Last week this humble digital marketing enthusiast packed his bags and went off to Germany to attend what the old world likes to call a “good ol’ tradeshow”. Even as I smiled, spoke, deliberated and massaged my tired feet, I spent much of my time wondering what learnings from the digital world I could infuse at our “booth” (love that word). Was it my inherent personality trait to think digital or was it the situation that was driving me bonkers?

Several years ago, Phillip Zimbardo (psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University), faced with the same question, conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment. Even though in 1971 this was a study sponsored by the US Office of Naval Research, it now merits in a list of 3 Famous Psychology Studies That Would Be Illegal Today. Students who volunteered for this experiment were randomly assigned the role of prisoner / guard and subjected to a surprisingly real simulation environment. In only about 6 days the experiment had to be called off as some of the “guards” took their job rather seriously (was I sufficiently vague there?).


Well quibble-squabble aside, the conclusion suggests that situations rather than individual personalities, can impact behavior. Voila, that explains so much about life!

But coming back to the travails of a digital marketer at a tradeshow or any other form of a live event, there is much to be said. I list here the top 10 situations or thoughts that engross the wired (and possibly weird) brain of a digital marketer. These 10 points are in no particular order. Or are they?

  1. You have to shave in the morning and completely give up the unkempt but treasured crop of facial hair. By the end of it you turn up at the event venue looking like a poodle just out of the bath. Stow away the denims and A&Fs. “Comb my coat well honey, it’s the annual summit.”
  2. “Hello! I’m @parthsm from @Adobe.” When you meet people you still wonder about their Twitter profile. Didn’t the guy in the red tee shirt un-follow me recently? Are you @spottythesundancekid? “You look considerably thinner than your profile picture. Gosh, are you offended? It was a compliment!”
  3. “I tagged you in a photo. Yes, I know you were scowling at the buffet. But you know what? Our logo behind you looks fantastic!” Before you are done stirring the day’s first coffee, cream and sugar, the social media paparazzi have you and your intimate moments captured and shared without fail. “Can you at least take it off LinkedIn?”  
  4. The world’s my browser and my booth a website. “Why is the collateral stand here? Is it not more visible in the middle of the corridor?” Before you know it, you are trying to control the bounce rate and turning the booth into Azkaban. “No, you can’t leave right now!”
  5. “Can you keep your response to 140 characters?” I often wished there were a way to browse from a person to another, stopping only long enough to hear the first 50 characters and ascertain interest. Also, I’d love a little hashtag hovering over your head to tell me if I should stop to say hello or just smile and wither away.
  6. “All male visitors, 35 and above, please line up towards the right.” Segmentation would be such a lovely gift to have at an event. Tail him well, his product Interest = <competitor’s product>! Will the real return visitor please stand up?
  7. I “Like” what you said. Oh wait, I can’t! There are no “Like” buttons in life (that is how my novel will start, if I ever write one). “I wish, oh I so wish, there were a way to share and spread your words of praise everywhere. Maybe make it viral! Oh no, don’t run away, I did not mean the flu!”
  8. “Can you track Visiting Cards per Footfall?” That was the last time my friends from event management ever smiled at me. Even as they moved away to a distant and safer corner, they said “we know you like to measure and quantify everything, but there should be a limit to it don’t you think? Ever thought of measuring your bald spot to head ratio?”
  9. Backdrop ideas? How about a giant QR code? Though I do not know why the creative agency thought I’d have anything valuable to add, but the truth is I did. I added a swath of black and white, the good old que-aar code that would take the people I met in real life back to my comfort zone – the digital world. Since I was the customer, I was told that it was a great idea, but its absence from the eventual booth setup was testimony to this alleged greatness.I really only had nine points. But in the interest of ROI, let me use this digital real estate to tell you that Adobe now offers you the Marketing Cloud, tells you to believe in metrics, not myths and that my next blog is going to be about both of these new developments.

I will depart from the humorous tone of this blog to bring it to a more serious end. Tradeshows and events are an integral part of any organization’s marketing mix and in no way less important than digital media. The situation of having been at an event can often override the personality of the digital marketer to great ends. There is much overlap between the digital and the “real” world and therein lies the magical future of marketing.