When Life Gives You Lemons…

Employing creative brand marketing
strategies amid trade show cancellations.

As uncertainty mounts and political sensitivity increases, the brand playing field–as it pertains to major trade show cancellations–has changed dramatically. And, as anyone working in a show-dependent industry knows, that is no understatement. So, as author Elbert Hubbard said, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

The first thing smart marketing teams should do is switch gears and create alternative outlets–away from trade show marketing–to keep the product pipeline churning while keeping the health of others squarely in mind.

The good news

Generally speaking, approximately 30-40% of typical marketing budgets are allocated for trade show participation, travel and expenses, displays, and collateral. As the current situation blows this formula off the table, marketing teams now have the good fortune of quite ample budgets to redistribute…but need to do so quickly. We live in a ‘use it or lose it’ world, after all.

Consider your options

Two areas where smart marketers should be turning are Content Marketing and VIP/Luxury Brand Experiences.

Content marketing uses digital channels where brands can develop an on-going relationship with customers through non-promotional content that is of value to them. Over the past 10 + years, content marketing has evolved from little more than blog posts and editorial strategies, to a much more holistic tool that includes email, social media, SEO, and even paid distribution to reach a particular target customer.

Since content marketing is not overtly promotional, it allows brands to become storytellers–providing useful insight and information–particularly during times of crisis. Sound customers and prospects are drawn to content that inspires, educates, informs, and even entertains. And these are tactics that will help you create and sustain on-going relationships with your audience…even after the crisis is over.

A VIP/Luxury Brand Experience is another tactic that can, simultaneously, build prospect rapport, AND move product. With the cancellation of numerous trade shows, many of them are rebooting as ‘digital’ conferences and shows—which is an option, but lacks some distinct benefits that drive trade show attendance while still leaving a large gap for the customer to actually purchase the product. Let’s face it; a virtual experience should already be available on the product’s web site anyway.

Trade shows are primarily used to generate leads, inspire demand and prime manufacturing pipelines. Some would argue the quality of leads generated at trade shows vary, regardless if this is the case or not, leads should always be well qualified. So take that one step further… What if you create a brand experience to which only the most qualified prospects are in attendance? We did this very thing for one of our consumer durables clients who needed a means to replace the sales opportunities historically provided by trade shows. Our Brand Experience Programs not only create a means to replace these important sales opportunities, but offer an invaluable customer-bonding scenario as well. So whereas some trade shows have converted themselves to digital, these small population events take the opposite approach—by becoming highly engaging and interpersonal. Happily, these events can accomplish their brand’s goals at a fraction of the cost of a trade show–even when multiple executions are done…by region, product segment, or other factor.

Better in the long run

In challenging, fast changing times continually communicating your brand’s identity and values becomes even more important. Even if your industry is currently experiencing a sales spike, you need to keep this in the front of their minds. Maintain your marketing course, never forgetting that you will be better off when more normal market conditions return, not to mention a stronger overall brand.

Trade & Boat Show Brief

A Review of our upcoming Boat Show Season and ongoing Trade Show Industry

July 10, 2020
(Revised August 24, 2020)


Trade shows are a large part of the marine industry. Not only in retail boat shows. There are many B-2-B shows within our industry as well. They come in all sizes and venues, from regionally sponsored and national marine supplier events to dealer meetings and of course retail shows. Nationally, the trade show industry is a $14.3 Billion Industry and estimated to have an indirect economic impact as much as $100 Billion in the marketplace. The New York market alone estimates the loss revenue impact to The Jacob Javits Center will reach $100 million dollars as a result of these times. Additionally, the lack of activity at this one facility will reduce the local economy by $1 Billion over the course of the shutdown. The impacts touch many layers of our communities and businesses not just the venue. From air & ground travel to hotels, restaurants, and other local establishments the Trade Show Industry has a deeper affect than most industries.


The boat show season is approaching quickly and in years past by this time we would have been deep into the planning of these events. Some shows have announced their cancellations. Such events are:

Tampa Boat ShowSeptember 11 – 13, 2020Tampa Boat Show Site
Newport Boat ShowSeptember 17 – 20, 2020Newport Boat Show Site
Norwalk Boat ShowSeptember 24 – 27, 2020Norwalk Boat Show Site
Annapolis Boat ShowOctober 1 – 4, 2020Annapolis Boat Show Site

The FT Lauderdale Boat Show is still on schedule for later this season, October 28 through November 1, 2020; FT Lauderdale Boat Show Site.


We understand things are constantly evolving and there could still be some adjustments to this schedule, however, at this point the above information is intact. These cancellations also need the proper context. In every case itemized above with one exception, the events were cancelled NOT due to public health and safety concerns, but rather due to a lack of exhibitors. In the events above, most of the exhibitors are marine retailers. Since the end of March 2020, retail sales of boats and boating products hit a pace that our industry has not seen before. This increase in retail sales AND manufacturing facilities and suppliers shutting down for health and safety reasons for as long as 8 weeks, the market’s supply of products has been significantly diluted. Increase in demand AND decrease in supply, has strained the retailers’ ability to run their businesses. With little supply, retailers are having to make a difficult decision NOT to exhibit in their local boat shows. Events that have been a corner stone of their businesses for years. Now they are having to opt out of attending as they will not be able to recoup their costs to exhibit in these events for months. As exhibitors do not renew their contracts with these events, the shows are then faced with the decision of even having the event. In the cases above, event organizers are deciding to cancel this year’s event.

In the case of FT Lauderdale International Boat Show, contracts have been sent. Deposits have been paid. The exhibitors for this show are generally the manufacturers themselves. Thereby products to show & sell come directly from the manufacturers. The retailers still take part in the show, but the product supply is generally on the manufacturers.

Show producers have been very understanding and are working with exhibitors to be fair and accommodating during this time. Our meetings with event organizers have been very productive. Show producers have been very understanding and accommodating to the current landscape. We pride ourselves to build long-term relationships with these event producers. As a result, we have been able to approach this on a common platform to meet everyone’s needs and objectives. The preparation and aligning the complex show producer environment is not an easy task and we are working with each of them to best understand their situations and help where we can. We expect some new show and exhibitor guidelines to follow for the shows to stay on schedule. We believe many of these new guidelines will be put on the show organizers to adhere to, however, there will undoubtedly be a trickle-down effect to exhibitors and exhibit managers.

Some of the items that are being considered are designed to better control access to the shows through such measures as:

  • Selling tickets online only
  • Each ticket has its own “Entrance Time” – entering the show on specific days and times only
  • Install new “Exit Only” gates to direct patrons leaving the show away from patrons entering

These steps are designed to

  • Eliminate large congregation of show patrons trying to enter the show
  • Spreading out people coming through the gates
  • Separating large congregations of people from collecting in small areas
  • Manage the overall number of people that are on site

This means exhibitors should experience:

  • A smoother flow of patrons in the mornings – better to engage each as there will not be a morning rush and more level flow of people in the show throughout each day
  • Be able to spend more time with each qualified customer throughout the day and not have to be rushed as much during the peak hours of the show


To help understand and proof these trade show plans, the Industry sponsored a test platform at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. “Together Again Expo” took place on Friday, July 24th for one day only. The convention center was set up as a normal trade show. Together Again Expo was for industry members only. The event was free for exhibitors. Each exhibitor received a 10’ x 10’ booth. Exhibitors were industry trade companies looking to ensure steps taken in this event provided a safe and healthy environment for everyone. This event was not open to the public. The event was a success and received good reviews from local, county and state constituents that have a responsibility to maintain public health and safety.

On a larger scale, but still relevant, the trade show industry has been lobbying our government to provide tax benefits to exhibitors of any trade show. There is currently a request to allow trade exhibitors to apply 50% of trade show costs as a tax credit for 2020. The tax credit is geared to incent exhibitors to reengage trade shows soon. While the requested tax credit is yet to pass, it is a definite incentive which should gain support, should it be adopted. As of the date of this brief, the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida has had 31 events reschedule. Losing these events & conventions have negatively impacted the local economy by an estimated $314 million. There have been an additional 58 conventions or events that have been cancelled. The local economic impact is estimated at $1.21 billion.

Source: OCCC Website


In more than 25 years in the marine industry I have yet to experience anything like this. Many manufacturers have worked the challenging phases of reopening their facilities. From access to raw materials to personnel and transportation challenges, many are back to run rates they enjoyed in Q1 2020. However, still many are not. This coupled with better than expected retail activity in March, April, May, AND continuing into the summer. Manufacturing facilities are challenged to keep their retailers supplied with product. A unique opportunity to make up lost earnings from March & April shutdowns, the demand exists, however, the supply chain is challenged. A more desired problem, nonetheless, still a problem. The amount of new AND used product in retailers’ inventory is frightfully low compared to 2019 numbers.


We are well prepared for the upcoming fall show season. Consumer confidence is still strong. Southern markets are carrying strong sales deep into the summer and people will continue to enjoy their responsible activities on the water. We are now getting a little more information to consider what life in 2021 will look like and the upcoming Spring Show Season. Much of this will still be impacted by the upcoming November elections. We are expecting a similar slate of challenges in 2021 while also anticipating a similar set of solutions. Much will be unique from show to show, so we will have to stay nimble and ready for just about anything. We are prepared and staying connected to our show partners prepped for new guidelines that will have to be adhered to. One of the first shows of the calendar year is the New York Boat Show. This year’s event, January 27-31, 2021, is currently on schedule. At the time of this brief, much of the show’s host venue, The Jacob Javits Center, is still outfitted as a temporary hospital. The Javits Center, a New York state run facility, has been communicating its situation well. In June 2020, The Javits Center released a comprehensive plan to reopen. This includes a dismantling, sanitizing, and refitting the Center by September 1st, 2020. This, however, does not imply shows will begin occupying the space on September 1st. The contract between the NMMA and the Javits Center for the 2021 New York Boat Show binds the NMMA for up to 120% of the cost of the contract should the show not go on as scheduled. This is significant and requires a level of diligence and discipline unlike normal scenarios. This situation is repeated for show producers many times for a single event. The planning for a seemingly simple boat show has many dependent components. Due to the significant planning required each event will be monitored and assessed on its own set of circumstances to determine timing of Go/No Go decisions. A unique aspect to address is many of the non-boat trade shows come from out of town – exhibitors and patrons alike. The travel requirement for patrons and exhibitors is beginning to conflict with company “Travel Bans” and therefore putting the trade show market restart at risk. For the events that are more locally oriented, such as boat shows where many exhibitors (retailers) and patrons (customers) are local, there is less conflict with corporate travel bans and restrictions.


As we take the mounds of information we have collected, we conclude we are continuing to navigate our course. We are prepared for Q3 retail activity to follow its previous years trends. Shows and events are a vital piece of our business. Dealers have matured and become more sophisticated, thereby, reinventing themselves, bringing customer experiences like never before. While customer experiences are important in our industry, we are still challenged to keep things fresh. A change from the norm. Not for our sake, but for the sake of the customers and their expectations. People yearn for Fall In-Water Boat Shows, Spring Season Boat Shows, and Boating Events of all kinds. We are fortunate to be a part of a deeply passionate industry made up of deeply passionate people. This passion is ignited by our customer base and we all embrace it. This passion, as it has shown us since this past March, will continue.

I hope this brief has provided you with some insight, information, and relevant perspective. We are eagerly preparing for the upcoming months and of course watching the race for a vaccine closely. We are optimistic on both fronts and preparing for as many contingency scenarios as possible. We hope you enjoyed this brief. Please reach out to us if you have any questions or comments.

Best Regards and Stay Safe!
Paul Cherney

The Four Noble Truths…of Marketing.

Followers of Buddhism observe a central foundation: The Four Noble Truths.

  1. Life involves suffering
  2. The cause of suffering is attachment
  3. Avoiding attachment ends suffering
  4. Following a prescribed path can end suffering

Applied to marketing, I submit the following:

  1. Marketing can be painful
  2. Pain in marketing is caused by the absence of strategy
  3. Embracing strategy lessens the pain
  4. Following the right strategy can eliminate the pain

1) Marketing can be painful

All too often, brands will approach things from a tactical standpoint–without any real reasoning for what they are trying to accomplish. Sometimes it’s simply following the lead of their arch competitor, believing they will be able to grab market share if they ‘just keep pace’. This is insane.

In other cases, choosing a direction based on personal tastes (as opposed to those of their target market) seems logical. I call that ‘baiting the hook for the fisherman, not the fish’. Equally flawed. Infinitely illogical.

It is decisions like these why it is no wonder Marketing can be so painful for so many. But have faith…enlightenment is just a few paragraphs–and a phone call–away.

2) Pain in marketing is caused by the absence of strategy

Without planning your marketing efforts with purpose or strategy, you fail on two levels: a) Aligning your efforts with measurable goals, and b) Managing your expectations. Only with a careful, strategic plan in place, can you expect to measure your successes. And, equally importantly, know how to adjust your tactics if something is NOT working. After all, spinning wheels equates to wasteful spending.

Many people (wrongly) believe marketing is a waste of money. This is only true of POOR marketing; which much of what is out there, unfortunately, is. We regularly counsel clients on the differences, and guide them down the proper path.

3) Embracing strategy lessens the pain

Almost without exception, the first time we’ve taken a new client through a strategic marketing planning process, they quickly recognize and appreciate what they’ve been doing wrong. The simple logic of

Objectives >>> (giving way to)

>>> Selecting Strategies>>> (giving way to)

>>> Choosing Tactics

It’s a very linear process that feeds the eventual creative solutions we craft to support it. The blending of art and science in one of its purest forms. It’s the only method we endorse and prescribe for our clients.

4) Following the right strategy can eliminate the pain

A strategy that works for one brand in a category does not (nor should it) work for all. Getting back to our advice against mimicking what a competitor does earlier in this article, YOUR strategy needs to fit YOUR brand.

This is where effectively defining your brand and what unique space it should occupy in your target market’s mind is crucial. Not every brand can stand for the same thing. If they do, it’s the same as none of the brands in a segment standing for anything.

For further enlightenment, we’d be glad to show you the path.

Contact Us

Raising your brand’s luxury appeal.

Luxury, while one of those words that means different things to different people, is one of the most commonly used words among today’s marketers. Many brands claim it, but not always justifiably.

Expectations have changed wildly. Where you once had to opt for the upper end of a brand’s spectrum to get certain appealing ‘extras’, many of these features are now standard equipment in lower end models as the ‘more for your money’ battle rages on.

Here’s a good example:

Ten years ago, Hyundai Genesis aired its first spot on the Super Bowl titled ‘Angry Bosses’. After winning North American Car of The Year honors, the brand touted the fact by showing the reactions of their more established luxury competitors (Lexus, BMW, etc) in the spot. In doing so, they began to position themselves as a viable, high value option to these long-standing ‘luxury’ nameplates. Disruption at its finest.

At MÉR Brand Solutions, we’ve helped several brands raise their luxury appeal and have distilled down a distinct process to help them do so. Here are the basics:

The Product Promise. It all starts here. If a product wants to claim a more luxurious rung on the brand ‘ladder’, they must first commit to having their product fulfill the promise of luxury. If it doesn’t walk the walk, no amount of marketing genius can help move that needle. In fact, it will have exactly the opposite effect.

Find your niche. Position your brand based on its unique attributes, or put a spin on it that creates distinction. If a segment doesn’t exist to express your product positioning, create one.

Images are everything. Playing at a higher level means investing in how you portray your product in still and motion imagery. Product photography and videography are the raw material of your brand’s outward appearance. Dress it for success.

Less is more. Design ads, websites, digital, and collateral at a higher level. This means everything from font choice to colors and use of white space. These things all send a message, and are all done with a purpose and intent.

Bring your A-game…at ALL touch points. Today’s buyer gravitates toward brands who understand them. Brands that do this right have learned that every THING and every ONE representing them needs to be GENUINELY on target. Buyers can smell a put-on, or phony pitch that is trying too hard. We’ve successfully counseled brands on how to do this effectively.

Be a luxury expert. No customer wants to waste money on inexperience–particularly those who expect more from a brand. Expertise is king. Certifications and credentials are a plus. Insist on impeccable product knowledge from everyone who is in touch with a prospect or customer.

It’s a recipe. All the elements we’ve touched on above need to be combined carefully…and the proportions will differ from brand to brand. Like any recipe, it will affect the flavor of the end result. Your best bet is to hire an experienced cook…and our kitchen is open.

Keys to creating client/agency synergy.

As anyone in the world of branding agencies will tell you, finding a great client is
challenging. And I’m talking about something much deeper than the proverbial revenue
stream. A great client not only impacts the quality of the work developed, but also the
overall motivation of the agency team.

Early in my career, I was told how packaged goods giant Procter and Gamble would
send young brand managers to their agencies for a few months. They did so to work
alongside their creative department, in order to better understand the challenges of the
creative teams they would ultimately direct. The belief was these brand leaders would
return to their posts as better clients. P&G felt that learning to be a great client was that

Similarly, I also believe agency-side staffers could learn a lot walking in the client’s
shoes, to understand the pressures they face. It is ageless, primal empathy…and it
makes both sides stronger. Our agency team is staunch in its philosophy that
understanding our clients’ businesses is central to producing effective, relevant work.
At the same time, inspiring and working collaboratively with a branding agency is an
important part of a Brand Leader’s role.

Far too few do it well. But there is hope.

Tips To Get The Best Work From Your Agency Partner…

As stated earlier, the pressures facing Brand Leaders are many, and often skewed
toward short-term results. We live in a world increasingly ruled by the all-powerful (but
not always predictive) metric. This pressure alone can influence a Brand Leader to favor
decisions that, in the long run, weaken a brand as much as they might affect the short
term. The best client/agency partnerships are able to navigate and bridge this paradox
while still achieving engagement goals in ways that are still ‘on-brand’. At MÉR Brand
Solutions, we are fortunate to have found long-term client partners who thoroughly
understand this balance. Here are some other things to keep in mind.

Beware the over-fashionable agency. In many cases, high-profile agencies are often
more skilled at self-promotion than at increasing the profile of a client’s brand–especially
in a highly-competitive, ever-changing marketplace. In short, hire with your head, not
your ego. Just because an agency represents a high-profile brand you admire, doesn’t
mean they’re best suited to your brand’s unique challenges. High-profile shops with a
self-serving attitude often miss opportunities for your brand. They tend to be poor
listeners, and believe you need them more than they need you. The irony is, the same
superficial attraction commonly used in branding should not be something you are
seduced by. You want results. You want depth. And you want your brand to be
enduring, not the flavor of the month.

Think of your brand as a destination. Seek out a branding partner who can really
create a balance of information and entertainment around your brand. Done correctly,
your brand should become your target audience’s destination of choice, and should
motivate them to beat a path to your brand and, in turn, increase its value. Hire a
branding partner that knows how to make your brand part of the larger, more lasting
culture. This is something we consider a prerequisite in clients we work with. Plenty of
firms claim they can do this, so here’s a test: If their past work demonstrates they can
think like your market and you connect with them as people, chances are your
customers will respond to the work they do for you.

Never hire based on price. Getting financial types involved in choosing an agency
partner is flawed. Instead, involve their input a different way–drafting creative
compensation agreements that require the agency to share in the risk AND the reward.
This way, they have ‘skin in the game’ in terms of their advice and skill set, while you
share a reasonable portion of the results and rewards they generate. This will help
assure they are swinging for the fences. But remember, this requires you to be a client
willing to let them hold the bat.

Brand leaders are people leaders. The best brand leaders use their position to inspire
and ‘infect’ everyone working on the brand with the desire to break new ground. In a
way, they give everyone involved ‘permission’ to push the envelope–to not be inhibited,
and to kick fear to the curb. To make this work in actual practice, the brand leader has
to do more than just talk the talk. They need to be willing to take risks, to fight the
internal battles, and to defend the best strategies and executions. As their partner, a
branding agency needs to listen to them, understand and care about their product
portfolios, coexisting agendas, and arrive at solutions that serve all objectives.

Take it seriously, but don’t. The worst thing for a client/agency partnership is the
belief that results and productivity can only be achieved in an environment of fear and
pressure. Unfortunately, some very successful people tend to believe this–despite the
fact there is absolutely NO proof of it. In most cases, it is the result of how they were
managed, and little more than the continuation of a cyclic, toxic management style. It is
a poor, learned behavior and, worse, it stifles truly great ideas.

What there IS proof of, is that the most brilliant ideas more frequently happen in an
uninhibited environment of, put simply, FUN. Solving “impossible” problems and
breaking new ground is a product of passion–plain and simple. And all it requires is
refusing to settle for less, and preserving an environment that fuels it.

Celebrating a Decade of Dedication.

© Copyright 2019 MÉR Holdings, LLC