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As the Saw Turns by Jim Obermeyer
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As The Saw Turns: What’s Old is New

by Jim Obermeyer

I recently spent two days in a series of meetings focused on sales strategy for our organization. The consensus of many in our industry is that our business is changing, and we must change with it. There is more of a focus on interacting with the tradeshow audience, on engaging and creating experiences for attendees. Everyone is talking about being experiential and everyone is suddenly pitching their expertise in this area.

The weird thing to me (perhaps because I’ve been around this industry so long) is that this is not a new concept. I remember sitting in TS2 Conference sessions in the late ‘80s and ‘90s when Allen Konopacki, an industry guru at the time, was talking about how we must become more marketing focused and pay more attention to the audience and how to get them engaged.

I remember meeting with Fred Kitzing, founder of Kitzing, Inc., in Chicago, and talking about strategy for engaging audiences, setting objectives and goals and measuring results. He was a huge proponent of creating experiences on the show floor.

In 1999, Jim Gilmore’s book The Experience Economy was released and a lot of us in this industry found it to be a great resource. Gilmore spent a number of years on the faculty of ExhibitorLIVE, and his message of building stronger relationships with customers resonated well with that audience.

And here we are almost 20 years later talking about strategy and engaging the audience and creating experiences like it’s some new idea. Not really.

What are we actually talking about here? We’re talking about finding ways to interact with the attendees, to create an experience for the attendees in our exhibit, to engage attendees in a conversation about our product and our brand, to have them leave with our message and remember it. I’m sorry, but this is nothing new. This is exactly what thought leaders in this industry have been talking about for decades.

Professional booth staff trainers, and those of us that have done it “on the side” for our clients, have been talking about engaging audiences for a very long time. I remember three such experiences that we created more than 20 years ago:

Working for a major defense contractor who had a big part in Operation Desert Storm, we created an experience where the tradeshow audience became an audience for a speech by General Norman Schwarzkopf (actually an actor we hired) talking about the reliability and performance of this company’s weaponry used in this conflict. The audience was convinced he was the real thing and were enthralled by his message.

In another show featuring robotic technology where we were wanting the audience to experience the technology and ‘interact’ with it, we had robots pouring coffee for attendees. The message was about how precise robotic technology had become. The audience was fully engaged, and fully caffeinated.

And then there was the work we did for a pet products company, where in every city we did a show we worked with local animal shelters and breeders to bring puppies into the show for a day and have the audience engage with the puppies while they heard a message about the product. Who doesn’t want to hold a puppy for a few minutes?

Creating experiences on the show floor is not a new thing. Interacting with the audience is not new. I think what’s new is the technology–virtual reality, augmented reality, Microsoft HoloLens, and the advances in gamification and digital marketing around the tradeshow. Perhaps that is what is driving this resurgence. If it causes more exhibitors to spend more time thinking about engaging audiences, that would be a good thing.

But the concept of engaging an audience, of creating interactive experiences, is not new. Perhaps it’s just never been fully embraced by an industry caught up in designing and building exhibits.

Maybe this time around the idea will stick.

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 35 years, both as a corporate tradeshow manager and exhibit house owner. He is currently a vice president at Hamilton Exhibits and can be reached at jobermeyer@hamilton-exhibits.com.

This story will appear in the November/December issue of Exhibit City News, p. 12. For original layout, see our digital flipbook after November 1 at https://issuu.com/search?q=exhibit%20city%20news .


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