Trade Show Promotion, Technology and the Tomato Story

It’s a story you may have read. Perhaps it’s an urban-legend type of story, but it rings true. It came to me via a discussion list from the Philippines, but I suspect it has done a complete world tour, and you may have seen it. It has little to do with trade shows per say, but has lots to do with using technology in trade show promotion.


An unemployed man goes to try for a job with Microsoft as a janitor. The manager there arranges for an aptitude test. After the test, the manager says, “You will be hired at a salary of $ 30 per day. Let me have your e-mail address so I can send you a form to complete and tell you where to report for work each day.”

Taken aback, the unemployed man states that he is neither in possession of a computer nor of an e-mail address.

To this the MS manager replies, “Well, then, that means that you virtually don’t exist and therefore cannot expect to be employed.”

Stunned, the man leaves. Not knowing where to turn and only having $ 10 left, he decides to buy a 10 lb box of tomatoes at the supermarket. In less than 2 hours, he sells the tomatoes singly at 100% profit. Repeating the process several times more that day, he ends up with $ 100. And thus it dawns on the man that he could quite easily make a living selling tomatoes. Eventually he multiplies his profits many fold in quite a short time.

Not long thereafter, he acquires a cart to transport several dozen boxes of tomatoes, only to have to trade it in again shortly afterwards on a pick-up truck. By the end of the second year, he is the owner of a fleet of pick-up trucks and manages a staff of a hundred formerly unemployed people, all selling tomatoes. Considering the future of his family, he decides to buy some life insurance.

Calling an insurance agent, he picks an insurance policy to fit his new circumstances. At the end of the telephone conversation, the agent asks for his e-mail address in order that he might forward the documentation.

When the man replies that he has no e-mail, the agent is stunned. “What, you don’t even have e-mail? How on earth have you managed to amass such wealth without the Internet, e-mail and e-commerce? Just imagine where you would have been by now, if you had been connected from the very start!”

After a moment’s silence, the millionaire replied – “I would have been a janitor at Microsoft!”

Morals of the story:

* The Internet, e-mail and e-commerce do not need to rule your life.

* If you don’t have e-mail, but work hard … you can still become a millionaire.

* Seeing that you got this story via e-mail, you’re probably closer to becoming a janitor than you are to becoming a millionaire.

All the morals are true. In The Millionaire Next Door and other books on workingman wealth, Dr. Thomas J. Stanley says that such wealth may be hidden to your eye, unavailable because it does not run with a visible crowd, shirks promotion, and is quiet in its generosity.

What does this have to do with trade shows? Actually a lot, when you have a very tech-oriented promotion that butts up against non- technology-oriented people who can buy.

Each week, I receive information about events that are in traditional industries, held in traditional cities, attended by traditional folks – yet the majority of promotion is electronic. Often this electronic promotion is the high-end kind requiring, not only a computer and e-mail but also, big bandwidth and the patience to appreciate retro-techno effects. It’s sort of like the kids got into cookie jar and overdosed on sugar.

Here are TIPS to remember when planning E-Promotion:

Not Everybody is Online. What, you say? Impossible. Actually very possible, and there are a couple of major reasons to consider.

* They’re Not Corporate. Large corporate entities always buy first and then upgrade to the newest in new technologies. Small businesses and frugal entrepreneurs know that paper-and-pencil work just as well. Though slower, manual dexterity and a personal history of the business can do the same job with individual accuracy. Of course, smarter businesses know that a recorded history is better than an older memory, but not everyone is ready to give up the reins or the reign.

* They’re Not Up-To-Date. They bought a computer years ago, got hooked up when AOL was in its early stages and are happy now They can write a letter, get e-mail, send e-mail, and log on to the Internet when necessary. They consider they now have a typewriter with a telephone attached, and that’s all they need.

* They Don’t Care. Their business system has been in place for years. The relationships have been built through years of working together. They truly believe their business is built on personal friendship and honest dealings. Electronic commerce is something that is out-there and doesn’t affect their business – just look at all the online aggregate marketplaces that have crashed and burned. Does this mean they don’t know about the Internet and e-commerce? No. It just means that they don’t care about it – they will do business the old-fashioned way.

* They Don’t Trust People. Whether it’s family, friends or an outside counselor, there is a fear that the words-of-wisdom may not be true. Did they buy hot stocks in 1999? Of course not. Did they buy Microsoft in 1991? Maybe, if they read Forbes, which they probably do. They are more inclined to believe in the trade media – though they don’t promote themselves – than in general press; more inclined to talk with people in their same industry in another city – non-competitors – than to the local Chamber of Commerce; more inclined to tell the family the business – if not family-in-the-business – than to talk to strangers at a networking event. These are proud people who do not brag, but exude only quiet pride in their business.

Got It. It’s Mine. You can buy millions of e-mail addresses, but personalization and privacy issues are, very important to people.

* Age. Though older age should be a determinate, there are many Gen X-Y-Zers who are not comfortable with the medium, Their interests lie elsewhere, generally in a person-to-person communications style, as in call on the cell phone, They use e-mail and IM (instant messaging) for personal correspondence only, and if they don’t know you, or if you’re not referred by a member of the group, they delete you.

* It’s Business, Not Pleasure. Despite the rumor that 70% of porn sites are active between 9 and 5 week-days, you won’t find the non-tech person signed on. Business is business, and their business runs on business hours.

* It’s Pleasure, Not Business. Using an e-mail blast? You may pick up home addresses when buying an e-mail list – otherwise known as SPAM – and you will be deleted. Many business people, much to a marketer’s surprise, do not log-on for business purposes while at home; nor do they want their children subjected to random business-oriented e-mail – ergo, you’re filtered.

What’s Real? Some people are still skittish about e-mail, spam and sites they consider to be a come-on. The technology is not trust-worthy in their minds because the people using the technology are not trust-worthy. Why-

* It’s Old. Does you web site say: Last updated – April 26, 2004? You’d be amazed at sites which sit for weeks, months, years and just mold. My suggestion is not to put a date on your site, and if you do, please keep it up-to- date. Unless refreshed and re-dated daily, you look old and out-of-date. Information which is wrong, out-dated or misleading is not perceived as just a mistake by a person who is not technology-savvy. You are perceived as a phony and will definitely lose business.

* Check Your Site. When was the last time you personally checked your corporate site? Is the information correct? Can people find a telephone number – do they know where to write you? The physical components are important because if people don’t feel comfortable online, they may feel more secure if you have a (1) fixed address and (2) a telephone number.

* Can’t Connect. Putting up a text page for a registration form, and then asking people to print it out and fax it, doesn’t cut it. If you want an interactive link, it must be interactive.

The wrap-up? Make it simple for people to find you on the web; make your e-mail promotions friendly and easy-to-use. Do not rely exclusively on electronic communication for registration, special deals and follow-up.

If they do not use a computer, e-mail, etc., you will have to communicate the old-fashioned way by print and telephone. If they are reluctant participants in the new economy, appreciate their wariness, make it quick and easy – and still communicate by ways in which they are comfortable.

The goal is to increase attendance, not to put up barriers. So, whether you’re a show organizer, a promoter or an exhibitor, an understanding of the technology and the comfort levels of each visitor is important.

The author is the president of Trade Show Training, inc, started in 1995, she works with companies in a variety of industries to improve their bottom line and marketing opportunities at trade shows.
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