» Being an Attendee Was the Perfect Learning Experience



I have gone to a number of trade shows as either an exhibitor or to help out my clients on the show floor, but oddly enough I do not attend many shows. Early last month though, I had the chance to attend the Arnold Sports Festival which includes an expo that sees over 175,000 attendees (see photo to the right). Outside of work I consider my time at the gym as one of my passions, so it was a great opportunity to see an industry I follow closely as a consumer, collide with the industry I work in. I had a great time, but what I did not realize until just recently is the valuable experience I gained to pass along to my clients and readers as a 100% fully invested attendee.

To provide background, The Arnold Sports Festival, named after it’s founder, the famous actor, politician and fitness icon Arnold Schwarzenegger is held annually in Columbus, OH and features  over 50 different athletic competitions (bodybuilding, strongman, fencing, boxing, and more) as well as a large expo. The expo itself is primarily nutritional supplement companies sampling and selling their products. Many will also run promotions and host meet and greets for their sponsored athletes.

I decided to attend with friends primarily to see the competitions, try new products, meet some famous athletes and walk away with a hoard of free samples. Secondarily, I came to absorb a side of the industry, attendee, that I rarely get a chance to. Mission accomplished on all fronts.

Why am I writing about this specific event almost two months after its conclusion? Because it hit me today that I was completely unknowingly starting to accumulate products from one brand in particular  over this time period. I have purchased five different products from this company over the last two months that I had never purchased prior. They won me subconsciously!

Once I realized that this had happened, I started to think about why this specific brand had had this effect, and here are some of the things I came up with. First, it was by far the nicest exhibit/booth at the show. Completely custom, large, true to brand, great technology (Samsung windows, touch screens, iPads, looped videos everywhere) and a natural flow. Secondly, they OWNED the show. I am ashamed to say I waited 3-4 hours in line to walk through this booth, twice as long as any other line I waited in or saw. Third, the staff was having a great time. They had their athletes in the booth chatting with people, taking pictures (free hats for instagram follows) and even running a lifting competition for t-shirts. Lastly, beyond just the free merchandise, they loaded us down with samples of their many different products (one of which directly led to product sales from me).

Now in hindsight I realize that they created that unique and amazing attendee experience that I’ve learned about, written about, talked about and experienced occasionally in the past. They filled all of the squares of what makes a great exhibit space, and in such a good way that it took me two months to fully realize this. There are many other companies that I visited at this expo that had achieved a piece of this formula, but no one quite as complete, and no one that has gotten me to buy their products in a similar fashion yet.

Even to this moment, I am shocked at how they gained my brand loyalty without me even consciously recognizing it for this long. This is what the power of trade shows and events can be.

Given my experience, I would recommend attending a major trade shows and event for one of your main interests. Think about who won that show to you the consumer and how. Then figure out a way to apply those principles to your campaign.