The ROI of Booth Babes?

Last week’s Dreamforce conference was one of those ‘must be there’ events.  Boasting a recording breaking audience, it was a who’s who of speakers, celebrities, attendees, and exhibitors.  The thrill of seeing MC Hammer and Will.i.am up close and personal was only trumpeted by Neil Young’s live interview about how his new company is using Saleforce.com’s software to bring innovative new music products to market.

The Cloud Expo exhibit floor housed over 375 exhibitors ranging from innovative start-ups like Optify to behemoths like Accenture and IBM.   With an attendee to exhibitor ratio of 120 to 1, exhibitors varied in their creativity to get you to stop and hear their pitch.  IBM offered sparkly balls and nifty Watson t-shirts, someone was giving out lighted red-rimmed “sunglasses”, chocolate (my primary food group) abounded, and enough pens where handed out to ensure there will be no shortage of writing instruments for the next millennium.  All was for the taking if you agreed to have your badge scanned.  Based on the constant crowd in the exhibit hall, the takers abound.

Dreamforce attendees were from the business/corporate crowd with one-third to half being women.  Therefore, it seemed out of place to see a number of lovely young ladies suggestively dressed – A.K.A booth babes.

Pardot, a marketing automation vendor, had them dressed as flight attendants to promote a trip giveaway to drive booth traffic. Neolane, also a marketing automation vendor, had them roaming the exhibit floor dressed in boy shorts with the company’s booth number on their t-shirts (at least it wasn’t on their rears) and some other vendor had them passing out chocolate bonbons.  When asked what the company they were promoting did, the stares were blank followed by “Can I scan your badge?”

The most senseless Booth Babe encounter was on the morning of the third day as I was threading my way to the Starbucks next to Moscone West to jump-start my brain.  There on the corner of 3rd and Howard were three lovely young ladies dressed in skimpy ‘French maid’ outfits that had to have come from Fredrick’s of Hollywood.   I’m not sure what caused more cognitive dissonance – that some VP of Marketing thought this was a good investment or that said VP allowed these ladies to stand in the fog visibly shaking from the cold.  No one paid attention to them as people streamed past.

What is the return on investment on booth babes?   The responses to an impromptu poll varied from increased badge scans, even though these may not be legitimate leads, to an increase in mindshare as evidenced by me writing about them.  Touché on the last point but I’m not sure that’s the kind of mindshare the marketing teams had in mind.

Marketing’s challenge is credibility and relevance at a time when the discipline is expected to demonstrate how it delivers financial results in a market where the traditional B2B buy cycle has been radically redefined by social technologies.   B2B buying is largely a self-directed journey outside of the control of vendors and Sales.

What are Buyers looking for?  They want an experience and realize value that is indicative of what it’ll be like as a customer.  Instead of titillating the buyer with something they can’t have (or may not want), educate them by placing meaningful content at the places, real and virtual, that buyers frequent.

Offer them easy to use free products through which the buyer can realize value as they learn how to use the solution.  Build a deep social database of your target buyers and prospects so that, as marketers, you can better understand what is important to them while providing Sales meaningful context so their conversations are relevant, impactful and worthwhile. Teach Sales to talk about outcomes versus features and functions.  Partner with Service/Support to purposefully craft the experience buyers will have over their lifetime as a customer. Lastly, partner with your CEO to help them reshape the company culture and processes to align all roles outward to the Buyer instead of inward to each other.

Tradeshows are a step in the Buyers Journey. Buyers are looking to experience the product and gauge the knowledge of company representatives.  More importantly, Buyers see these types of events as an opportunity to understand the values and culture of a vendor. At Dreamforce, the best lead generation was done by Hubspot, an inbound marketing software vendor.  Booth staff dressed in day glow orange running suits and invited attendees to an “unbooth” comprised of a series of tables to compete in a quiz based on their product.  In a short amount of time the Buyer experienced the product, its ease of use, and met some smart people.

If you had any follow-on questions, a Hubspot employee was easy to find, just look for the orange running suit – low sex appeal but high on the ROI scale.

Comments (19)

  1. David King -
    September 8, 2011

    Hubspot does some amazing marketing in every faucet. It makes me sick to use a social media marketing product company selling to social media marketers as a case study for social media marketing.

    But I just can’t help it; they’re just too good at what they do to pass it up.

  2. Dharmesh Shah -
    September 11, 2011

    Thanks for your article. It needed to be said.

    As a professional, I really have a strong bias against booth babes on many different levels. One of them is that they insult our collective intelligence by drawing on misguided stereotypes.

    At HubSpot, we try to rally against the traditional, out-dated marketing methods and create marketing people *love*. Our staff in orange jump suits was with that in mind (every individual in a jumpsuit at Dreamforce was a HubSpot employee that knew the industry and the product).

    I’m all for delivering results in marketing. But, booth babes are just flat-out wrong. Someone should start a movement to eliminate the tactic of using booth babes.

    Dharmesh Shah
    Co-founder and CTO, HubSpot

  3. AJ Wilcox -
    September 11, 2011

    Booth babes are rampant in the automotive world, and as an automotive journalist and a male I’m an unlikely candidate to be offended by their presence. However, I wish they would go away. At the SEMA show in Vegas last year, I was surprised when there was a line to have posters of an Audi signed. I stood in the line to get the poster, and the hired model in her skivvies was signing. I was the only one in the line who asked that she not sign my poster while everyone else got a car poster made worthless by a signature of someone completely unrelated to the vehicle.

    Excellent assessment! I hope to see more inventive methods to get attention at trade shows because appealing to my penis doesn’t work well because it’s not connected to my wallet.

  4. michael liebow -
    September 11, 2011

    First off, I don’t condone the use of booth babes.

    Having attended the cloud expo, I can’t say I didn’t notice the booth babes them either.

    But to start a ‘movement’ against them is mis-guided to say the least. Heck, where do you stop? Have you seen the hiring criteria for most salesforces – enteprise, pharma or otherwise? The very people who are suppose to use these products?

    But, I will point out that your recapping of the various attempts to attract attention, only serves to reinforce the effectiveness, or at least the attempts to be effective, of their efforts. (We didn’t use booth babes, but I don’t see any mention of my company.)

    I’ll assume also that you’re some how associated with Hub Spot (or, if not, hope to be).

    The real issue for a strategic marketing guru like yourself is not booth babes, but the lack of uniformity in message across the expo floor for all sfdc partners. The cloud expo seemed nothing more than a ring of trash and trinkets, a3rd world market bazaar, which only served to highlight the real reason for the event — sfdc. Salesforce demonstrated a sharp contrast with clean themes and large roomy, almost vast, area, as if the vendors were serfs to the king of the kingdom. Ah its good to be the king!

    I think the solution for df12 is to create thematic areas in much the same way sfdc does for itself. Mobile, Analytics, Marketing, Productivity Apps, etc. If SFDC hopes to create a robust ISV Ecosystem around them, they need to own the message and delivery, not just for themselves, but for the entire kingdom. (One only needs to look at the same way Disneyland has taken over the entire experience around Anaheim to understand what I mean by this.)

    I’m sure Booth Babes will continue to play a role in marketing for generations to come. But hopefully, clean messaging and superb execution will always win out.

    Regards,

    Michael Liebow
    Founder and CEO, Foretuit, Inc.

    • Christine -
      September 11, 2011

      Michael, you offer great suggestions for how Dreamforce should structure their Cloud Expo 2012. A thematic arrangement would make it easier to visit those vendors of interest. Hopefully, as an exhibitor you shared that feedback with Salesforce.

      As to your comment about Hubspot, I am not affiliated with them. I have a rule of not blogging or writing about my clients as that would be a clear conflict of interest. Nor is my writing used to ‘attract’ clients as that would be equally inappropriate. Lastly, my clients are mid-size companies with revenues of $50M and greater.

      Thank you for following my writing and sharing your thoughts. I welcome them all.
      Christine

  5. Elizabeth -
    September 11, 2011

    There is nothing more disrespectful to customers in this day and age than to have people representing your brand who are not giving some sort of credibility to the experience. If someone can not speak intelligently about your product, don’t waste everyone’s time by having them at your booth. I’ll give you a pass on a cameo by a celeb who uses your product and is endorsing it. But having someone who’s just recognized as pretty and can’t give me one reason for even listening to your pitch? Goodbye. Not going to waste my time- especially at a Dreamforce where there are tons of other partners and vendors willing to let me talk to the people who actually build their products.

    I have no idea who the french maids were with, I only wonder so if I did get a call/email from them it would go straight to junk mail. Absolutely ridiculous.

    By the way- that was Neil Young at the keynote, not Neil Diamond. I’m all for Neil Diamond at DF12! 🙂

    • Christine -
      September 12, 2011

      Thank you Elizabeth for your post. I believe many feel as you. I was completely unmotivated to visit these vendors for the very reason. And Thank you for the clarification about Neil; how did I not catch that. I’ll correct the post.

  6. Adam Blitzer -
    September 12, 2011

    Thanks for the post — definitely a good discussion.

    My company (Pardot) was the one mentioned with the promotion around free flights, the marketing cloud, etc. (timely with the new Pan Am series starting up). Our models were responsible for creating a buzz around the booth and signing people up for a giveaway. We always had them paired with staff members to take people through the product, give demos, etc.

    The ROI of promotional models is fairly massive — that is why you see them at most events (employed by major companies) and selling all manner of products. There is a tasteful way to do things and a less tasteful way. I would like to think we did a pretty good job of not crossing any lines.

    I actually just wrote about this in a Dreamforce wrap up post:
    http://www.b2bmarketingroi.com/2011/09/12/lesson-learned-from-a-dreamforce-2011-platinum-sponsorship/

    Thanks!

    • Christine -
      September 13, 2011

      Adam, thanks for your perspective. Can you share the actual ROI of the investment in terms of # qualified opportunities that are in the pipeline? It’s been two weeks since Dreamforce and I’m sure your team has been able to assess the experience. Having some numbers would add to this discussion, if you’re comfortable doing that.

      Thanks – christine

  7. Amanda K Burczyk -
    September 12, 2011

    personally I don’t have a problem with Booth Babes, it’s Booth Babes that know nothing about what they are promoting. I guess it stems from being in promotions for so many years and starting out as a promotions model. We took it to a whole nother level though. We took the time to learn everything there was to know about a product before going out. That way if someone asked us a question we could answer it, or at least give them enough information to hold their interest and lead them to the booth, or store, or whatever it was we were promoting at the time. I understand some women get offended by that and say it’s degrading but it’s only degrading to the women if they are not comfortable or if someone make rude gestures at them. If the women aren’t educated/trained in the service or product then it becomes degrading to the company or organization. I personally think if used properly Booth Babes can be a great tool/tactic. A big part of it lies in the outfits too. Skimpy but not TOO skimpy. Make the outfits sexy but classy. Camel does a pretty good job with this at their experience booths. The women are usually in tight mid-thigh length dresses that are not too low cut but not t-shirt height collars either. I always think wow I love their outfits!

    Any promotion/campaign has it’s potential but there are rules you need to follow and ways to go about it for it to truly be beneficial.

    Booth Babes are a great idea! When used properly…

  8. Sheila Bohan -
    September 13, 2011

    Christine, love the post. I really don’t see the point of booth babes at a major industry event such as Dreamforce. The approach we took with our booth (I work for Eloqua) was t-shirt and jeans…we wanted to appear casual but more importantly approachable and friendly. I spoke with an analyst on-site who told me he actually felt uncomfortable going to booths with booth babes…he wanted to learn more about the actual products…hard to do when the women in the booth don’t know enough about the company they’re representing. As a woman, I personally just don’t agree with the practice.

  9. Pingback: Can your brand handle a babe? – Michelle A. Heath

  10. Hyoun Park -
    September 13, 2011

    I’ve been on the vendor side, enterprise end user side, and now the industry analyst side. In all three roles, I’ve always assumed that anyone who was lazy enough to hire “Booth babes” was not serious about their product. In today’s age, high quality leads want to be informed, not titillated.

    To me, the real Booth Babes are those who can both speak fluently to their product and give me insight into how it can improve my business, regardless of gender. If you can give me free and valuable consulting or value engineering, I’ll take that over a runway model any day of the week.

  11. Henry Bruce -
    September 15, 2011

    Well, this certainly is an interesting post and series of comments. Kudos for following through on the post CC even though I said don’t bother. What do I know??

    In any case, the Cloud Expo was clearly like the old Clint spaghetti western, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. Trade shows are tough lead generation programs in today’s market and economy. How does an exhibitor stand out and not be another yellow taxi in NYC and generate traffic that justifies the trade show expense? And in the case, of DF11, the fees charged by Salesforce were outrageous. So i understand, the thought process that lead some exhibitors/marketers to use booth babes to draw in the traffic. BUT, what was worse in my mind was the inability of the vendors to have a show strategy to try and qualify the traffic in real-time to figure out who they should be talking to right then and there and after the conference.

    The good were/are the ones that used/use innovative marketing techniques that are connected to their product and the problem they solve. Also, they used the captured traffic to use their sales/product people to figure out who fits their ideal lead profile and engaged those folks in a meaningful conversation. 90-95 of that traffic is not qualified, but more than 50% of that traffic that is not sales-rteady will be at some point. I agree with you that Hubspot stood out from the crowd. But there were others that caught my attention because they linked their engagement tactic with what they do which made it worth my time to figure out how they might help me and my clients.

    The “Bad” were the ones that had “booth boobs” in their booth – mostly sales pukes who had their heads in their “crackberries” or did not know how to start a useful conversation. Personally I don’t like staffing shows with sales reps because they are only looking for Mr. “RightNow” prospects. Better to have sales and product support folks there who take their assignment more seriously and work the show.

    The “Ugly” were the ones that had me-to products, me-to marketing, me-to handouts, and were not well-aligned with where Salesforce.com is heading. Goobledy-gook taglines and M.S.U. (make stuff up benefits statements) and nothing compelling to say or to offer in the context of the show and Salesforce.com.

    I dont personally object to using booth babes so long as you have a show strategy that turns the traffic into qualified leads and have a compelling value proposition and can sell me on why we should talk or why I should write about them. The booth babe marketers I saw had nothing to offer beyond the babes … like lipstick on a pig. They really didn’t have a strategy for the show and also have weak sales and marketing and undifferentiated products. When I ran marketing in the 90’s, if i had ever spent that kind of money on a show and executed the way I saw vendors perform (booth babes or not, booth boobs or not), i would have been fired.

  12. Matt Sullivan -
    September 30, 2011

    I didn’t get a chance to go to Dreamforce, but our SFDC Admin went. He mentioned a few of the same vendors that you did as having booth babes. The following week I attended the Inbound Marketing Summit and HubSpot deployed the same strategy: their actual employees in easily identifiable track suits. If you had questions, they were available. If you didn’t, you weren’t harassed.

    Once again, Hubspot took a marketing channel and added a new/efficient way to use it.

  13. Brian Goffman -
    October 17, 2011

    Great article Christine. Thanks also for the mention alongside companies like Hubspot, IBM and Accenture and Pardot.

    I too was struck by the approach others took to gathering names on iPads. It got attention. We had only our employees at Dreamforce and got lots of great leads in the process.

    We plan to increase our investment next year, but will continue to model (no pun intended) at tradeshows the solve-your-problem approach we take in sales and marketing.

    One of the things I learned in online marketing was that the highest click-through ad was always a picture of an attractive woman. But the question is: what kind of traffic do you want?

    Kudos to Hubspot for a creative, effective yet non-intrusive form of marketing.

  14. Dan Wolan -
    November 30, 2011

    How about a word from a Talent Management / Event Staffing Agency? I AGREE. At Productions Plus – The Talent Shop we try to educate the marketing departments of our corporate clients on the best use of talent. While “booth babes” may return investment at a show geared to young male geeks, we prefer to book attractive, educated men and women who are pros at delivering a message about the company and its products. Let’s face it, the company’s most educated engineer may not have the most engaging personality or appearance necessary to draw people to the display.

  15. Mike Volpe – HubSpot CMO -
    September 14, 2012

    Christine –

    I was in Google trying to find this article again and I found a page from a modeling agency that is SEO optimized for “Dreamforce Models”. So clearly the modeling agencies still hope to do a good business this year.

    http://www.motivatedmodels.com/shows/12_3/2012_Dreamforce.php

    See you at the event again? And I promise the only people representing HubSpot again this year will be full time employees, not rented models. Just like always!

    Anyway, I thought you would find it interesting that the modeling agencies are now optimizing for Dreamforce.

    • Christine -
      September 14, 2012

      Thanks for the comment, Mike. Since this was such a hot topic last year, I’ll be on the lookout at DF12 to see if other vendors are following you. Let’s hope so.

      christine

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