Trade Shows According 2 Merlin

Scott: Posted on Tuesday, May 15, 2012 3:23 PM

When I was a teenager growing up in Missouri, I had the great pleasure of working at Six Flags Over Mid-America in the Games Department as “The Magnificent Merlin” and my job was to guess people’s weight and/or age.  I was good at it, not because I had magic powers or some sort of amazing insight into correctly guessing weight and/or age, but more because I knew how to read people.
You see, if I/Merlin got it wrong, the guest got a prize. If I got it right, they didn’t.  It was fun and Six Flags unwisely gave me a microphone which I used primarily to flirt with girls and get phone numbers. In fact, we had a contest among the Six Flags Games staff to see who could get the most girls’ phone numbers in one day.  Happy (and also a bit sad) to say that I won the contest many times with my microphone-amplified pick-up lines and antics.  …but I digress.

Now here’s the secret sauce that Six Flags probably doesn’t want you to know about. No matter if Merlin guesses correctly or incorrectly, the park wins.  (Stunning I know!). If I guess your weight or age correctly, Six Flags gets your dollar.  If I miss, then I give you a happy little trinket that cost Six Flags approximately 10 cents and they get your 90 cents.  So each transaction nets Six Flags either $1.00 or $.90.  Not bad.  But here’s the really cool part. My job as Merlin was not to win (because we established that either scenario is a win for SF), but instead to make the guess feel good about themselves.  I was evaluated by how many people I could positively impact within the course of a day.

If a heavy-set woman came up, I guessed low and she said “Really, do you think so?” I’d reply “Of course I do.”  And she felt great about her win…and herself.  A teen girl comes up, I’d guess older (and much more sophisticated of course) and that made her feel good.  And so on.  And I was great at it, because I could sell it and I liked making people happy while enjoying my time there.  Win-win.

Each year companies spend billions of dollars to market themselves at trade shows.  Now I think trade show booths are not that different from Magic Merlin at Six Flags.  Exhibitors compete (although sans microphone) for the attention of lots of people who are looking to do business, have fun and learn new things. They know you’ve set up your game to win for your business so if you want them to play, how do you create an experience for them that is worth their $1.00. One that provides the excitement of winning, possibly some self-esteem building activities and ultimately has you both feeling great about the encounter?

Spend some time thinking about the psychology of this, because that’s what separates the just ok from the truly great. Ask and answer these questions before you come up with your tactics at this year’s trade show exhibit.

1.  Among all of the attendees at this show, which ones are really my prospects?  Who do I care the most about?

2.  Among my prospects, what do I want them to think/feel about my company at three critical stages  (pre-show, at the show, post-show)

3.  What things can I do to impact the above?  Is it really a candy jar or a keychain giveaway?  If so, then the feeling we’re shooting for is one of hunger satisfaction or usefulness the next time they need to find their keys? 🙂  You get the point.

Starting out with this approach will also help your measurement of the effectiveness of your trade show presence.  Remember the lesson I learned long ago at Six Flags – it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you make people feel when they play the game. (And equally important…having a microphone in your hand significantly increases your chances of getting girls’ phone numbers over those who don’t have one.)