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Incorporate Surprise into Your Exhibition Plans

Barry Siskind


One of my greatest marketing secrets, I learned from my father. When I was 12 years old I worked for my father on Saturdays in his retail store. The challenge he faced was having a number of small and inexpensive items of various types left unsalable. There weren’t enough of any one product to have a dedicated sale and discarding all of these items would have affected his bottom line. What he did was randomly package five or six of these items into a small paper bag. Then he taped all the bags closed and placed them all in a bin. On the top of the bin he created a hand-made sign which read, “Surprise Bags &ndash $ 1.00.” He sold them all in one weekend.

My father was able to successfully ignite an element of surprise and how boring and predictable our lives would be without it. It was a lesson that I have never forgotten.

Human brains tend to focus on things that are new or changing. Think about the people you work with every day. My guess is that you hardly notice them until something has changed &ndash a new pair or eyeglasses or a chin that has sprouted a beard. You may not recognize the change instantly but there is a feeling deep inside that says something is different about this person.

I recall a vendor who once sent a personalized card to their entire customer base wishing each of us a “Happy Spring.” It was a well-received initiative and totally unexpected. However when they did it again the following year, it did not get the fanfare they received for their first attempt.

We seek surprise and novelty in our lives by choosing what we like to read, movies we like to watch or new restaurants where we will dine. Without surprise and change our lives would be painfully dull and one day would blend into the next leaving us with very little to remember.

One anonymous writer is quoted as writing, “Surprise is like crack for your brain.” Surprise has the affect of stimulating the brain in a way that once experienced, craves for more. That’s not a bad thing considering that surprises in life are often few and far between. Those who incorporate the element of surprise have an advantage.

Most exhibitions are not designed to capitalize on this drive for surprise; instead they are designed for consistency. Exhibitors are found in long rows where staff stands near the back regurgitating facts about their newest products and services to a visitor craving for something different in their exhibition experience.

Its only when their show participation loses this predictability, that the imagination and attention of the visitor is sparked. With a bit of thought you can become the “Kinder Surprise” of exhibitors at the next exhibition you participate in.

The beginning point is to ask “What do your customers expect when they do business with you or visit your booth at an exhibition?” Then turn their expectations upside down by asking, “What can I do to go beyond these expectations?”

Surprise is often found in the small unexpected and inconsequential things we seldom think about until they happen. They are also most appreciated when your visitors think that the surprise you have planned was meant specifically for them and not everyone who passes by.

For example: If you are arranging a specific meeting time with a prospect at your booth why not send them a detailed map guiding them from their hotel room to your booth with a stop along the way at a coffee shop where you have arranged to have their favourite latte waiting.

Here are more ideas to spark your imagination:

  • Have a gift left at your visitor’s hotel room.
  • Promise to follow-up in five days and then do it in two.
  • Customize your demonstration by including the prospects logo or brand images.
  • Have your CEO call after the show thanking customers for their business.
  • Provide a personalized concierge to help your out-of-town customers find interesting places to eat or access to local entertainment.
  • If your prospect is celebrating a special event during show hours have a birthday, anniversary or congratulations card, treat or sign that says “Congratulations” ready when they visit your booth.
  • Develop a VIP Education package which includes reserved seating, meet and greet with speakers and a bound copy of the seminar handouts.
  • Rather than providing an advertised “show special,” give an unexpected discount to customers after they have placed their order.
  • Develop a planning guide, with very little reference to your products or services, with helpful hints on how your customer can make the most of their show time.
  • Create a comparison shopping guide which lists features and benefits of product provided by various vendors.
  • Your customers may have accumulated a number of pieces of literature and samples. Arrange with a courier to deliver them, free of charge, to your customer’s office.
  • Keep your promises. Many of your trade show visitors have received promises of follow-up or answers to questions by other vendors. Most of these promises are either not followed up or done long after the issue was resolved.

These are some of my ideas that I hope they will stimulate your thoughts. Be aware of the importance of surprise in your life and see what kinds of things you respond best to from the people you do business with. When something happens that was totally expected add it to your growing list of ideas. The trick is to incorporate some of these ideas into your next exhibit program and then watch your customers’ eyes light up.