Digital Marketing Lessons From a Home Show

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To anyone involved in digital marketing or advertising, a home show probably seems like a vestige from a bygone era. The rows of booths crammed end to end, the salespeople who sound like carnival barkers, the endless product pitches - it all just seems so dated. So when I learned that one of the clients whom I've done a lot of content work for recently would be attending the Indianapolis Home Show, I was naturally hesitant to go.

But despite my initial reticence (and the multiple Amish men coming this close to selling me knockoff Dr. Scholl’s shoe inserts), I’m glad I attended. For as outdated and passé as we might think a home show is, there are few examples of what works in sales and marketing that are as visually apparent as at a home show.

These are lessons that most seasoned sales or marketing professionals already know, but it never hurts to be reminded of them, especially in how they translate from in-person encounters to the digital realm.

Lesson #1 - Selling is Visual

Imagine you’re walking through a home show and you see two booths side by side, each for a company trying to sell you interior shutters. One booth has a cheap white table and a banner with their company name and a few pictures of shutters. The other has an extravagant open booth with a sliding shutter door people can walk through, and several real-life shutter installations in their space. It’s fairly obvious which one is going to grab more attention from passersby, right? With so many competing businesses at a home show, getting people’s attention for more than a split-second is half the battle, so show participants need to make sure their first impression is eye-catching, unique, and applicable to their target audience. The latter of the two shutter companies did so by displaying actual products in a real-life scenario

How does this apply to digital marketing?

Just like home show participants are competing against a sea of other booths, business owners engaged in digital marketing are competing against a sea of other companies. What’s page one of a Google search result if not a row of businesses trying to get your attention and get you to buy (or click)?

Think back to the second shutter company. Their booth was eye-catching, unique, and audience-relevant–everything a good ad should be. Note that “ad” here applies to just about any way you might show up to your audience online - a Google SERP listing, AdWords copy, a banner ad or anything else. Think like a home show salesperson in how your “booth” can get people to stop and look. Remember, the best content/design/strategy work you put in beyond that won’t do you any good if your initial presentation is poor.

Lesson #2 - Selling is Emotional

Just before my sojourn to the home show, our office had a talk about the 2008 book Buyology by Martin Lindstrom. Among Lindstrom’s many anecdotes was his thesis that purchase decisions are rarely rational, and instead are triggered by a combination of impulses in our brains, some of the most powerful of which are emotional.

One example of this emotional aspect was apparent to me at one of the very first booths I came across. A man in his mid-thirties, wearing a blue polo shirt and khaki pants had a booth all to himself, where he demonstrated his single product: a kind of simple hand-operated pneumatic whisk. He gave several demos, fluffing eggs and whipping cream on the spot, but it was a small remark at the end of his spiel that stuck with me. He casually mentioned “I’ve been making these myself and selling them at shows like this for about 2 years now.”

Immediately there was–in addition to his rational sales pitch–an emotional pull to buy from him, or to at least humor him by sticking around for more of his pitch (which would make someone more likely to buy anyway). That empathy I had for all the work he put in on his own moved me closer to buying than his pitch ever did.

How does this apply to digital marketing?

The primary way this might apply to your digital marketing efforts will be on the creative side. Unlike Whisk-man at the home show, “get people to feel sorry for you” is rarely a legitimate marketing strategy. Instead, focus on the emotion you want to associate with your brand, whether you’re a handmade furniture seller who can tap into nostalgia, an outdoor brand that can tap into a sense of adventure and excitement, or a concert ticket broker who can easily sell the excitement and fun of a concert or sporting event. Focusing on targeting the emotions of your audience can pay dividends more than a strictly logical approach.

Lesson #3 - Selling is a Multi-Touch Process

Customers rarely make the decision to buy something the first time they’re introduced to a product, service, or brand (i.e. the first “touch”). It typically takes multiple encounters with your target audience to get them to hop over the fence into the wonderful land of Purchasetown.

At the home show, I ended up shelling out money at exactly one booth. It was a group selling dehydrated dip mix (I know, sounds delicious, right?), and they happened to be stationed at an intersection at the show that I passed by multiple times. The first time I went by, I didn’t pay it much attention. The second time, I deigned to sample one of the dips; it was ok, nothing to write home about. The third time, I sampled a few and came upon God’s gift to my mouth: Habanero Bacon-Cheddar dip. I paid $8 for a bag of orange powder (just add sour cream!) and that’s when I realized how my purchase decision was made–slowly and incrementally.

How does this apply to digital marketing?

Every purchase decision is made after something many call the customer journey. That’s the timeline which starts with being introduced to a product and the final decision to purchase (or to not purchase, at which point they fall off).The dip stand’s position at that particular intersection meant that they were able to hit me over the head with their message multiple times during my customer journey. Whether they intended to be on that corner or just randomly lucked into it doesn’t matter, but digital marketers can be sure to position themselves in places where they’re likely to be seen more often by their target audience after that first touch. This could include remarketing ads for potential customers who visit your website, an email list that targets potential or past customers, social media advertising to appeal to certain demographics that may likely overlap with potential customers, and more.

Mama, I’m Coming Home(show)

What’s the purpose of telling you how I spent a Friday afternoon surrounded by Midwest salespeople? It’s to let you in on something that’s easy for us involved in marketing to forget: selling something face-to-face at a home show isn’t much different than selling to them through a screen. Our human brains are still working the same way, and observing the sales tactics of home show vendors in action is an incredibly informative way of figuring out the best practices for leading customers to a sale.

So, in a world of Amish Dr. Scholl’s knock-offs, be a Habanero Bacon-Cheddar dip.

Taylor Daine is a copywriter for Carmel-based Flint Analytics.

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