Everybody is a customer, especially at a tradeshow

You know the old adage about a happy customer telling 3 people and an unhappy one telling one hundred. Total bunk in the internet age. One person can tell the world anything they want- and people can choose to listen.

Which is why a few experiences I had at a trade show yesterday shocked me.

It doesn’t really matter what the products were- but, I listened to a national sales manager call a marketing professional a douche bag not once-but several times on the show floor. The owner of the company, was less than 10 yards away, sitting in oblivion while this arrogant neanderthal was embarrassing his brand. The company is one of five major manufacturers in China that probably 80% of the worlds product in this category. Needless to say- the caveman wasn’t helping.

The argument- the sales manager was very proud of his move to generic Italian city names for his product styles (the Chinese have a tendency to flub marketing 101, which caveman probably got a C) as part of his great line revamp. The customer tried to suggest that no one really cares if you call your line the Milan, Rome, Venice- all they care about is the manufacturers brand. Douche bag. Of course- the example that automotive companies learned the expense of sub-brand name plates a long time ago-  Acura dumped the “Legend” and the “Integra” moving to letters and numbers- because the fact that you owned an “Acura” was most important. Same goes for BMW, Mercedes, Infiniti etc.

Spend a hundred thousand dollars on a large trade show booth- and fail to do the most important thing at a trade show- listen to them..

Another company- an importer that calls itself “America’s smallest __________ company” was in attendance as well. The fact that they import all their re-branded product from Taiwan isn’t much of a secret- so you begin with a brand tagline that’s a lie. They were a supplier to our client- and I was there to share a few stories of why our client didn’t move as many of their premium priced products. The owner, an un-jolly fat man, told me right off that my client didn’t listen very well- and dropped the adage “That god gave you two ears and a mouth for good reason”- and then proceeded to call me an ass for trying to tell him some things that could have helped my client sell more of his product. The suggestions were simple- in this industry where the products run from $700 to $5000- his is one of the few brands that is eligible for financing (a financial industry racket)- my client hadn’t been either instructed or forced to register with the financing company.

Secondly- despite their grand proclamation of being “America’s…” the manual that I got with their product was in Chinglish. It surprised me. Instead of gracefully acknowledging their error- he blamed it on the Taiwanese. As I continued that trying to find where the battery was located on his vehicle- since it wasn’t covered in the manual I received- or on his website- or easily found on the web- he showed me… “it’s no secret where my battery is” and showed me- then shoved me off. Your website, your manual, your customer aren’t things to ignore or treat with disrespect in a highly competitive down market. Taking responsibility for your mistakes is the first step in not making them worse.

Great brands are built on trust. People still do business with people they know- and the impressions you make are lasting. I left “America’s smallest ________ Company” booth wishing I’d not bought their product. I left a major manufacturers booth- feeling less confident in their ability to build a brand that garners respect in the industry due to one reckless caveman working the floor. No amount of advertising changes the personal interactions and reputation that is set on a trade show floor.

Ad industry leaders have even written books on it: The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness at a trade show it’s extra important- because if you are smart: everybody is a customer.