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editorial




Humor can cut through an awful lot of cynicism, and machete a marketing pathway right into consumers' hearts.
friend once told me all great editorials start with a joke. So here goes: Two hamburgers walk into a booth. The exhibit manager quickly but politely asks the hamburgers to leave, saying, "Sorry, I'm not allowed to have food in here unless it's from the venue's exclusive caterer."

Whether or not you found that amusing is less important than the fact it likely impacted your perception of me. If you smiled, it probably pushed you onward into my message. If you laughed out loud, you don't get out enough. And if you found my joke sophomoric, I've jeopardized the likelihood you'll agree with what I say next.

Humor is a double-edged sword in that way. But when wielded correctly, it can cut through an awful lot of cynicism, and machete a marketing pathway right into consumers' hearts and minds. Last month - which was, coincidentally, National Humor Month - online-dating service Zoosk.com released a survey on the role humor plays in establishing relationships. According to the report, 64 percent of respondents claimed a sense of humor was the most important element of a successful relationship.

What does that have to do with trade shows? According to our 2012 Reader Survey, the second most popular reason companies exhibit is "trade shows reinforce customer relationships." And while romantic relationships are a different animal than the kind one might develop with a brand or business, they're not quite as different as you might think.

Relationship marketing is based on the idea that buyers prefer to do business with people - and companies - they like. Relationship-marketing expert Bob Burg says the secret is to cultivate "mutually beneficial, give and take, win/win relationships." That advice could just as easily be the secret of a happy, healthy marriage as well. So taking some serious liberties with the transitive property, I'm going to infer that if humor is the single most important element of a relationship, and building relationships is among the top reasons companies exhibit, humor should have a place in your marketing arsenal.

Inc. Magazine writer Kevin Daum claims that humor can effectively kill two branding birds with one stone: It establishes rapport and enhances memorability. So if you could benefit from a more personal rapport with potential clients, and a more memorable brand identity to boot, get out the whoopee cushions. (I'm kidding.)

Let me be clear. I'm not suggesting you turn your next in-booth demo into a stand-up comedy routine, nor am I implying that humor has to be the LOL kind. What I'm advocating is simple consideration of your brand's personality and, with your target audience in mind, its sense of humor.

This issue is dedicated to our 26th annual Exhibit Design Award winners. But one thing stood out during judging. The booths our jurors kept coming back to were the ones that reflected their respective brands' personalities, those that elicited a smile, the spaces with a sense of humor. The word used most frequently by judges describing this year's winners was "whimsical." And it is the perfect word to express the purposeful playfulness I hope catches on in our industry.

In his article, "An Entrepreneur Walks into a Bar," Geoff Williams writes, "Humor can be marketing gold if done right. If done wrong, it can make a business look desperate or mean." That's the flipside of the aforementioned double-edged sword. However, he explains that, "even if customers think your unfunny marketing is a joke, some may award you points for giving humor a shot."

Weigh the risks and rewards, but I believe whimsy wins out. Sure, you can keep exhibiting with all the personality of a GOP presidential candidate. But a relationship without personality is, well, inherently impersonal. And that's no laughing matter.e
Travis Stanton, editor;
tstanton@exhibitormagazine.com
@StantonTravis
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