eth Godin has authored more than a dozen books, many of which are gold for exhibit and event marketers. But the danger of being as prolific a writer as Godin is that the more you write, the more readers have to critique. And while I typically endorse anything the man puts his name on, I recently came across a piece on his blog that I found fundamentally flawed. In it, Godin shares an experience he had while staffing a booth at the International Consumer Electronics Show roughly 30 years ago. A few hours into the event, Godin devised a method for separating the looky-loos from the serious buyers.
"I noticed that some of the people walking by had little creatures on their shoulders," writes Godin. Kraco Enterprises LLC, a stereo company, was distributing small, wool stick-on figures, and encouraging recipients to affix them to their shirts. Godin began referring to these individuals as "Kracos," and staffers started vetting attendees by first identifying whether they donned one of the woolen figurines. According to Godin's logic, "That little Kraco man on the shoulder meant, 'I am here to waste your time. I am not a professional.'"
My concern with writing off the Kracos at a trade show is that it's no different than judging a book by its cover – and if I did that, I likely wouldn't have read some of Godin's very valuable tomes. We all remember the scene in "Pretty Woman" where employees at a boutique refuse to help the hooker with a heart of gold find a cocktail dress. That same scenario plays out regularly at exhibitions and events when staffers rely on external appearance as a barometer of an attendee's worth.
I'll never forget the story of a CEO who arrived late and slightly disheveled to a conference following a camping trip. When he sauntered up to a lunch buffet, he was accused of being a homeless man stealing food. Then there's the time a booth staffer directed the entirety of his attention toward my elder colleague (who was actually my employee), and repeatedly referred to me as "kiddo" during my visit. And just last month, one of my co-workers was staffing our booth at a trade show and had hoped to meet with a specific vendor to discuss a proposal. But when that vendor saw his badge, which was color-coded to indicate he was a fellow exhibitor and not a buyer, she deemed him unworthy of her time – and he deemed her unworthy of his business.
Whether they take the form of wooly figurines, unfashionable outfits, baby faces, or color-coded show badges, visual indicators are not reliable measures of an attendee's value. Thirty years ago, when business suits and power ties were arguably more accurate symbols of authority, the Kraco may have been a semireliable indicator of someone's purchasing intent. But a lot has changed in the past three decades. For every suit-clad CEO I see at CES these days, there are a half-dozen youngsters wearing hoodies, jeans, and sneakers. And many of them are serious buyers with successful startups and cash in hand. Furthermore, according to Christina Binkley of The Wall Street Journal, while business suits used to be de rigueur, in today's comparably informal era, a suit can signal old-fashioned inflexibility.
A few years ago, an AT&T Inc. employee famously suggested that Steve Jobs should wear a suit to meet with the company's board of directors. The response: "We're Apple. We don't wear suits. We don't even own suits." Bottom line, you can't judge a book by its cover, and should not dismiss booth visitors because they don't fit your preconceived notion of how qualified buyers look. Because if you do, the Kracos staffing that exhibit down the aisle will eventually eat your lunch – and mock your power tie while they do it.