How Do You Measure Value?

It is not often enough that we ask ourselves how we measure value. Practically speaking, it comes from a balance between cost, profit, and the transformative power of an experience.  But what is the mindset that allows us to identify it?

Early in my career, I was a team leader for the Fourth of July celebration on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It was a totally spectacular event, broadcast live to the three major networks, recorded for several cable channels, and included over a thousand VIPs and showcased major headliners like the Beach Boys and the Judds. By all accounts, it was a transformative experience.

However, the costs over-runs, legal fees, lawsuits easily tripled the original budget despite the fact that many of us were seasoned event planners on this scale.

In this equation, the cost, the profit, and the experience itself were totally out of balance. But the error was not in planning, it was in our definition of value. At this point in time, we understood value to lie in scale and spectacle.

We’ve since learned that value does not lie in a one-off, dazzling experience—and not necessarily in the scaffolding beneath it (the ratio of profit to cost) either. Value lies in the long-term connections we build to stand the test of time because these are the connections equate to consistent, building revenue over the course of many years. In this equation, profit is long term and growing, costs are refocused and under control, and the transformative experience only gets better with time.

Are Trade Shows Headed the Way of the Big Mac?

In the 1990’s, one presidential candidate was infamously photographed eating at McDonalds on the campaign trail. Recently, his wife, now a democratic candidate, was seen eating a burrito at Chipotle while campaigning in Ohio. This quotidian moment may seem meaningless, but it reveals a big shift in American consumer mentalities and the fast food business ecosystem. These campaign photographs indicate that McDonald’s symbolized the all-American meal of the 90’s and Chipotle the quick, affordable meal of today.

The real proof is in the numbers. While McDonald’s stock has risen 41% over the last five years, Chipotle’s has risen a whopping 458% percent. Tellingly, McDonald’s once owned 90% of Chipotle in its early years but decided to sell off the small experimental burrito chain in order to focus on their main staples of burgers and fries. They sacrificed the new in order to protect the old, failing to synthesize the inherent value of both. Unfortunately for McDonalds, they would miss out in the 478% increase in stocks that was to come. Success lay in synthesizing two opposite business mentalities, not choosing one over the other.

Chipotle’s net worth—now over $13 billion—testifies the widespread popularity of their product. Stock values exhibit that people are choosing sustainably sourced, authentic, and, most importantly, customizable, burritos over prepackaged fast food meals scant in nutritious value.

A Chipotle meal allows costumers to build their own burrito, simultaneously catering to individual tastes and preferences while maintaining a formula that embraces the trends: fresh ingredients and transparent practices. The McDonalds meal is instead based on the BigMac: a single, easily mass-produced product that creates a depersonalized costumer experience. The emphasis is on quantity, not quality. Furthermore, a steady diet of McDonalds led to serious health issues for said 90’s presidential candidate, including quadruple bypass.

What is interesting, however, is how these seemingly opposed practices share the same underlying goal: providing an easily accessible and affordable meal to all Americans.

Could this be an apt metaphor for the changes affecting the trade show ecosystem? Like the McDonald’s stock, attendance is down and sponsors/participants feel disconnected and displeased with their results. And like McDonalds and Chipotle, everyone involved ultimately shares the same goal: making a return on their tradeshow investment. So, how can trade shows, the epitome of face-to-face marketing, resist becoming the Big Mac when consumers are demanding custom, organic burritos?

What if, instead of wholly letting go of the new model, as McDonalds did with Chipotle, we are to carefully synthesize the new with the old? Perhaps the way for trade shows to adapt to the future is to adopt this customizable, authentic, and sustainable product model into their existing business practices.

So the question is, what will trade shows for millennials look like? There are specific ways to find out. We hope that you will join us in a dynamic conversation by posting in our members only Linked In group. You can access this password by emailing us at In the mean time, please visit us at for more information and ideas about the new trade show.

Trade Shows Require Great Care.

We’ve discussed how to make the most of the trade show by using it as a diagnostic tool for your company and we’ve also talked about how to make the most of the unique face-to-face aspect of the trade show by approaching your booth as you would a living room and honing in on the individual needs of each customer. These new ideas all support the belief that trade shows require great care.

But what does “great care” mean in the context of the trade show? It means applying the great care required in personal relationships to the trade show: listening carefully to the needs of others, responding to those needs, and anticipating them in the future.

Not surprisingly, our research has confirmed that the needs of exhibitors, organizers, and attendees are inherently aligned. There are at least two things that everyone who participates in a trade show has in common: an interest in making a profit and the challenges of logistics and cost limitations.

Naturally, a balanced, reciprocal relationship between exhibitors, organizers, and attendees is the glue that holds these needs together.

However, balance doesn’t necessarily equal compromise. In fact, compromise implies that you must give something up. This idea is limiting. Rather, we should aim to synthesize our needs with the needs of those with whom we do business. And it’s much easier than you think. To synthesize only requires that we slow down, listen, and respond, embracing the human aspect of the trade show. In this way, we sow the seeds of the social bond of reciprocity.

What if there was an honest and considerate dialogue between exhibitors, organizers and attendees? What if all three were able to make quality connections with one another in order to bring everybody together so we can all be smarter and more successful?

An open dialogue allows us to gain insight about the perspectives of others, which in turn allows us to learn in real time. The result is synthesis, which allows mutual needs to be met simultaneously.

Thus, applying great care to trade shows makes them more human—which of course has implications far beyond the trade show. Personalized, quality connections are the basis of successful business communities now and in the future. Millennials have already taken over growing markets and pioneered new ones with their emphasis on humane practices. The underlying idea is that there is a unique value to each person.  Businesses and consumers are taking great care in countless other sectors, so why should trade shows be any different?

Making a Shoe Last: The New Customer Experience is About the Individual

We’ve talked about how buying shoes online is a great metaphor for the unique importance of the trade show: sometimes, replacing the face-to-face with online exchanges just doesn’t work. You have to try the shoes on in person.

So let’s go a bit deeper into this metaphor: how can we make the most of the face-to-face using this idea of shoe shopping? We start by honing in on each individual attendee’s needs—the particularities of each foot, let’s saywhich in turn guarantees a greater ROI. We make a shoe last.

A shoe last is the wooden mold on which a shoe is built. A cordwainer is a luxury shoemaker who makes a different shoe last for each individual costumer’s feet, and uses it to create a custom shoe meant to last a lifetime.


We think of it this way: there is far more long term value in one pair of really well built shoes that will last a lifetime rather than countless cheap pairs that will wear out. In the world of trade shows, there is undoubtedly more value in one life-long customer than a random sprinkling of one-time buyers. Not only that, but you will have a better reputation for providing excellent costumer service, and that word of mouth testimonial is more valuable than any press you could buy.

But this leads us to an important question you may not even be considering: What exactly does value mean to you? And how do you gauge the value of each individual costumer and their experience?

Learning to understand the value of value is essential to making better and longer lasting connections. Long term connections means long-term profits.

The shoe last method means focusing your tradeshow outreach on specific individuals and then designing a unique presentation for each one of them upon arriving at your booth. You are taking advantage of the human experience—that very thing which makes the trade show so valuable. Customers will be pleasantly surprised by your personalized approach, and you can guess where they will bring their business the next time and the time after that.

Furthermore, buying trends among younger generations prove that consumers want to know what they’re buying and where it comes from: they are searching for that value. When it comes to the most important products, buyers don’t want to be foiled by the ambiguity of online sales—not to mention the manipulation: it’s no secret that online shoppers are tracked and their searches fed back to them as fresh ads. Sometimes, the convenience just isn’t worth it. What’s more, the reality is questionable: who writes the online reviews of products? Is it public relations firms? It is employees of the company? There’s no way of knowing. The value is uncertain.

So what are the implications of applying the shoe last method to the trade show costumer experience? It means that the difference between the routine old ways, and this new, custom-built experience is like the difference between going to McDonald’s as opposed to your favorite neighborhood restaurant where you are a regular: the place where they already know your favorite dish, your go-to drink, and your particular likes and dislikes.

The implication is a big shift from a world of mass marketing to and a world of mass personalization. Mass personalization is the future; so why shouldn’t the trade show—an integral part of American commerce and trade—join in the change?

The Big Shift

The new trade show booth is a living room, not a billboard.

We’ve established the facts of how and why trade shows are now more important than ever. They offer a singular chance to increase sales, build long-term connections, and make a diagnostic assessment about your company—all in one place.

But the question remains: exactly how can exhibitors and organizers make the most of the tradeshow?

We at the Hughes Group suggest a new approach: treat your booth as you would your own living room. That is to say, with warmth, selectivity, privacy, and an individualized approach.

As exhibitors, costumer outreach at a trade show traditionally involves big, bold signage meant to reach as many viewers as possible in a short window of time and space—much like a gigantic, simplistic billboard posted on a highway to attract passerby.

Unfortunately, this billboard-like approach is no longer competition for the masses of information accessible on the web and within the trade show itself.

You want to maximize your limited resources, so why not change the booth from a random highway stand to a unique destination? This way, you can guarantee a smaller number and higher quality of attendees, and in turn secure a higher ROI.

The concept of a booth as a living room means that the booth is personalized, directed at a specific audience, and utilizes face-to-face interaction over an over-simplified visual expression of your business, be it through signage or the design of the booth.


Sales are based on human interaction, and a cornerstone of human interaction is trust. No one trusts someone they don’t know—especially if the sale or product is large and complex. By making a visitor feel safe and welcome into your “living room,” rather than an anonymous passerby glancing at a billboard, you will automatically set up a context of trust. By investing in the subtle human aspect over the blunt, architectural aspects of your booth, you are creating a totally different experience. You are seeking to understand the costumer rather than build the “right” signage. You are connecting the outside attendees inside your booth, which is different than hoping to randomly attract passerby. You are making the trade show experience deeper, more focused, and purposeful.

The big shift also requires organization. Since you are treating your booth as you would your living room, you must then plan your trade show attendance just as you would a party—by inviting all of the top executives you want to be there, scheduling their individual visits and giving them your complete focus once they arrive in order to build a quality connection.

Remember that the big shift is making the trade show about relationships—the more engaging they are personally and intellectually, the more you and the attendee get out of it. No length is too great to create a real, human-to-human connection. The same old tactics have a short shelf life, whereas an emotional connection has an endless, repeated return of investment. Why not create a more valuable emotional connection between your company or product and your clients?

Imagine how differently the attendee is going to feel when they are greeted with this personalized experience, rather than mindlessly scanned in as they arrive at your booth. Why not make them feel like your booth experience was set up just for them? The likelihood they will want to do business with you is far greater.


You offer something one-of-a-kind, so the booth experience must reflect this.