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Of Trees and Trade Shows


Most companies tend to believe their investment in face-to-face marketing will yield a single fruit: sales.
Last year, an artist named Sam van Aken presented at the TEDx Manhattan conference, where he discussed the Tree of 40 Fruits. Equal parts arboreal artwork and botanic experiment, van Aken's tree comprises branches from 40 species all grafted onto a single trunk. The curious Frankenstein Tree, as some have called it, produces 40 varieties of stone fruits and challenges the long-held belief that aside from lumber and shade, trees produce little more than a sole byproduct. Cherry trees, for instance, only produce cherries.

For one reason or another, the Tree of 40 Fruits inspired me, and I began likening van Aken's hypothesis to my evolving view of trade show exhibits. Generally speaking, most companies tend to believe their investment in face-to-face marketing will yield a single fruit: sales, ideally. But savvy exhibit marketers know that's a shortsighted and extremely myopic viewpoint.

In my opinion, too many companies look at lead generation as a self-contained objective that's entirely unrelated to metrics such as brand awareness, booth traffic, and press mentions, which they deem comparably superfluous. But the reality is that if their goal is to increase leads or sales, there are sundry other secondary goals that must be considered to optimize their efforts and achieve a maximum return on investment.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that you attempt to accomplish 40 unique objectives at your next show. Doing so would likely render you and your marketing efforts unfocused and scattershot. But just as van Aken carefully grafts disparate foliage together to create a single organism that generates a veritable farmer's market worth of produce, so too can marketers splice various techniques and components onto their exhibit-marketing campaigns in an attempt to diversify their deliverables.

If we look at a trade show exhibit as the trunk of van Aken's tree, it's not so difficult to imagine grafting a live presentation here and a direct mailer there. The idea is to pick and choose elements that will work together to create an entire program that satisfies your objectives in a holistic manner, while generating a number of additional outcomes that all add value to your involvement in a given show.

That diversification of metrics can be a powerful tool when it comes time to justify your investment in exhibitions and events. After all, when harvesting the Tree of 40 Fruits, it's not just about how many almonds are picked. Rather, one must consider the total output of produce, from peaches and plums to apples and apricots. And while many an exhibitor might refer to the marketing equivalent of this diverse bounty as a "dashboard" of metrics, I propose that it's more of an ecosystem. That direct-mail campaign, for instance, resulted in a certain response rate, which drove increased booth traffic, enlarging your pool of prospective leads at the show. Similarly, the lead-management system you invested in didn't just increase lit fulfillment rates and decrease time-consuming data entry, it also provided you with actionable metrics regarding specific prospects' interests, allowing salespeople to personalize follow-up and predict upsell opportunities.

It's not easy to identify the optimal mix. And even if it was, that mix changes with every show on your calendar and every ebb and flow within your market sector. It took van Aken five years' worth of trial and error to "sculpt" his first Tree of 40 Fruits, and it's going to take more than a trade show or two to perfect your approach and establish the right combination of the components in your marketing seed bank. But if we take a lesson from van Aken, avoid acquiring lead-collection tunnel vision, and begin to look at exhibits as delicate ecosystems, we might alter our organizations' perception that trade shows bear a single fruit – and help them start to see the forest for the trees. E


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