Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The "Tchotchke" Debate: A Reflection from RSA Conference 2013

After more than two decades in high-tech marketing, I've discovered one universal truth (okay, several universal truths, but this is a big one)--there are never enough marketing resources to go around. Marketing budget is a precious commodity. When invested wisely, every dollar spent should pay a return. This is especially true when investing in large trade shows, which often consume the largest portion of a marketing programs budget.

Take RSA, for example, the largest information security conference in the world. A 10'x20' booth like the one depicted above costs $16,500. When you add in all of your overhead expenses--booth graphics and furniture, product collateral, shipping fees, electricity, carpet and pad rental, travel expenses, and booth staff wages--the expense comes to well over $25,000. As the RSA expo is open for 18 hours over three days, that comes to about $1,389/hour.

Now, as a CMO, your goal is to maximize the "quantity" and "quality" of your leads. One approach is to hand out "tchotchkes" (small gifts, such as USB drives, t-shirts, squeeze balls) in exchange for badge scans. That will certainly increase lead quantity, but has no bearing on lead quality. The other approach is to offer nothing, or perhaps put out a dish of Halloween-sized (or as the manufacturers these days call it, "fun-sized") treats, as depicted in the empty booth above, in hopes that attendees will at least slow down long enough so you can engage them as they pass by your booth.

So, what's the better approach? That's easy. Go for the tchotchkes. And here's why. Let's say you're accustomed to registering 30 leads per hour (if you're lucky) with just a dish of candy. Considering all of the costs above, that comes to about $80/lead. Now, let's say you gave away a $5 tchotchke to any person that walks by. You'll easily triple your lead count without blinking an eye, to at least 90 leads per hour. When you add $450 (cost of 90 tchotchkes) to $1,389 (hourly cost to exhibit), that comes to $1,839 per hour. But when you divide that cost by 90 leads, your new cost per lead is now $20! Suddenly, by investing another $8,100 (90 leads x 18 hours x $5 per tchotchke), you've reduced your cost per lead by 75% and tripled your lead count! And your CEO thinks you're a genius!

Okay, but what about lead "quality"?  Isn't that important, too? Of course, it is. But, unfortunately, conference attendees don't wear stickers on their shirts to distinguish qualified buyers from college kids looking for jobs. But my experience has shown time and time again that when you triple your number of "raw" leads, you also triple your number of "qualified" leads. Plus, as an added bonus, you'll increase your brand recognition for when those college kids actually land jobs!

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