RSA Conference 2015 attendees convening on San Francisco April 20-24th in search of scantily clad woman fronting vendor booths will be sorely disappointed, as RSA became the latest group to ban “booth babes.”
There are many factors at work in the push away from booth babes, with the most substantive being that they are undeniably demeaning. In evaluating this conference shift, I can’t help think of the recent Hooters TV ad with Jon Gruden, which infers that “Hooters Girls make your wings taste better and your beer colder.” I’m not sure that can be scientifically proven, but if it could then the chain is really onto something. Along those lines, my guess is that conferences and technology vendors would likely give greater pause to moving away from booth babes if the women in fact made their technology produces look cooler and work better.
But there is scant evidence that booth babes generate more leads and sales. In one such proof point, Spencer Chen, head of marketing and growth at Frontback, penned a guest post for TechCrunch that drew attention to their own split-testing (two different booths at a show, one with booth babes, one staffed with subject matter experts) at a major industry conference. The result: the booth babes generated a third of the foot traffic and less than half the leads.
Isolated results? Perhaps, but probably not. The attendees who are drawn to booth babes are probably the same ones who are more interested in stuffing their swag bag than they are evaluating vendor offerings. For me personally, I find vendor employees far more approachable and less intimidating than women in bikinis, but I wasn’t exactly High School prom king so maybe that’s just me. Either way, given how this booth tactic portrays women and lack of evidence the strategy even works, booth babes smack of an outdated relic that can undermine customer perception of the brand.
For vendors that have used booth babes and now must look at alternative approaches, it is a gut check to solidify common sense strategies such as staffing the booth with seasoned employees who can address prospect inquiries at a business and technical level; ensuring prospects and customers are alerted pre-show and are compelled to stop by your booth; aligning the show marketing team with public relations and social media efforts, etc.
I’ve attended several major technology conference shows with clients over the past year, and beyond the tried-and-true tactics referenced above, some of the more effective booth “pull” strategies I have seen include:
- Booths that adapt to time of day – Attending a recent conference, one vendor had a gourmet coffee station set up during the morning and early afternoon hours of the show, and then switched to a beer tap towards later afternoon. This ensured a steady flow of traffic throughout the day.
- Smartphone charging station – One vendor at a security conference set up a charging station, which not only became popular as the day progressed and batteries drained, but also led to a longer attendee booth visit and individuals had to wait for their phones to sufficiently charge.
- Lounges – Typically booth seating is reserved for customer/partner/press/analyst meetings. Offering a small set of seats or lounge if budget permits can provide attendees with something that is very hard to find on the show floor – a place to rest. Even better, provide demonstrations at designated times for those seated for further engagement.
- Raffles – Give attendees a reason to come back during show times and days that are typically low traffic. Whether it is through capturing information that can be used to email/text later in the Conference for a giveaway, this can bring back individuals during parts of the Conference that might otherwise see light traffic.