Are Words Working Against You?

Recently a friend shared with me how a client of hers was frustrated because he wasn’t getting more business. When she asked him to share his 30-second “elevator speech,” he rattled off a bunch of corporate-speak, including multiple uses of the word “fiduciary.” Now if you’re like me, my friend, and most of the population, you’ve heard the word and know it’s a financial term, but not 100 percent sure what it means. Well, guess what? He was marketing his services to consumers, not financial industry people, so his description was going right over most everyone’s head!

So what about your exhibit display and marketing materials? Are they full of industry-specific terms that your prospects or clients might not be familiar with? Before you quickly dismiss this idea, let me give you another example — this time from my own personal experience.

I’m a former journalist, so I’m careful to write in a very plain, straightforward manner that’s free of corporate-speak like: core competency, deliverables, integrated (or blue-sky) solutions. I always thought I was communicating in a way that people could easily understand. But last week, I discovered that one word choice was hindering how my overall message was being received.

You’re likely reading or listening to this on my blog-cast, which is called Trade Show Insights. My first book is titled Build a Better Trade Show Image. And I often refer to myself as a trade show marketing strategist. I thought it was all pretty clear about what I do, and who I do it for (exhibitors of all kinds). But last week, someone I’ve been working closely with for over a year (not as a client) asked if what I teach could benefit someone who exhibits at smaller events. I told her of course! That’s actually where I gained my exhibiting experience … mostly in 10×10′ spaces, often at local expos, festivals, and consumer shows. But somehow she perceived the words “trade show” as only meaning the large national (or international) events hosted in mega convention centers. She’d never recommended me because she didn’t think she knew anyone that exhibited on that scale.

Lesson learned! After doing an informal survey of several business owner friends (which mirrored her perspective), I’m now in the process of revamping many of my marketing materials and programs to be more small exhibitor-inclusive. Instead of “trade show,” I’ll be using more of the term, “exhibit marketing.” (This blog-cast, however, will be keeping its name.) Now I’m wondering how many prospects I’ve unwittingly turned away over the years, just because they thought I wouldn’t be interested in helping them because they’re too small.

So that brings us back to the question of your marketing. What words do you use in your booth signage, pre-show promotions, collateral material, etc.? Try the “outsider” test: Share your wording with people who are outside your industry. This could include friends, family members, or even better … a 10-year-old! If your message makes sense to these people who know nothing about the daily workings of your business, it should be crystal-clear to anyone who walks by your booth at the expo/fair/trade show/fill-in-the-blank event. (See, I’m learning …)

Think of words like currency — make each one count, and be sure they’re working for you!

© 2012 Marlys K. Arnold  (from the March 2012 TradeShowTips Online. To receive tips like this in your inbox every month, please take a moment to fill out this request.)

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About the Author:

With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. She travels the country consulting and training both exhibitors and show managers, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image (2002), host of the Trade Show Insights blog-cast and creator of the ExhibitorEd training kit. To request access to her free video series, “7 Mistakes Exhibitors Make (and how to avoid them),” go to

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