Trade show marketing — I’m afraid I’m going to screw this up

I took a Lyft back home the other day. Got to talking to the driver about his life. He was a jazz musician. University trained.

He mentioned a performance he was practicing for in college. There was a section he didn’t feel very comfortable with. So he attempted to play it quietly in case he made a mistake. He hoped the others in his group would outshine any errors.

No luck. He screwed up. He choked. And his professor noticed.

A friend of mine once asked himself: “Wouldn’t it be helpful if guitar tab and music notation weren’t just static black and white marks on a page? What if you could SEE how it should be played?”

So he built a solution. Soundslice.

The results are super impressive even if you know nothing about music. But then he had his next challenge: getting the word out.

It’s a problem that has existed since the first business ever existed. Plus, once someone figures something out, a million competitors proceed with the same exact thing. It goes from “Facebook ads are great” to “all my competitors are using Facebook ads and now it’s crazy expensive”. So we look for something new.

Or something old.

There’s a great book on marketing your business called Traction from Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. In it they highlight various forms of marketing that many people starting businesses today might have overlooked. Things like offline ads and trade shows.

The trade show section got the attention of Adrian who realized this old school method of reaching out to potential customers is worth an experiment.

It worked. He landed new business. And it just keeps working.

Doing deals even when they get your name wrong

We keep hearing from Highrise customers how important trade shows are to them. But as a business that runs entirely online, with a staff of members of whom some haven’t even met yet, I admit, trade shows have gone overlooked by me.

Now I’m curious.

What makes these things tick? What are elements we could uncover to help folks run better trade shows or exhibit better booths? What can we do to educate people about trade shows?

I’m not sure yet. So now we’re exploring what goes into a trade show. We’re attending a bunch of upcoming shows. Hosting a booth at the Chicago Small Business expo. Even attending shows outside of our domain as press to hopefully uncover some interesting stories.

For example, today I’m attending a trade show called ProFood Tech. I emailed the organizers for a press credential letting them know I’m probably not the typical press they get at an event like this: I write on a tech blog? I have a growing YouTube channel of people interested in starting or improving their businesses?

Still got a press badge.

And now I’m attending a lunch with other members of the media. What are we going to talk about? Split testing marketing sites? I don’t think so.

More like: meat conveyor belts and automated dairy packaging in bags.

Now I’m nervous. I’m not an expert in the content of these trade shows I plan on attending, let alone how to run a successful booth at a trade show. I’m way out of my element.

Pretty sure I’m about to make some mistakes as we try and figure this out.

My Lyft driver’s professor came back to him and shared some old advice from another famous jazz musician:

If you’re going to make a mistake, make it loud so everybody else sounds wrong.

-Giuseppe Venuti

The next time he performed, he took Giuseppe’s advice to heart. He played the section that gave him the most trouble as loud as he could.

This time… no mistakes.

Giuseppe’s advice has an interesting byproduct. By preparing to play the things you anticipate to be mistakes as loud as you can, you play with a confidence that often eliminates the mistakes to begin with. You stop choking.

I want to take Highrise to a new level. Given the amount of competition we have, we need to explore some things I don’t feel entirely confident with.

Can I become a resource of education for the trade show industry? Can we embrace trade shows as a way to get the word out about Highrise also? I’d like to think so. But I’m full of doubt too.

The safe play is to just plan on attending some trade shows. Not tell you about it beforehand. Promise myself I’ll try and write some things I find interesting about the event if they come up. And see what happens.

But I’m pretty sure that’s a great way to find myself at one of these events with little motivation to find anything interesting. Or even worse, just not going.

Instead I’ll play it loudly.

You’ll find the news here on Medium from me, or on my YouTube channel. I sure as heck will take cameras with me and cover as much interesting stuff as I can. If I screw up, I’ll cover that too.

And this doesn’t end with trade shows. There’s so much we’re trying to do to bring our company to a new place that my footing often feels shaky. I could go proceed a lot more timidly. I could tell fewer people about our marketing experiments and how we’re in the middle of figuring out product strategy.

But then I just run the risk of choking.

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, please help spread it by clicking that below. And if you are interested in more, you should follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how history, psychology, and science can help us come up with better ideas and run businesses. And if you need a simple system to track leads from a trade show and follow-ups you need to make, give Highrise a look.