Marketing and the Art of the Trade Show

Have you ever noticed that trade shows are often a conglomeration of brands who have difficulty conveying what the heck they do? I’ve seen this first hand in the tech industry where the catchphrase “better solution” runs amok…

A Review of Cosmoprof and MAGIC 2018By Alyson Dutch

Have you ever noticed that trade shows are often a conglomeration of brands who have difficulty conveying what the heck they do? I’ve seen this first hand in the tech industry where the catchphrase “better solution” runs amok… Or the food business where words like “organic” and “non-GMO” constantly shriek “I’m here!” But nowhere can you find actual thing a company does, makes or provides. As a marketer, I wonder why brands don’t prioritize differentiation while surrounded in a sea of competition. How else will consumers spot them? My curiosity piqued, I took two back-to-back trips to Las Vegas to experience the legendary Cosmoprof and MAGIC trade shows, bastions of the beauty and fashion business. In these highly creative worlds, I expected to see the most dazzling, unique marketing. The following documents my mid-summer, 108-degree traipses to the City of Sin.

Cosmoprof:  a medium-sized show replete with must-be-seen beauty products from skincare potions to hair fixes, makeup cases to Hello Kitty eyelashes held in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. The media center was wonderful, friendly and even fed the journalists who gathered for their stories.  After a day and a half, I found myself nonplussed. Then, just as I saw Kylie Jenner walk past in fatigues with the roundest, most bouncy (and large) derriere I’ve ever seen, I stumbled upon a glorious find. At the very back of the show was a new product pavilion brimming with titillating new product companies, each one better and more interesting than the next. I wandered past the ones that caught my eye and stopped to ask what they were doing for their marketing. I was delighted to find inventive packaging and impressive product development.

First, I met the CEO of an established and elegant Montreal bath ritual company. I was uncontrollably drawn in upon seeing his magical polar bear-branded, non-allergenic baby line. The branding was so beautiful, it seemed you could puff snow flurries off the nose of the white furry fellow. The Boule du Neige (“snowball” in French) line was charming beyond words. Ah, I thought, these guys are doing a great job using packaging that pulls on the heartstrings of soft-hearted – and worried – new moms. 

Next, I couldn’t help but notice an impeccably dressed New York investment banker whose family in Carrera, Italy supplies him with stunning customized marble bottle caps for his apothecary-styled skin oil brand.  His positioning: a brilliant explanation of how cremes are just a watered-down version of oils and filled with all kinds of unnecessary ingredients. Again, the incredible packaging was so truly different and his brand story, well honed, pithy – and true.  The bottles were also magically shaped and stood out among the sea of things one might see on a modern beauty shelf.

A Finnish entrepreneur with fun Hello Kitty pink high heels had created a line called SuperMood. Her line of ingestibles and topicals were inspired from one’s sadness, excitement, joy – or need for sleep. Her “Beauty Sleep” supplements in their simple, antique-twinged branding were fascinating and wonderful. 

Then, around the corner, I spotted a few Fanta machines swirling around a delicious looking cool tea-like elixir; in it: collagen powders in refreshing lavender flavors! Who would think that you could drink your beauty regime? Thanks to Vital Proteins, it’s now possible. Gotta love powdered beauty vitamins.

Next, I ran into Gina, a spikey short-haired, atomic-blonde hairdresser whose styling tools are about to launch on the Home Shopping Network. She’s got some serious marketing smarts. Her publicist explained how they are launching a line of hair styling tools, using her 8000 employees in her 400 salons to upsell her product. Though they retail for $200+, this gal had it goin’ on in the marketing department. Brilliant distribution choices and using her big personality for a differentiation platform was as good as it gets.

Back outside on the floor, I was just saying to myself how bored I’d become. I floated listlessly past one eye shadow purveyor after the other, when I stopped at a familiar and beautiful brand known for their high-end Hawaiian pedigree.  The Charlie Brown “wah, wah, wah,” pounded in my ears as the owner extolled their “innovative” marketing techniques: “we’re using influencers to convey our skincare solutions…..” 

I was ready for lunch – or to leave altogether.

After a long sigh, I looked up to be absolutely delighted by The Vintage Cosmetics Company, a UK beauty tool darling. Their booth beamed and made me smile at the Daily Candy-esqe drawn women, lots of pink and white vertical stripes and tiny flower-dotted wallpaper-edged packaging. It was so refreshingly retro, reminding me of a home brand I adore called Nellies.

I flew home to Los Angeles for a week and returned this time for MAGIC, the fashion industry’s darling of gatherings. I’d never been and was looking forward to seeing what jewels lie ahead. 

After a hoping to get some recommendations from the exhibition publicists in the Media Center, who had no direction to provide, I slowly meandered to the trade show floor.

I admit that my curiosity was momentarily shanghaied by the sight of the ChainXChange, featuring Steve Wozniak, but back to the fashion industry show I went.  After a few hours relishing in the fascination of what’s happening on the edge of blockchain technology, the fashion business paled in comparison, but I did find a few things that were indeed dazzling. 

I wandered past scads of jersey casual wear lines, innocuous shoes from China, plenty of trucker hats with cute sayings on them and a lot of sock companies donning animal faces, and each even fuzzier than the next. Unsurprisingly, I spotted many rhinestone cashmere hat companies.

A Romanian banker who moon lights as a designer presented a line of exquisite organza capes with a fascinating pressed felt technology she’d created. Though she could barely speak English, all I wanted to do was take her to New York with me and get her incredible apparel in front of the fashion reporters at Harper’s Bazaar; I am certain they too would have drooled. “But,” her British sales guy said: “we have no sales yet, we want to get a pulse from the buyers here first before we start our marketing.” Good thoughts and an excellent test, I thought, a trade show is the perfect place to get a valuable reading. 

Next, I stumbled up on a handbag company with a few shelves of the most interesting wares. They had re-imagined fancy cork wallpapers into fabrications for bags that were crisp and incredible. The Chinese creator was so proud of the transformation – and she should have been. 

The funny thing about fashion is that it really is just a copy cat show of “interpretations” of color, shape and timeline trends. The truly original ones were the ones that I noticed because they were doing something newsworthy – not just another collegiate-styled shoe line.

As I checked to make sure I had enough phone battery left for an Uber to the airport, the last booth made my jaw drop. “Did I just see Barbie clothes for real girls?” Sure enough, a vintage clothing designer with a 60-person staff doing classics from the 50’s and 60’s had gotten her paws on a “collaboration deal” with Mattel. She’d taken all the classic Barbie outfits, dresses and handbags and made them into a line of gorgeous apparel. A marketing genius, she even had the original Barbie dolls in their glass cases, which she had managed to wrest from the Mattel vault to show the doll to real-girl comparison. 

There were the many, many duds I found at both shows as well: lazy marketers who didn’t understand what I meant by asking what they were doing for their marketing. The Tommy Bahama marketing people were flummoxed by my question. I had to give them an example of what I was asking: “you know how your brand created the Marlin Bars? I’ve been to your restaurant in Palm Springs and think it was a brilliant way for your brand to convey the Tommy Bahama lifestyle.” She looked at me blankly. 

I left.Good marketing means that you know what your customer wants and then you find them in the places where they hang out. It can show up in the form of how one creates a product or designs the packaging – language, images, colors, representation. You may use inexpensive (but expansive!) PR, or make buys with influencers, but for God’s sake… DO something interesting – and do something that makes your customers salivate. If you really dial it in well, you will get them to pull out their credit card faster than you can say: “I need a booth” for one of these giant shows. When you do, please make sure that your booth conveys exactly what you do, for fear that some cranky marketing reporter, like me, will come by and request: “what do you do for your marketing?”

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