If you don't have a clear key message in mind, there's probably nothing worth writing home about.
Ten years ago, when I began my career at EXHIBITOR magazine, I developed a personal approach to evaluating exhibitry. After touring a booth, I'd ask myself the following question: "If I had a stamped postcard addressed to the home office sitting in front of me, with a big beautiful photo of this exhibit on the front, what (if anything) would I write on the back?"
More often than not, my theoretical postcard was left blank. After all, at any given show, only about 10 percent of the exhibit hall offers up what I would deem remarkable features or truly memorable experiences. And a fair share of the exhibits that were worth writing home about generated postcards that may or may not have included any mention of the exhibitor or its products, since the remarkable element wasn't exactly related to the company's wares or objectives.
In recent years, my approach has evolved, albeit slightly. Even though society's attention span has shriveled from the size of a 4-by-6-inch postcard to a comparably concise 140-character tweet, the basic premise of my so-called Postcard Principle remains: After exiting an exhibit, what message or memory stands out?
But what booth visitors tweet – or write on their imaginary postcards – shouldn't be left to chance. Rather, smart exhibitors who incorporate the Postcard Principle into their pre-show planning tend to reverse engineer the outcome by asking internal stakeholders what they hope attendees take with them when they leave the exhibit. And I believe the answer to that question is just as important, if not more so, than whatever measurable objectives you establish, because it can and should drive every other decision you make.
For instance, if you set forth with the key takeaway that your product is $2,000 cheaper than the competition's, that message should provide the inspiration for your graphics, live presentation, pre-show communiques, or at the very least the informal script you create for staffer engagements with attendees. You could even develop an in-booth activity – similar to one employed by Chevron U.S.A. Inc. at the Mid-America Trucking Show – that asks attendees what they would do with an extra $2,000. Or you could hold a drawing on the show's last day for a voucher worth $2,000 toward your product (with associated messaging about how just visiting your booth can save attendees two grand).
Conversely, if your ideal attendee takeaway is that your machine operates more efficiently than your closest competitor's, consider a speed-based campaign or a NASCAR-themed
integrated program. In 2005, one of the first exhibits to pass my Postcard Principle test was Fujifilm Sericol at the Print show in Chicago. The company was so confident that its presses were the fastest on the show floor that they designed racing-themed pre-show mailers that asked recipients "Wanna Race?" The booth itself included a pair of arcade-style racing games, where visitors could engage in head-to-head competitions. But the real piece de resistance was the giveaway: a stopwatch that attendees could use to time Sericol's presses and compare them to other options when visiting competitors' exhibits.
The fact that Fujifilm's simple little promotion has stayed with me for more than a decade is proof positive of its effectiveness. And I imagine that if Twitter had existed back in 2005, you would have seen a lot of on-message tweets coming from Print '05 attendees, sending the company's key message far beyond the confines of McCormick Place.
So if you're putting my editorial to the modern-day version of the Postcard Principle test, I suppose the 134-character takeaway is this: If you don't have a clear key message in mind, there's probably nothing worth writing home about – regardless of the missive's medium.