Marketing 101: Chapter Five

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Recently I was in Indianapolis doing some pre-event work for Dealer Expo 2011. We were fortunate enough to do two hard-hat tours — one on the new Indiana Convention Center space, and one on the new JW Marriott hotel — and it got me thinking about the past and the future.

We moved to Indianapolis in February 1998, after almost 30 years in Cincinnati. We moved because we needed a venue and location for the event that would grow with us. I’m not saying the move worked out perfectly in every way, because you all know that the convention center and the hotels downtown didn’t keep pace with us 100 percent of the time. But you also know that since we made the move, Indianapolis has invested a great deal in its city to make it one of the world-class destinations for conventions for you and me.

I asked the Indiana Convention & Visitors Association to send me some statistics so I could really wrap my brain around the changes over the last 12 years. Here are a few highlights:

• The $275 million expansion of the convention center will propel it to the 16th largest center in the United States with 566,000 sq. ft. of continuous space, 83 meeting rooms and three ballrooms.

• There are 4,700 hotel rooms connected by a climate-controlled walkway to the convention center, more than any other city in the U.S.

• About 200 restaurants are within walking distance of the downtown hotels and the convention center.

• 15 minutes from downtown, the new $1.1 billion Weir Cook Terminal is open at the brand-new Indianapolis International Airport.

• An additional $3 billion will be invested in tourism products, all coming online by the time the city hosts the Super Bowl in 2012.

I don’t know of very many other cities out there that have poured as much money, so consistently, for so long into their cities. Indianapolis believes it has to continue to improve its product and the experience you and I have when we visit the city, because it knows we have a choice.

Which brings me to Dealer Expo and the International Motorcycle Shows, and investing in our own events. We also know you have a choice when it comes to supporting these events. In November, at the first International Motorcycle Show in Dallas, you will see for yourself the results of over a year of planning, scheming, number-crunching, and “throwing a whole lot of ideas at the wall to see what would stick.” This will continue across the 12 events, until we end in Daytona Beach, Fla., in March. Ditto for Dealer Expo in February. We’re investing in the physical layout for both shows, the environments, the entertainment, the content, and just about everything we can lay our hands on.

Why? Well, it wasn’t because we were bored!

Take a look at the events you’ve been doing for the past five, 10 or, in our case, 30-plus years. See any patterns? Have you done pretty much the “same ole same ole” for a really long time? Sure, you’ve probably changed the signs, or rearranged the tables, or maybe you got a new food vendor or stunt team. But by and large, it’s pretty repetitious. And there is something to say for things that are familiar and comfortable. Certainly you know what you can expect, and your staff and customers do to.

Are you yawning yet? I am!

“The times they are a-changin,” and so must we. An event is supposed to be, well, eventful. When the pop and sizzle fizzles out of your event, you need to start with a clean sheet of paper and create a new one. The best analogy I can think of is when you remodel a house or a room in your house. The framing is done, and the sheet rock and plaster are up, but you need to paint, decorate, change out all the fixtures to bring the room or house to life.

Where do you start? Make an honest assessment of your event. Compare its results for the past three years, and don’t make the mistake of blaming the economy, the government, the weather, the staff, or your next-door neighbor for a failing event. Even if those are valid reasons, they are also the reasons you must change. The old format isn’t working anymore. Write down what needs to change, and what stays — with a new coat of paint. Write down what you would do if money were no object. Write a paragraph that describes the event to yourself as you envision it and the ultimate result you would like to achieve if all the stars aligned, the sun was shining, and you woke up in a perfect world. That is your new-and-improved event.

This might cost some money, so you’ll need to figure out what your budget can stand. Maybe you don’t do it all at once — maybe one room at a time. Ask your customers and your staff for their feedback. People always have opinions, and when you ask for them, you usually get them in spades.

I can honestly say it’s a lot of work to reinvent your events, and there have been a few times along the way that I’ve thought to myself, “My goodness, do we really need to do all of this?” And the answer is always “Yes, we do.” Because it’s our job to make sure our events stay relevant and vibrant so you get the most value and have the best experience possible.

By the way, the new convention center space and the new Marriott Place complex will be amazing. Join us in February and see for yourself.

This story originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Dealernews.