This week’s Friday “Morning” Blog is an article written for organizations that will exhibiting at the HealthAchieve conference in Toronto November 4th-6th, to help them get the most value from the show.
“Unpolished shoes are the open fly of footwear.”
Kiwi Foot Care’s classic slogan uses levity yet directness to convey the importance of looking professional in business and social interactions. The worst part of the open fly, of course, is that everyone knows but you, and to prevent their own embarrassment, no one wants to tell you.
In this article, I endeavor to channel Kiwi’s same sense of gentle honesty. I begin by sharing with you two vital truths. First, that with a bit of rewording, Kiwi’s slogan is a wonderfully apt metaphor for the issues I see at far too many booths on the HealthAchieve exhibit floor. That rewording being: “Poorly-branded exhibitor booths are the open fly of trade shows.”
And second, if you are like half of the exhibitors I see at HealthAchieve, your fly is open.
Above: a bad booth.
What is branding?
That’s right: your organization looks unprofessional by virtue of your trade show booth’s poor visual and verbal branding. By branding, I am not referring to your logo – but to the acts of first, achieving a deep understanding of the unique value you offer the world; and second, helping people achieve that same understanding in a way that helps you reach your highest potential – financial and otherwise.
By visual branding, I refer to the graphic design, possibly including logo, that adorns your booth and the materials in it – and also the appearance and manner of the people manning it. Verbal branding, on the other hand, refers to the key messages you’re trying to convey through signage, giveaways, brochure copy, taglines, elevator speeches and the like.
On one level, exhibitors’ lack of professionalism is a lack of clarity: it reflects the fact that these companies or non-profits are not crystal clear on what their brand is. They are not able to precisely articulate the unique value they offer, and accordingly, why anyone – customers, investors or employees, for example – should choose them over the next guy.
These organizations are unclear because in our time-starved world, far too many of them have not spent the time to undertake a branding exercise. Either they believe the common fallacy that a brand is nothing more than a logo (and thus is unworthy of their time) or they vaguely recognize that branding is important, but are too busy attending to the urgent to actually do the important.
Above: another bad tradeshow booth
Your booth is your brand.
And so we have a situation in which the organizations that don’t spend time on defining their uniqueness also don’t spend time on bringing their essence to life through a highly professional trade show presence. Their booth walls and collateral are adorned with poorly written, undifferentiating messages and bargain basement graphics – which yes, include logos. To the observer, there is an insufficient sense of how this organization is different, why anyone should do business with it, and even what it does in the first place. Ultimately, anyone walking the tradeshow floor is left with the impression that these organizations don’t really care – and that customers can expect a commensurate level of quality and attention.
This perceived lack of caring is supercharged by the manner of the people manning the booths. At a surprisingly high number of booths – the entire point of a booth being to meet potential customers – staffers make a minimal effort to speak or even acknowledge the existence of passers-by. Remarkably, these crucially important brand ambassadors are heads-down, tapping away on their smartphones, while C-suite executives walk on by.
Above: yet another bad booth.
Five easy steps.
For organizations that truly believe they offer unique value to the world, but haven’t yet defined it precisely, the route to clarity and impact is straightforward. As a big bonus, defining your brand will be tremendously helpful far beyond the tradeshow floor and into every aspect of your operations.
First, find out what your brand is now. Poll a small group of customers, employees and strategic partners – as few as 18 in total. Second, roll the best of your current brand, together with the highest aspirations of what you want your brand to be, into a brand foundation that consists of a core purpose, vision, mission, position, values, character and positioning statement (aka “tagline”).
Next, bring your brand foundation to life through professionally done marketing materials – including a trade show booth, for example. To ensure the appropriate level of quality, abide by this rule of thumb: put as much attention into the professionalism of your materials as you do into caring for your customers (if you still end up with a substandard result, you’ve got problems a lot bigger than a tradeshow booth).
Then “live” your brand every day by referring to your brand foundation relentlessly, as the basis of everything you do – including the way you interact with people in your trade show booth. And finally: never forget that branding is a process, not an event. So start now!
Above: a great booth. Finally. And without costing an arm and a leg.
Above: Another great looking booth, with slightly more polish.
BOOK: Buy the #1 Globe and Mail bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo at Books for Business