Browsing a small selection of pint-sized branded tractors, an unassuming customer strolls through the toy section of the John Deere booth, made to look like a cozy farm building. With a shopping bag in hand, he sports a black T-shirt, a pair of khaki shorts, and Oakley sunglasses propped on his head - not the usual boots-and-jeans attire of the many farmers at this year's Husker Harvest Days retail show in Grand Island, Nebraska.
At first glance, a salesperson might mistake the customer as a landscape contractor, steering him toward the booth's display of small mowers. And yet, there are two tells that this particular attendee is in the market for ag equipment. His T-shirt lends the first clue, the words "Locally grown" printed across his chest like a billboard in neon lights.
The other giveaway? The man wears a yellow wristband, plucked from a display at one of the entrances of John Deere's brand-new booth experience. There are yellow wristbands for customers interested in maximizing yield retention on the FARM, and John Deere green for those wanting to accomplish more on LAND. A set of gray wristbands are dedicated to folks eager to learn about the INTEGRITY of the 180-year-old company, along with a museum-like display that curves its way through another tent.
The booth's entrance signage explains it all - "Make your experience with us truly rewarding."
At Huebner Marketing, we've seen more than our fair share of retail shows thanks to our fabulous manufacturing clientele, but this year's John Deere booth takes the cake for customer experience, and all because John Deere decided to give its booth a massive makeover at the start of the show season. Rachelle Thibert, Manager of Events Marketing at John Deere, was kind enough to chat with us about the booth overhaul to lend some marketing inspiration and trade show booth ideas to other manufacturers.
Here are a few tips, straight from John Deere, to make your booth more engaging than ever.
Thibert says the John Deere booth overhaul actually began several years ago.
"Back then, our booth was pretty product heavy, simply because we've always been proud of our products. But still, she says, "we weren't thrilled with the amount of engagement we were getting in our booth, so we spent a lot of time examining our display through the customer lens."
That lens helped John Deere better understand the motives behind show attendance, and that analysis drove John Deere to replace its product-centric experience with a hands-on approach that now integrates touchscreen videos, a Gator test-drive course, and a tent devoted to scheduled talks. The new booth also encourages customer dialogue with a display capable of recording feedback because "great customer care starts with listening."
Aside from feedback, those recordings have taught John Deere something else. "Customers of all ages are engaging with the technology," Thibert says. "It's a huge myth that interactive displays are just for young customers."
So, in short, don't dilute the experience - no matter the audience.
The makeover helped Thibert and her team gain another insight:
"With our new booth, we've been able to better engage our sales team," Thibert says. "Working an outdoor show is hard work. The days are long and the weather hot, but if you give your team unique sales tools, it can help them better initiate conversations. Plus, if you provide engaging activities for your team, it'll speed up the day."
And although John Deere's booth is new, Thibert says the sales and marketing team is already evaluating how to make those tools better.
"In our opinion, we took some pretty big risks with the changes we made this year, and we feel like it was a success," says Thibert, now 18 years with the company. "But we plan on taking the input of our sales team, the show attendees, and our dealer network to continually adapt this booth into an even better version for the future."
In short, those who remain stagnant never lead.
Aside from always looking for ways to evolve, John Deere has employed another strategy.
Thibert will be the first to tell you that John Deere, like most exhibitors, used to be guilty of cramming in as many products as possible, but after thinking about attendees and their motives, all of that changed.
Now, gravel walkways separate grassy lawns, serving as organized sections for John Deere's array of products. Gators are grouped near tractors. Lawnmowers glisten nearby, with other products organized by application, from field prep to harvest. Sprinkled in between the segmented displays, a series of massive tents are fashioned to look like farm buildings with more interactive displays tucked inside, waiting to be discovered.
"We wanted customers to feel comfortable in our space," Thibert explains. "Not only did we hope they would walk away from our booth with an intellectual experience, but we wanted them to leave with an emotional one, too - after all, most buying decisions start with an emotional connection."
And while Thibert says creating the new booth "wasn't rocket science," we think John Deere mastered the art of listening to its customers.