Whether you're hoping to snag bass or buyers, it's important to do a little research first.
Every year, as summer rolls around, my mind wanders to thoughts of Lake Kampeska. Growing up, I spent every warm weekend there swimming, waterskiing, and fishing. And every time I think about fishing, I'm reminded of an old article by Bob Milam that discussed the difference between exhibitors who seek out only the "big fish" with targeted campaigns, and those who attempt to attract schools of less qualified attendees.
"There are two ways to catch fish," Milam explained. "You can get on a charter boat, put a hunk of squid on a big hook, and angle for the perfect marlin to mount in your den. Or, you can haul up your anchor, trawl with a huge net, and pick through the mess that you catch to find the keepers."
I'm no bass master, but I did learn a thing or two about angling from my father over the years. So in addition to Milam's maxim about determining which fishing method is most applicable to your marketing needs, I offer up the following lessons to help you net as many of what my father calls "lake lunkers" as possible.
1. Not all fishing holes are created equal.
Whether you're hoping to snag bass or buyers, it's important to do a little research first. My dad had a seemingly endless network of fellow fishermen who were always exchanging info on where the fish were biting. After obtaining numerous recommendations, he honed in on the lake that appeared to be most likely to yield a hefty haul. Similarly, before contracting for space at any trade show, it's important to ask around, develop a network of other exhibitors you can trust, and ascertain if the event is worth the investment.
2. To catch fish, you need the right bait.
Once you've chosen a lake to fish in, you need to determine what the fish there are biting on. Sometimes they prefer live bait. Other times they seem more interested in lures, in which case you need to figure out what type, color, and size of lure is optimal. For this info, my father turned to the man at the bait shop – the fishing equivalent of show management. Worms and leeches aren't likely to attract trade show attendees, but pre-show promos, in-booth experiences, and the like are the lures of the face-to-face marketing world. And knowing the demographics and psychographics of each event you attend is essential to figuring out which bait is best.
3. Target the type of fish you're after.
There are, of course, many different species of fish in any given lake, with varying degrees of desirability, and the same is true of attendees at trade shows. The trick is to determine which ones you're after and how to avoid wasting your time and tchotchkes on the bottom feeders.
4. Don't follow other fishermen blindly.
Many an angler have a tendency to go where the boats are, thinking that if a crowd is clustered in a given area, there must be plenty of fish nearby. But that isn't always the case, and sometimes finding a less frenetic spot will yield greater returns. In that same vein, exhibitors must be wary of attending trade shows simply because their competitors are there.
5. Know when to cut your line.
One of the most frustrating parts of fishing is getting snagged up in debris – or losing your line to a fish too big to reel in. The same things happen on the show floor. Whether you get mired down in a conversation with an attendee who has no intent to purchase, or you find yourself courting a prospect so large that the selling cycle will likely outlive your career, you need to know when to cut your losses and move along.
Unfortunately, on both the lake and the trade show floor, you can do everything right and still come up empty-handed. But your chances of success are significantly greater if you follow the aforementioned advice. Or, as Milam so eloquently put it, "Whether you gather or filter, you need to determine your fishing strategy before you set sail." E