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Fighting The Fear
By Susan Friedmann
Jan 18, 2010 - 3:16:34 AM

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Exhibiting in economically turbulent times is problematic. Yet the challenge may not lie exactly where you think it does.

It's not the falling Dow Jones that's the problem. It's not the S&P;, nor the price of oil. It's not even the constant reiteration that we're headed into the Great Depression II.

No. The problem instead lies in the resultant consumer confidence crisis. People -- both on an organizational and individual level -- are afraid to buy. The constant bad news has created a perfect storm of economic turmoil, leaving people frozen in place, uncertain what to do.

How do we, as exhibitors, address that fear?

The first thing to do is to assess and understand what the changing marketplace actually means to your industry. Not all sectors are hit equally by an economic downturn, and it is never safe to assume that what is happening to your organization is representative of what is happening in the market as a whole.

Before determining an exhibiting strategy, it is a wise step to take an objective look at your industry, as well as the markets for organizations that purchase your products and services. A consumer confidence crisis means one thing in the high end apparel market, for example, that it may not mean in a health care or financial services market.

Throughout this assessment, consider the following:

What are the biggest challenges and concerns my target market is facing?

What are the biggest challenges and concerns the customers of my target market face?

If you want to be an effective exhibitor, one route to success is to articulate your understanding of both sets of challenges and present concrete examples of how your products and services can help attendees address them.

There is a time for soft, suggestive selling: that time is NOT in the middle of a consumer confidence crisis. This is instead the point where savvy exhibitors adopt a leadership role, positioning themselves as the expert within a marketplace, the go-to resource who can provide more than product: you're offering guidance, stability, and the assurance that the tough times will pass and that they can be survived, by smart, strategic decision making.

Obviously, every company will approach this challenge differently. Variations will depend on industry, sector, and your previous marketing messages: it is very difficult to suddenly shift gears and radically alter your marketing message. However, the companies that survive and thrive in tough times are the companies that adapt quickly and nimbly to changing circumstances.

With that in mind, there are three universal concepts that should prove useful to every exhibitor:

1. Highlight the Benefits

Make it very clear how the attendee will benefit from doing business with you: increased sales, greater efficiency, enhanced productivity. Make the value you offer a key part of your marketing message.

When your booth staffers engage with an attendee, they need to be actively listening. This enables them to both better understand the attendee's situation and needs, but also to identify key points where your organizations' products and services are likely to be of value.

2. Demonstrate Commitment

Uncertain economic times create anxiety in buyers. They hesitate to commit to any organization, particularly newer ones, because they do not know that a month, six months, a year from now, that company will be there. This is a particularly pressing concern when issues of technical support, upkeep, maintenance and installations are involved. Most companies don't want to buy a two million dollar machine only to discover that when it breaks, there's no one available to fix it!

Let buyers know you're in it for the long haul -- that they can count on you to be there after the show. If your company has been around for a while, let attendees know that. Sometimes the idea of a company with a long history is seen as boring -- but in uncertain times, that stability is appealing.

Use your marketing message to reinforce the concept that you're going to be there for the duration. Focus on the ongoing relationship aspect. Articulate how you keep in touch with your customers, the mechanics of providing support, and what kind of working arrangements you develop with your clientele.

3. Guarantee, guarantee, guarantee

Buyers are insecure. Make them feel better by promising to stand behind your products and services -- and fix it when there's a problem! This is a simple and often overlooked aspect of marketing: the way your company performs when everything doesn't go exactly as planned is often far more important than how it does when everything's great.

Mention your guarantees and organizational promise in your sales materials, on signage, and especially when appropriate during conversations with your prospects. Your would be clients want to know that you're going to take care of them.

Written by Susan A. Friedmann,CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, internationally recognized expert working with companies to increase their profitability at tradeshows. Author: "Riches in Niches: How to Make it BIG in a small Market" and "Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies." www.thetradeshowcoach.com & http://www.richesinniches.com Follow me on Twitter


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