IBEX 2009: Opening speakers stress marketing practices

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MIAMI BEACH - Think big. Follow the laws of marketing. Reach for the stars. And, most importantly, focus.

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That was the advice well-known marketing strategist Al Ries gave Monday night at the International BoatBuilders' Exhibition & Conference. About 200 people attended the opening-night presentations — a new feature at this year's show — which also featured Ries' daughter Laura.

The seminar was meant to inspire and educate attendees, many of whom came to IBEX looking for signs of a recovering market. Some reported having a great first day at the show and meeting new prospects, while others lamented the slow traffic and lack of buying crowds.

This year's show has about 500 exhibitors, down from last year but not unexpected, organizers say.

"It's a tough economic environment right now," said show co-director Carl Cramer, publisher of Professional BoatBuilder magazine. "But I'm hearing positive, hopeful remarks from vendors."

This year's show is the last to be held in Miami Beach, its home for seven years. Next year it moves to Louisville, Ky., where organizers have a three-year contract with the Kentucky Exposition Center.

"We're looking forward to leaving Miami Beach on a high note," Cramer said.

Co-director Stephen Evans, from the National Marine Manufacturers Association, noted it was too early to comment on attendance figures, but he expected they would be lower than last year when the final tallies are done. However, he's hopeful the qualified buyers would be coming out.

Richard Cozier, of Perko, which manufactures marine hardware and lights, noted the slow traffic but remained optimistic it would pick up today.

"It's quiet. It is as expected," he said Monday afternoon from his booth in the exhibit hall. "It is as good as can be expected."

"We've had a pretty good turnout as far as people stopping in," said Chris Stanley, fabrication manager for specialty markets for Shaw Industries Group, which manufactures flooring. While business has been down in all segments the company works with, Stanley said he has noted a slight uptick recently in marine and RV sales.

The Rieses suggested that companies in attendance focus on a single work they want to represent or a single idea. You can't be all things to all people, Al Ries stressed.

He noted that last year there were 61 deck hardware companies at IBEX. The trick for those businesses, he said, is to stand out from the others.

"Your prospect is bombarded," Ries said. "You need to focus on a single word."

He used President Obama as an example of a great marketing campaign. When the race for the White House began, Obama was young, virtually unknown, had a funny name, and was a minority.

And he focused on a single word: change.

Also, Ries stressed, sales take time, and marketing campaigns need time to work. Patience is key because "nothing takes off in a hurry," he said.

He suggested companies position themselves as leaders, rather than just as better than the competition.

"If you want people to think you're better, tell them you're a leader," he said. "Then they'll think you're better." If you just say you're better, customers may think, 'That's what they all say.' "

Laura Ries stressed the importance of focusing on one thing and doing it well. And, she said, if you're not going to be the leader in your market segment, do the opposite of the leader. You may end up a strong No. 2 brand.

Red Bull is the leader in energy drinks, but Monster, with its larger can and different marketing approach, is a strong runner-up, she said.

Al Ries concluded with the notion that every large business started as a small business. Rather than thinking like a company that will stay small, think like a start-up company that has room to grow.

The 19th annual IBEX runs through Wednesday at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Trade Only Today will keep you informed with daily news from the show.

— Beth Rosenberg

b.rosenberg@tradeonlytoday.com

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