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The Context Lever

What are you asking customers to buy into?

Connecting with your customer before and after a purchase is a new battleground for branding. This means looking past the touchpoints companies normally consider and easily control, into touchpoints controlled by your customers.

Marketing Mantras too often equate social media or content marketing with customer control. However, customer-controlled touchpoints are not about companies enhancing technology but building the experience around customer goals and behaviors. When customers have some control over an interaction – a user experience – the effectiveness of that touchpoint is changed radically. Managing the change from company control to customer control is The Context Lever.

A change from company to customer control begs two fundamental customer questions or contexts for decision making.

What am I buying?
Based on the information at hand, will the value of this purchase meet my expectations?

What am I joining?
How does my perception of the offer support my personal goals and behaviors?

Broadcasting answers to “What am I buying?” may work if the stars align and potential customer tunes into your channel at the right time. What happens if they do not? Do you have something to say to the customer asking, "What am I joining?"

Your challenge for a tradeshow is twofold: First, what is your customers’ context while attending the show? Second, what answers does your showroom provide? Do thousands of attendees, customers, and influencers attend for the experience or to make a purchase? If your customers are attending the show for an experience, how is your showroom designed to answer “What are we asking them to join?” instead of “What are we asking them to buy?” Too many tradeshow experiences focus on “buying," and not enough on “joining.” Companies who can authentically connect in either context can control the Context Lever, and build value throughout the buying process.

Customer mindset through a buying process
Customer mindset through a buying process

Joining happens before buying. Connecting with your customers before they buy allows you to build confidence and presence in the minds of customers. Longer term, it empowers brand advocates by giving them a reason to share.

The "joining" mindset

Designing a tradeshow space around the question “What are we joining?” requires a shift in mindset. Here are three principles to keep your work on target.

1. Think experience over campaign. Campaign-based communications can push you into a traditional marketing mindset, where tools are associated with the transaction. Instead, think about communication as a footprint. How can I increase my footprint of the show? Build a brand presence, explain your vision, give people path to follow.

2. Think platform over tactics. Starting with tactics will move you away from the big picture. Instead, think about your brand platform. What is the common thread that will create a bigger experience? Tactics are building blocks. Your platform is creating a home.

3. Think narrative over the tagline. Creating a witty, whimsical, or clever tagline can feel great, but starting with a tagline for strategy is not a great plan. Taglines are too often one way and don’t set up a dialog with your customer. Instead, think about your brand narrative. What is your story? What are you asking customers to buy into, not just buy? The story arc of your offer should help your customer achieve goals that are meaningful to them.

A starting point for creating a memorable customer experience at a tradeshow is not to view it as a large-scale sales tactic, but an opportunity to connect, create a dialog, and build the meaning of your brand in a context that makes sense to your customer.

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