July 23, 2024 8:36 AM
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by Chris Kappes, Exhibit City News

Column: From the Corner Office



For over a century, kids and adults alike have been enjoying the delightful taste of Barnum’s Animal Crackers. I must admit, I’m a fan too. Today, these animal-shaped cookies are a household favorite, with a whopping 40 million packages flying off the shelves in the US and making their way to 17 countries worldwide.

But what’s the secret behind Barnum’s enduring success in a world where brands come and go? It’s all about that elusive “secret sauce.” Barnum’s Animal Crackers owe their longevity to a combination of 37 distinct animal shapes and their ever-evolving packaging, a tradition that spans more than 121 years. From the original box, complete with a string to hang on a Christmas tree as an ornament, to today’s cage-free animal depictions, the brand has adapted to the changing marketplace. However, one thing has remained constant – the secret sauce that keeps their loyal fans coming back for more.

So, you might be wondering, what does this have to do with your business?

When you peruse our industry publications, ads, and company marketing sites, you’ve probably noticed a dizzying array of taglines all talking about “Experience Creation.” It’s a crowded space, and if you take away the logos and swap them around, you’d be hard-pressed to tell one company from another.

The key lesson is this: sameness doesn’t create uniqueness. In our competitive industry, you won’t stand out with this strategy. It’s essential to carve out a unique and defensible market position in an increasingly homogenous industry.


Gartner’s research tells us that B2B buyers spend a mere 17% of their time meeting potential suppliers. The bulk of their time is dedicated to sifting through online research, industry referrals, word of mouth, and other sources to compare various suppliers. In this context, it’s crucial that your “secret sauce” shines bright and answers the burning question: “Why should I choose you?” Your response to this question should be seamlessly woven into your omnichannel marketing campaign and the training and development of your sales force.


If you need a stellar example of a company that’s nailed their unique selling proposition, look no further than Las Vegas-based Steelhead Productions, led by CEO Sean Combs. When you ask him what business his agency is in, his response is crystal clear: “Exhibit Happy®.” “Exhibit Happy is not just a catchy phrase,” shares Combs. “It’s a purposeful differentiation manifest from a belief system grounded in three things: awesome support, no surprises, and fun along the way.”

Customers of Steelhead rent, they don’t own exhibit assets. “Each activation is fresh, not encumbered by what they own,” explains Combs. “No two tradeshows are alike, why should the exhibit be? Our business model is guaranteed price projects, including show services, and performance analytics are proudly displayed throughout our facility to provide a litmus test of how the team is performing to our promise.”

Now, consider Zappos, an online shoe and clothing retailer. Zappos is not just about selling shoes; they’re about delivering the best customer service possible. They’ve built a reputation for customer satisfaction, with a 365-day return policy and legendary phone support. Their secret sauce is their unwavering commitment to making customers happy.

And then there’s Salesforce, a global leader in customer relationship management (CRM) software. Salesforce has revolutionized the way businesses manage customer relationships, offering cloud-based solutions that improve sales, service, and marketing operations. What truly sets Salesforce apart is their commitment to social responsibility. They’ve incorporated their 1-1-1 model, which donates 1% of their equity, 1% of their product, and 1% of their employees’ time to philanthropic causes. It’s a secret sauce that blends cutting-edge technology with a deep sense of social purpose.

In the ever-competitive world of business, take a page out of Barnum’s, Steelhead Productions, Zappos, and Salesforce’s books – find your secret sauce, stand out in the crowd, and promise something unique that you can consistently deliver. That’s the recipe for lasting success.


Chris Kappes is a three-decade executive who has served as CMO, CSO and President of leading event agencies. Kappes is a published author of two trade books, The Noise Behind Business. How to Make Tradeshows Work & How to Master the Art of Selling at Tradeshows co-written with sales expert, Tom Hopkins. Kappes shares his industry experiences and views at conferences and publications like Exhibit City News. His contact information:  kappes52@gmail.com


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