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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Trade Shows and the Recession

Take a look around you. The industry is in the worst depression in history. After a dismal 2008, capital spending will be down 20-30% in 2009 and 2010 seems a lot a farther than 365 days away. Customers are consolidating and new fabs are not getting built. Top tier suppliers are dropping employees by the busload. Fab capacity is rising. Companies are going under; careers are being lost.

So, what you should do with your marketing and trade show budget? Cut it to the bone right? Save money, save people. Hunker down and live to fight to another day, right?

Not so fast.

Professor John Quelch of Harvard Business School says in an article, “How to Market in a Recession”:

“This is not the time to cut advertising. It is well documented that brands that increase advertising during a recession, when competitors are cutting back, can improve market share and return on investment at lower cost than during good economic times….”

The fact is the market doesn’t care about the macro business environment. Buyers are people just like you and me who make decisions and form opinions based on the same criteria they always use. During a recession, they may not have as much money to spend, but they are still forming judgments about you and your competitors. When they do buy, their judgments and opinions will be used to pick winners and losers. They will form these opinions based upon your sales pitch, your data sheets, your reputation, your product positioning, your pricing, and a lot of other things. They will form these opinions with or without trade shows. Some of the factors you can control and some you can’t.

During tough times, you can exclusively rely upon your great products and technologies and assume your customer will use the exact feature/benefit calculations as your product planning team. You can rely upon your sales people and assume they are better than your competitors. Who needs marketing? It’s a recession and we can’t afford it.

But smart business people know that products without marketing are commodities without margins. You better be the low cost producer or go home.

Marketing is the active process of differentiating your products in ways that are understandable and meaningful to your customers. Sales people alone can’t deliver differentiation. Technology alone can’t deliver differentiation and neither can company reputation. Smart companies that invest in product differentiation are also usually the ones who make sure they are telling their customers about the value of the diffentiation in creative, compelling and convincing ways. Usually this means more than a Powerpoint sale spitch and email price negotiation. That;s how you sell salt, not advanced technology.

So what’s the best way to deliver meaningful, margin-creating, share-building differentiation in this industry?

Don’t know. It depends on the product, the company and customer.

But I do know what happens to trade shows during a recession?

The weak competitors fall away. Good firms exhibit and pick up business.

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