table. Unfortunately, too many visitors think the same strategies apply to both.
We were in Vegas a couple of weeks ago, hitting the Consumer Electronics Show and a few roulette tables. (Just a few.) In both cases, if you don't play, you can't win. That is pretty much the only similarity – well, that and the engaging hosts and dealers to get you to stay and play.
The key difference is that, with a convention, it's not enough to be in the right place at the right time — which is the fundamental rule of roulette.
Walking around the Las Vegas Convention Center, it seems that a lot of exhibitors were employing nothing more than a roulette strategy. They had their booth, they had their people, and they stood there waiting for their numbers to come up. They seemed very lonely.
Many exhibitors forget two critical convention strategies: creativity and communications.
At a roulette table, too much creativity and communications can get you kicked out. In a convention hall filled with hundreds of competitors, all vying for the attention of attendees, creativity and communications are critical.
If you and your competitor have booths right next to each other (a common occurrence at a congested show like CES), whoever is more visually appealing will capture the attention and interest of passersby.
Two companies did an amazing job of capturing attention at CES: Audi, with its giant walk-in lightbox filled with hot cars, and the House of Marley, which departed from the techno-vibe of the rest of the show with its reggae vibe and generous use of natural materials, like wood, leather, and steel.
In addition, savvy exhibitors communicated with potential customers and the news media long before the show opened. They sent personalized invitations, teased exciting new products, or made special offers to get people to show up. Lenovo got a lot of people buzzing about their table-sized tablet before CES opened.
In other words, conventions are not like roulette tables. Not every number has an equal shot of turning up, so you you can't leave anything to chance. Here are three guidelines to enhance your odds — and avoid major mistakes.
The Three B's: Brand, Buzz, and Behavior.
Here at Starmen we use these 3B's to guide our work. They don't just apply to conventions: they also apply to websites, packaging, even a simple tweet.
Your reputation always comes first. If anything you do creatively can hurt your reputation — and Vegas presents a lot of opportunities to do that — then you're better off staying home. This means don't do anything that might offend anyone, such as sexist displays, even if they attract the attention of other attendees. It also means making sure everything at your booth functions correctly (especially your display products!), and that your booth staff are well trained and informed. In addition, use this opportunity to enhance your image. You don't need to build a giant lightbox to do that: some creative and well-designed signage, a compelling video running on a monitor, and a booth layout that doesn't look like a discount shop can make a big difference.
Inspire your target customers and the news media before, during, and after the show. A lot of companies think their products alone are buzz-worthy, but at a giant convention like CES, they go up against a bewildering array of buzz-worthy products and exhibitions, such as the mind-controlled helicopters we saw. By the end of the first day (not to mention the whole week), attendees are so jaded about electronics, a great product alone doesn't stand a chance of creating a buzz. This is where creativity and communications work together. Before the convention, use smart, savvy communications — social, media press releases, direct mail, etc. — to build awareness and anticipation. At the convention, use your imagination (or, hint, our imagination) to create a booth that becomes a "must see." After the convention, reconnect with your booth's visitors to remind them about what they saw, and tell them where they can get even more info and a special offer (your website, a sales visit, or an invitation to your HQ).
What do you want visitors to do when they visit your convention booth? Of course, to justify the large investment, all exhibitors want deals. At the same time, keep in mind that not every visitor is ready to buy, particularly if they've never heard of your brand or product before. If they're just learning about you, at most you will get their attention and awareness and perhaps their interest. With these tentative explorers, the behavior you should strive for is a simple exchange of information. At a business-to-business convention, ask for their business card and provide them with a compelling reason to sign up for your e-newsletter. At a consumer show, encourage them to like or follow your social media on the spot. Yes, those leads won't entirely satisfy the finance department, but they're a measurable result. And don't forget: follow-up is essential. In business, what happens in Vegas shouldn't stay in Vegas.
Now as you know, there are no guarantees in Vegas or in business. However, by adopting these strategies and guidelines, you will certainly increase your odds of success before you place that big convention bet.