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Lessons From The Builders’ Show

18 Feb

An Open Letter To Trade Show Exhibitors

Dear Friends,

According to the Convention Industry Council, trade shows added more than $280 billion to the U.S. economy in 2012, drawing more than 225 million participants. That’s a staggering set of figures and it underscores the importance these shows play. As marketers, we all know exhibiting at trade shows can be vital to our business—to see and be seen, to market products and services, and to nurture relationships.

Over my career, I’ve had the opportunity to attend a variety of trade shows across numerous industries, the most recent at the building industry’s combined 2016 IBS & KBIS in Las Vegas.

And over the years, I’m struck by one constant of booths, regardless of time, region or industry…

Chances are, your booth sucks. It’s cramped, cluttered, and really boring.

While harsh, it’s also probably true. Worst of all, you probably know it. But take heart because you’re most certainly not alone in this. Everywhere, at every show, are long swaths of cluttered and uninspired landscape—overwhelming collections of shapes and colors, fixtures and messages, all masquerading as brand. It’s as pervasive and inescapable as it is predictable.

Why? When did this happen? When did it become okay to develop a trade show booth as if someone pitched the idea “You know what people will want to do after spending thousands of dollars and traveling hundreds of miles? To stand inside our 4×9 brochure!

Sure, it sounds ridiculous, but it’s the reality we’ve all seen time and again—and sadly, what we’ve come to expect and attendees to accept. Throngs of people shuffling past a booth, each scanning over it and moving on. And that’s after you’ve spent—what?—tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of marketing budget, ostensibly to get exactly their attention.

So now that I’ve pointed out the obvious problem, let me point out the not-so-obvious remedy. The secret, the greatest missed opportunity, comes down to a simple idea that the majority of exhibitors overlook which is…want a hint? Here you go: International Builders’ Show, Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, International Consumer Electronics Show, SHOT Show, Club Industry Show, Nightclub & Bar Convention & Trade Show…

Notice anything in common? They’re trade shows. And what is a show? It’s an event, a spectacle, something to witness and enjoy. It’s active, not passive—and that’s the key. If you were invited to “dinner and a show” you’d naturally expect to be entertained, and yet at trade shows, we invite people to come see us and then reward them with opportunities to stand around and read something. Where’s the spectacle? Where’s the pizazz?

Face it, contemporary trade shows are overgrown ice trays of bland inactivity. But there is hope, bright morsels of brilliance among the milquetoast masses.

As recently as the IBS/KBIS in Las Vegas, I found a few who got it right and as a result, got noticed—some with every chair filled and some with onlookers clogging the aisle (drawing even more to come and see what the buzz is about). Others would do well to follow their lead.

CertainTeed

IBS Certainteed

If you have the budget, go big and use celebrities. CertainTeed brought in HGTV star Mike Holmes for an appearance and photo opp, plus constructed a climbing wall. What does a climbing wall have to do with their products? It was lost on a lot of people. But see the woman in the foreground…she’s capturing it on her phone, probably sharing it with others. She’s sharing images of a B2B trade show booth unsolicited. Money shot, indeed.

GAF

IBS GAF

Don’t have big budgets for big talent? Go traditional and use models and simple RTW giveaways. Your own team is paid to be productive experts, but hired talent is paid to be charming, inviting, and generally attractive. At the GAF booth—just inside a major entry point—a smiling woman with a bubbly personality was getting grown men to register to win stuffed animals. And it worked; in the few moments it took for me to grab this picture, two men asked where to sign up.

Plastpro

IBS plastpro

I walked by the Plastpro booth a few times and each time I did, people were standing-room-only to watch a pro install a door. To most people, this would be a punchline, but to attendees it was interesting, valuable, and yes, entertaining. The presenter was upbeat and personable…and he presented, not simply talked. I’ll admit, I stuck around and learned how to square a door much easier than I used to (and I’m not even the target audience).

Okay, so it’s great if you have the resources for a 30×40 booth with big events and headline talent and boxes of prizes. But what about the 10×10 along the back wall? What about those who spent a third of their marketing budget just to get it all to the show?

Bad Dog Tools

IB baddog

For more than 10 minutes, I watched two men at Bad Dog Tools do nothing but demo their product and answer questions. No brochures, no giveaways, no models. Yet people were constantly lined up on two sides of the booth to watch drill bits bore through everything from rasps to brake discs. Bad Dog Tools could have made a video of it and had it looping while two of their salespeople sat on bar stools and watched attendees shuffle by and not stop, but instead they made the product the show. Brilliant.

What’s the takeaway? Don’t settle, make a spectacle. Create a booth that’s a destination, or at the very least, an interruption. Remember that people can get information about your products or services at your website, so use your trade show booth to interact with them in a way you can’t otherwise—and in a manner that doesn’t feel like you’re pressuring them to buy a timeshare.

And here’s one final thought to consider…

“People will pay more to be entertained than educated.” –Johnny Carson

So come on, marketers. Show us what you’re made of.

Sincerely,

Matt Hillman

ER Marketing, Creative Director

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It Works If You Work It

17 Feb

3 Reasons Networking in the Building Products Industry Helps You and Your Business

Account Coordinator_LexiGuest Contributor:
Lexi Copeland, Account Coordinator

After moving from western Kansas (shout-out to Hays, America) to Kansas City more than two years ago, I initially felt like a very little fish in a very big pond. Starting off my career, I wasn’t sure where I could fit in. So rather than aimlessly float around, I decided to make a plan to grow into my new environment. What worked for me? I started participating in networking events hosted by a professional association specific to my field. My employment is a direct result of these efforts and I now hold a board position on the local chapter of that organization.

Have you ever heard that sometimes annoying phrase, “It’s all about who you know?” This is a universal truth when it comes to building your business and growing your professional and personal network—especially within the building products industry, where the relationships you nurture throughout your career could make or break a sale. Here’s exactly how networking can help you in more ways than one.

  1. Grow Your Business: When attending events within your industry, you are gaining an opportunity to be struck with inspiration and insights from members of the channel that you might not normally be exposed to. One of the owners of ER Marketing, Renae, just wrote about how Silestone’s team of “Trendspotter” designers are the perfect example of this. By interacting with a group in a different section of the channel, they have helped make their product better, in turn improving business and setting new style trends that will impact everyone in the industry. You also never know where new leads will come from. Wouldn’t it make perfect sense for a contractor looking for a new supplier to attend an event hosted by suppliers?
  2. Grow Professionally: An article recently published on attending B2B events emphasizes the importance of prioritizing new experiences because they help keep us fresh and creative. If you get so used to a daily routine that you never branch out, opportunities for new ideas and possibilities will pass you by. People also greatly respect those that position themselves as experts in their field but also share that knowledge with others. So also consider the speaking opportunities professional associations have to offer. In the world of building, it’s important to make sure you’re constantly evolving to meet your customers’ latest demands. Professional networking events and education sessions provide you with the opportunities you need to grow in that way.
  3. Grow personally: Relationships are essential to life’s happiness, and you may be surprised by the amount of meaningful connections that can be made through networking. Relating to others—inside or even outside of your industry—can give you a sense of fulfillment, perspective, and camaraderie not always possible (or at least easily accessible) in our normal day-to-day interactions. You should feel more energized, motivated, and inspired by your involvement. Not only that, but seeing what other people in your industry are doing can help you feel more rejuvenated during times when you might otherwise feel disenchanted with the ebbs and flows of your career—and the building industry.

It is also important to mention that networking is no longer just about saving business cards in a Rolodex. With today’s technology like LinkedIn and others, maintaining a network has never been easier. But access alone isn’t enough—your best chance at success will come from being real, authentic, and dedicating effort to helping others as well. In other words, don’t go into networking thinking only of what you can take or get from others; think of what you can contribute as well.

Here are a few of the best networking organizations for those in the building products industry:

 

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6 Trade Show Marketing Do’s & Don’ts

11 Feb

Building Products Marketers, Take Note.

IBS 2016 Showroom Floor

In the world of building products marketing, trade shows are a big deal. (Don’t believe me? My business partner and I have only been blogging about it here, here, here, here, and oh yeah, here.)

There is perhaps no more important trade show for building products marketers than the International Builders’ Show (IBS). This annual event is where the biggest and best in the industry present their biggest and best products, services, and offerings. It sets the tone for the year to come, establishes future trends, and in short, it’s just kind of a big deal.

While I was at IBS this year with several members of my team, I saw some amazing showings, and some not so amazing showings. Things to emulate as a marketer, and things to never do in a million years. I’ve compiled a list of some of my top do’s and don’ts seen at the show that can apply to any B2B marketing at any trade show in any industry:

Do:

  • Stay somewhere close to the convention center. Avoid distance and distraction. It will save you time, help you avoid waiting on busses or transportation, and prevent you from having to lug around all your gear. More time spent at the show, whether as an attendee or exhibitor, is good for you and your business.
  • Institute a “30-minute rule.” It doesn’t matter if you’re an attendee or exhibitor, you should probably have several meetings, presentations, or activities lined up ahead of time. But you need to make sure to keep a 30-minute gap between each. Consider your physical location and how long it will take you to get where you need to go—some event centers, like at IBS, are unbelievably huge.
  • Know the flow of the convention center. While at IBS, I noticed more than a few booths struggle by assuming there would be traffic just because they were close to an entryway. But if the doors by your booth are located far from the main entrance people actually use, your “prime location” might prove to be anything but.

Don’t:

  • Put any text below eye-level. I’ve discussed before how important it is to carefully consider the experience of your booth (for specific instructions on text/design height and spacing, download my whitepaper), but the basic gist is: just because you have space on a wall or pop-up banner doesn’t mean you need to fill it with text or design. By the time your visitor has backed up enough to read that text, they’re already out of your booth. Just sayin’.
  • Staff your booth with uninvolved or uninformed people. You’d be amazed how many booths I saw where people acted like they didn’t care when visitors came by, had uncharismatic staff, or put their junior-most employee in charge of manning the booth. And then there were the people eating at their booth or spending all their time talking to their coworkers…don’t even get me started on that one.
  • Offer giveaways just to offer giveaways. We’ve all fallen guilty to it here and there, but don’t offer a random, trending item just to do it (ex. an Apple Watch just because it’s the hot new thing). If it has no tie to your company, the marketing approach at the event, etc., then it comes across as random at best, desperate at worst. Plus, it creates no link to your company in the minds of your prospects. Instead, look for more natural connections for giveaways, even if they’re less “sexy” than the trending stuff. (Ex. a kitchen company making cookies at KBIS.)

My team learned a lot at IBS this year. This show has a ripple effect throughout the entire industry, whether you know it or not. For more insights from this year’s show, read more here, here, and here.

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IBS 2016: Innovation Starts at the End of the Channel

4 Feb

Why I’m Demanding a Disruption in Building Products Development

Trendsetters

It seems like every meeting I have been in over the last few months has the same common theme. When asking any building materials manufacturer what they want to be famous for, the one word I hear over and over is “innovation,” or being an “innovator,” or being “innovative.”

No matter the iteration of the word, they’re saying the same thing: they want to come to market with products that chart the path for the industry. The question is: what is anybody doing to really accomplish that? Just stating the word does not change the product development process or disrupt the industry with new and truly innovative products.

That’s why while I was at the 2016 International Builders’ Shower (IBS) and Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS), I was delighted to run across a company doing exactly that. Cosentino® is a building products company that develops stunning quartz and stone options for kitchen and bathroom surfaces. One of their products, Silestone®, is a beautiful high-end surface made of 94% quartz.

But what makes this product so innovative is not just the advanced bacteriostatic technology or its incredible resistance and durability, or even its numerous designs; it’s the way Cosentino develops those designs.

Through the support of their Silestone Trendspotters, a diverse group of top designers from across the country, Cosentino creates new looks every year inspired by some of the most cutting-edge and forthcoming designs in the market. How do they accomplish this? Cosentino goes straight to the other end of the channel to talk to the people using their product (and, presumably, their competitors’ products), and then gets their insights to develop a product that will set the course for tomorrow’s trends.

Let’s be clear: these designers aren’t just choosing colors. Manufacturers everywhere bring in a designer or two to pick out colors; that’s nothing new. The Trendspotters is a team of designers from all different places across the country, from different points in their careers (some veterans, some up-and-comers), from different styles and backgrounds, from different philosophies and clienteles.

Cosentino made a bold move in picking them, flying them to Italy, and turning them loose to work with engineers, product developers, and others on the manufacturing team to create a product they collectively thought reflected where design is headed. The magic of this is in how fearless Cosentino was in being open to the opportunity of what could be made when this diverse team of forward-thinkers got access to their resources, intelligence, and the inspiration of Italy.

Here are two of the new looks from the Etchings collections created this year by the Trendspotters:

  • Ink EtchInk: This jet black design is a classic, clean, and simple showstopper in most decor. By complementing the boldness of the Etchings design with a timeless shade, homeowners can feel confident their choice won’t go out of style any time soon.
  • AquaTint EtchAquatint: Look familiar? Our Art Director, Stephanie Voss, wrote a blog last year about how calming blue hues like Pantone’s Serenity will influence the building products industry in 2016. Proof pudding.

This approach to product development and design is brilliant precisely because it seems so obvious—but it’s not. Not everyone in building products is doing this. In fact, a lot of manufacturers either base their designs on focus group input or simply create designs based on studies published through standard trade outlets. Both options have their place, but are also inherently reactive—not always the best option for companies who seek to be innovative.

But who better to tell building products manufacturers at the top of the channel where design is going than some of the top designers in the country? By using these designers’ “on the ground” knowledge, Cosentino’s Silestone product is poised to set the tone for other designers and consumers in the coming years.

It takes time, energy, patience, investment, and courage to utilize an approach like this—an approach that empowers someone outside of your company to not only influence product design, but to create it. But that is true innovation. It’s listening, it’s using resources, it’s collaborating, and it’s understanding the channel on every level and using those insights to better your product and better the entire industry. Using focus groups and studies is also necessary for understanding today’s trends, but setting tomorrow’s requires further channel insights—exactly what Cosentino is doing with its Trendspotters.

I’m certain that this new line is going to be a hit, but I’m even more certain that the process will open the building products world to even more innovative creations.

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10 IBS Insights You Need to Know (Part 2/2)

28 Jan

Part Two: 5 Design Trends from IBS 2016

Indoor Outdoor Living

Every year, the International Builders’ Show (IBS) is the best place for marketers to keep a finger on the pulse of where the building products industry is going. The ER Marketing team and I attended this year, and we were able to learn everything from the latest marketing trends to a general economic housing outlook to the latest products that will impact everyone down the channel.

There’s no question that tech and high-performance homes are big, overarching trends to look for in 2016. But the show proved that neither of those trends can come at the expense of design, so the onus is on marketers at the higher end of the channel to educate their customers how these products can integrate into a home’s design beautifully and seamlessly.

Using our own team hashtag, #IBSDoubleTake, we captured the things that made us stop and take notice during IBS 2016. And they’re things you should take notice of, too—they’ll be impacting the way we market these products as we get deeper into 2016 and the coming years. Here are some of the design trends spotted at IBS 2016 by my team:

Top 5 Design Trends from IBS 2016:

  1. You are no longer in the building business. You are in the technology business. As customers at the end of the channel nutonebecome more and more tech-savvy (and tech-reliant), so too will their homes and the products they choose to build it with or put in it. Even down to seemingly simple products like this Nutone doorbell with 250 MB of space for custom doorbell rings/music, tech was the showstopper. Nutone did an excellent job of showing how a fun piece of technology can also inspire a clean and simple design aesthetic.
  2. Tech is big, but so is functionality. And new tech needs to integrate seamlessly into any design, including traditional, to be truly functional for customers. Wellborn Cabinets did that well with their remote control island—super functional, super classic, super innovative.Kohler Bath
  3. Lighting is big. Kohler highlighted the fact that whether in the home or in the booth, eye-catching lighting will be important for building products marketers to account for in 2016 and beyond. Consider how you might use unique lighting tactics to modernize your product photography as well.
  4. The style of the New American Home was “Rustic Modern.” What does that mean for building products marketers? Focus on a design that combines natural elements, textures, and colors with clean, simple, and crisp lines. In fact, the home executed this so effortlessly, it appeared to be a part of the natural landscape!New American Home 1
  5. Wondering how outdoor living plays in? Don’t worry—it hasn’t gotten away. In recent years, outdoor living has meant bringing amenities you would normally expect indoors (fireplaces/pits, speakers, covered seating) to the outdoors. Now it’s about bringing outdoor elements in with seamless, even tenuous, transitions from the indoors to the outdoors. This means floor to ceiling glass, pocket doors, cable or glass railing, clean lines, and corresponding design elements (like using recessed lighting and using the same flooring styles inside and outside, for example).

If you missed our post earlier in the week, make sure to read the Top 5 Marketing Trends building products marketers need to know from IBS 2016.

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