On Saturday I received a phone call from a friend and business colleague whom I’ve known for years, but whom I haven’t spoken to in a quite a while. Lisa only recently learned I had moved to South Carolina, visited my blog and called to catch up and reminisce. As we were about to hang up, I remembered to tell her that I still had, in a prominent spot on my bookcase, the yo-yo she had given me many years ago. I could hear her smile at the other end of the phone line as she said she was happy to know that.
You may be asking yourself a few questions right now? Why would one business colleague, particularly a woman, give another business woman a yo-yo? A yo-yo is a child’s toy after all. And why would the memory give both of us pleasure now?
Well, I met Lisa back in the 1990’s when she signed up for a 10-week Marketing Basics class I was teaching through the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). In the class on Trade Shows and Conferences I explained how important it was to have something in your display booth, like a give-away key chain or pen with the company logo, or even a simple bowl of candy, that would draw people over to your booth and facilitate the start of a conversation.
Next, I told the class the story of my first trade show. The engineering firm I worked for at the time had purchased an exhibit booth at a Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) conference. Before I go any further, just in case you’ve never met an engineer, let me ask you a question. Do you know how to tell an engineer who’s an introvert from an engineer who’s an extrovert? Answer: the extrovert looks at your shoes when he talks to you. Now, I’m not trying to be mean, because I love engineers. Really, I do. They are the most logical, fair-minded and honest people I’ve ever met. But they are conservative in every way, spend most of their lives avoiding the spotlight and would rather slide down a razor blade than make a spectacle of themselves. Now, imagine engineers designing a tradeshow display booth.
My boss bought our first display system which consisted of square black felt panels that snapped onto metal poles anchored into round metal disks…think High School Science Fair. Next, he selected the photos for the display. Most were pictures from our brochure…none bigger than 8 x 10…pasted on foam board and framed with gray mats. You could just about see the photos and you couldn’t read the captions from the other side of the tradeshow table. The most modern thing we used in our display was Velcro to attach the photos to the felt boards. My giveaways? Business cards of the engineers attending the conference with me and twenty 1-1/2” thick, spiral bound brochures, most of which I packed and took back home with me because no one wanted them…too heavy to carry around the tradeshow…too bulky to pack and take on a plane.
The next year I was again asked to organize the firm’s participation at the SAME conference. My experience the previous year had taught me that our display unit was outdated, but since state-of-the-art pop up units were expensive, I knew I was stuck with what we already had. I suggested that we get pens with the company name and logo to take as giveaways. My boss’s eyes widened. He looked horrified at the suggestion. This, after all, was The Society of American Military Engineers conference. What would they think of such crass commercialism? We were engineers, not used-car salesmen.
I did manage to convince him that we should order much larger professional quality photographs for the boards, and I created lightweight, single-sheet, tri-fold summary pamphlets to replace the spiral-bound brochures. At that point in my career, I had finally learned to pick my battles wisely. Clandestinely, I packed a basket, and once I got to the show I bought several pounds of chocolate candy that I used to lure people over to my booth.
“Hey, what about the yo-yo?” you’re probably wondering. Well, here’s the yo-yo part of the story. That year at the conference there was an engineering company three booths down from me. They had military engineers at their booth non-stop during the show. What were they giving away? Yo-yos. What fun it was watching these distinguished men in uniform demonstrating their prowess with these little-boy toys! They were having a ball, and they lingered around that booth talking to the company representatives longer than usual…an exhibitor’s dream.
The last day of my Marketing Basics class, Lisa came up to me to say good-bye and handed me a wrapped gift. Imagine my delight when I opened it and found a Yomega High Performance Fireball Yo-Yo. The yo-yo stood upright, nested in a red velvet base inside a hard plastic display box. To this day, I keep that yo-yo on my bookshelf . Lisa’s phone call after all these years, like that yo-yo, reminds me that connecting with people on a human level is not just what matters in marketing, but what really matters in life.