New and improved?

By | September 21, 2020

Kerry Knudsen

Many or most suppliers today are facing a real quandary. On the one hand, they have money. The cancellations of shows have left cash in the marketing budget, plus, there is a buying spree on all things building. Floor coverings, lumber, adhesives, finishing supplies and even such appliances as air conditioners are sold out or in short supply. On the other hand, businesses are working at half-capacity, workers are refusing to come in when they get paid to stay home and one Yelp study reports that 50 percent of all businesses that closed for Covid will not re-open. That is a grim statement, and we don’t endorse it. It’s just what they said.

So what are you supposed to do: increase marketing to catch the wave or pull in and see what happens? There are strong opinions out there on both sides, but let’s be fair. If anybody knew, he or she would be rich.

The latest pitch to garner some of your languishing marketing budget is the virtual trade show, complete with virtual booths, virtual “learning” and virtual attendees. The only thing that’s not virtual is the cost. That will be in real dollars.

I consider the jury still to be out on virtual events. Yes, I get it that it’s the only thing going, it’s new and shiny and there is a lot of enthusiasm. However, I get concerned when I consider what the people selling virtual space for real dollars did for a living before there was Zoom. There is the argument to be made that they have a greater interest in replacing their own lost income than in supplementing yours. Short-termers/short-timers have not historically been the smartest place to put your trust.


I have never been a fan of virtual. Take Pinocchio. Ask ‘most anybody about Pinocchio, and they will say they know the story because they saw the movie. Well, actually, no. Pinocchio the book was written by Carlo Collodi of Florence, and is a dark, dark tale of childhood fantasies, the weakness of youth and the consequences of keeping bad company, with the reward of adulthood (rebirth) following a painful education (execution).

Let’s take a look. The Fox and Cat tied Pinocchio up and lynched him. “A tempestuous northerly wind began to blow and roar angrily, and it beat the poor puppet from side to side, making him swing violently, like the clatter of a bell ringing for a wedding. And the swinging gave him atrocious spasms…His breath failed him and he could say no more. He shut his eyes, opened his mouth, stretched his legs, gave a long shudder, and hung stiff and insensible.”

Wikipedia says Pinocchio the book is “one of the most re-imagined characters in children’s literature.” Reimagined is a new word meaning ripped off. Plagiarized. Disimagined. Pinocchio the movie by Disney is a musical fantasy of nothing but stolen images and improbable scenes with a predictable and wooden finale. A popcorn and cola afternoon, but not a study of Italian literature. It’s sort of like what passes today as a “trade magazine:” a wholly owned subsidiary of the publisher’s pushiest advertiser on drugs. To me, Disney was one of the worst things ever to happen to Western culture. He was a child exploiter of the highest order, and his company remains at the nadir of moral development for all time. At least we can look at Charles Manson and know that he was bad. Disney hides it perfectly.

Anyway, I get it. Many of you like Disney. I had fun at Disneyland in Anaheim back in the day, but if you think Disney is healthy for kids, give it some thought.

The issue of age is a recurring one throughout literature and film. Who has not lamented the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet when they disobeyed the traditions of their parents. (That would be the Shakespeare version. Be still, my quaking heart! A Disney version is due out next year.)

The debutante world of “virtual reality” the way we are dealing with it today had its ingress mainly in the early ‘90s. That was when we were introduced to the idea that the younger people are, the smarter they are. That’s because they were allowed to substitute Pinocchio the movie for Pinocchio the book.


Anyway, younger is the new smarter because iPhones don’t have a manual and you need to buy a virtual booth at a virtual show for real money so they can harvest your data, let China steal it and sell you a $500,000 machine on a virtual handshake, making lens-to-lens contact and having you agree to a 50,000-word “organic” agreement subject to regular upgrades.

So far, the established auditing bureaus have not been able to provide reliable data on the numbers or status of virtual attendees, but the organizers of virtual events I have looked at have been universal in reporting the total number of people that sign in while never reporting the numbers that sign back out or the average number of viewers across the entire timeframe of the event.

Should you avoid buying a booth at a virtual show? That is not my decision. As noted, we have limited choices. The people that want you to buy a booth have one idea of how many qualified buyers will attend. I likely have another. But if you have unexpended budget, no other options and pressure from above… might as well go for it.

However, do whatever you can to identify the size of the prospective market, the focus of the prospective market, the cost per lead relative to other options and the closure rates versus other options. I think we will discover that newer is often better for the purveyors of new than it is for the market, and we have not yet come to a place where eye contact, an honest handshake, a deal and follow-up service are ready for the ash heap of tradition, value and function.

Unlike Disney’s Pinocchio, the real Romeo and Juliet did not wake up. Let’s see what happens to them in the spring.

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