Internet World 09: Everything to everyone - and nothing to all

Walking around Internet World yesterday in Earl's Court, London, I wasn't awed, I'll be honest. I'm usually somewhat critical of tradeshows where the main goal seems to be checking out what your competition is doing. But to me, last year's Internet World felt way more exciting and new than this year's version. Granted, there was something small in between called THE CREDIT CRUNCH. However that fuels my argument even more - that the vast majority of exhibitors mistakenly wanted attendees to believe they did, literally, everything - when clearly they do not. List out anything that one could ever do on the web, and you'd fill the Library of Congress. "The interwebs" spans as many diverse areas as life itself, in which all of these exhibitors were claiming to be experts.

It's amazing how the one most basic rule of marketing can be so blatantly ignored, or just missed, by so many companies. Try to be a jack of all trades - and become, by default, the master of none. When it comes to marketing, I was taught that you should blow your trumpet about your USPs. How can 80 per cent of Internet World's exhibitors be the 'leading provider of' SEO, digital marketing (how nebulous is that choice of phrase anyway?), targeted direct marketing, email marketing, web design, creative web presence, content management, social media, AND etc etc etc.

The only way you wind up with a stand that says so little is 'marketing by committee' - and this show really smacked of it.

Maybe I'd gotten stuck in some web jargon black hole but I talked to at least a dozen companies in a row, all of whom did all of the above and none of whom could explain their business in less than a zillion words of gobbley-gook. The standout in that area of the show was the French Pavilion. Crammed in amongst the jargony jargoneers were a couple innovative Frenchmen and women, on a joint booth sporting a shoddy version of the French flag and great accents, but sadly no champers or soft cheeses. This last fact was duly noted by the president of Netways, a company with an impressive list of car-maker clients who execute integrated marketing campaigns. Thank goodness - I'd found someone who could point to real customers doing real stuff. I know what cars are. I even drive one.

Granted, they're our client, but a big standout for us was the area by the Innovation Zone, sponsored by Huddle, where some different offerings could be found - e.g. Webjam for creation of specialised social networks - Xero for online accounting software and Siondo for online ERP. Another highlight for me was an interesting conversation with the technical lead at punkyduck. Why did I remember them? No, it wasn't the hot pink stand. He stuck a stake in the ground and told me what they actually did - create Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIN apps to drive brand presence for everything from pregnancy brands (guess your baby's sex) to flixter to rate movies on your FB profile. I'm sure they do other stuff, too - they're smart people. But I 'got it' because he was willing to stick to one story long enough to understand their value-add. I'll find out later what else they do.

I then ran into a fellow American startup person who begged me not to ask what his company did, he was so sick of talking the talk. He'd attended the conferences and claimed to learn very little, though admitted the talks were well-presented enough to distract you into thinking you were learning something new. He ambled off home in a fog at 3 pm definitely brought on by too much of 'Teh Interwebs.'

Anyway hopefully you got a picture of the show if you weren't lucky enough to attend this year - the show coordinators claimed attendance would rise to 13,000 - ten per cent more than last year - but never have 3,250 people seemed like a smaller crowd to me. The lesson in all this for exhibitors is, be specific! Don't be everything to everyone and fall into a jargon blackhole - else risk turning into a comet that just passes in the night. (See how I did that?)

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