Branding insights from a trade show

I had an interesting experience this past week attending the “Africa’s Big Seven” trade show, billed as “The Continents Leading Food and Beverage Event” with trade displays from every corner of the world – including Belarus.

What struck me was this:

Some of the best looking displays, were the quietest.

Why is this?

  • Why was that Italian company’s stand, which looked like it was designed by an architect and staffed by a man dressed from Milan, so quiet?
  • Why was the display from that Eastern European country, complete with a bevy of blonde beauties, not attracting much interest?

And, crucially, why was the display from the local South African company so busy, despite looking much less impressive and staffed by a team dressed from a far more affordable wardrobe?

The answer could be many different things, including the nature of the products that were on display. But here is what I observed: the local guys were approachable. They were people like me and you. They wore smiles on their faces and had an eagerness to engage. Simply put, they fit in.

Branding is about being different. Standing out. But this stand-out can never happen at the expense of fundamentally fitting in. You have to stand out, and fit in. Otherwise you become irrelevant. If you look like an Italian model that just stepped off the catwalk in Milan, you certainly stand out, but you are also irrelevant at a trade show in Midrand, where most of the visitors are small business owners looking for a good deal.

How do you manage the fine balance of standing out and fitting in? The answer lies in knowing your customer extraordinarily well. So well, in fact, that you know how to say “hello” to them in a way that they will actually stop, say hello back, and listen to your next sentence.

Often local is less glamorous and far more effective.