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Hot Button Exhibiting: Understanding the Emotional Buttons that Build Relationships & Sales


Guest articles > Hot Button Exhibiting: Understanding the Emotional Buttons that Build Relationships & Sales


by: Susan Friedmann


Why do your customers buy from you? Why do attendees stop at your booth, and not your competitors? Or, if we’re going to consider things from the opposite view, what is happening at your competitor’s booth that draws the crowds — the same crowds that pass you by?

It may seem as if there’s no rhyme or reason behind attendee behavior. It’s an inexplicably mystery why one company attracts throngs of attention while another — perhaps with an equally attractive display, a skilled booth staff, and compelling incentives — stimulates hardly any interest. Analyzing the difference between the two exhibits can be frustrating: there may be no quantifiable, logical reason why attendees prefer one to the other.

There’s a very simple reason for that: there may be no logical explanation — but logic is not the only force at play in the marketplace.

That’s the key premise in Barry Feig’s new book, “Hot Button Marketing”. Feig identifies the crucial emotional factors that underlie individual decisions, such as the need to take charge of a situation or the need for values. He terms these needs and factors ‘hot buttons’.

Hot buttons are those cues or triggers that create an emotional response in the viewer. These responses can be positive — creating interest, encouraging further exploration, or prompting to action, such as placing an order — or they can be negative. It is up to the savvy exhibitor to use hot buttons in such a way that positive emotional responses are created in the viewer.

How can this be accomplished?

To effectively incorporate hot button philosophy into your exhibiting program, you must first begin by understanding your target audience. What motivates them? What hidden emotional factors are they bringing to the show floor that you need to know about? I can’t say this strongly enough: You need to know your market thoroughly before you’ll be able to select the hot buttons that will resonate with them.

Consider the following four hot button principles:

1. Be as one with your prospect

Ideally, you want to think the way your prospects think. You want to know what’s important to them, what factors influence them, what challenges they’re facing and what fears they whisper into their pillows at night. The closer you are to your prospect, the better equipped you become to understand their emotional position.

Once you understand where your target audience is emotionally, you’ll be able to focus on those hot buttons that will motivate a positive response from them. The most imperative step any exhibitor can take is to understand and identify with the target audience.

2. Adapt to their behaviors and opinions

There is often a disconnect between what people say they want and what they really want. For example, a need for status is a common hot button for many people — yet they don’t want to admit that they’re making purchasing decisions based upon an inner need to be seen as prestigious.

Your job is to respond to the behavior, as much as the need. This is why you’ll see luxury automobile manufacturers go on and on about the engineering and quality of their cars — citing statistics that the average driver couldn’t care less about, yet add value to the prestige message. Buyers who are responding to the status hot button can do so, while pointing to all the mechanical statistics and fact sheets about quality engineering as the ‘real’ reason they bought the car.

3. Learn their thought process

How does your prospect make decisions? Are they a slow and introspective thinker, who likes to research and analyze every detail before making a choice? Do they prefer to fly by the seat of their pants and let instinct guide them?

While everyone reacts to hot buttons, not everyone reacts in the same way. While an analytical, methodical attendee might move slowly and carefully in response to the hot button, a more impulsive, free-thinking type might respond quickly to the hot button triggers you present.

Knowing the thought process of your target audience will let you predict reactions, and plan accordingly. This knowledge will also allow you to assess if a hot button trigger is working as you’d expected: if your normally fast-acting impulsive attendees aren’t responding to a hot button trigger, chances are you’ve not introduced the right hot button for that audience.

4. Know what keeps them awake at night

What is your target audience’s greatest fear? What do they worry about? Is it maintaining steady production or being able to adapt to fluctuating demand? Do they lose sleep trying to think up ways to keep one step ahead of their closest competitor — or are they burning the midnight oil trying to catch up with the rest of the field?

Fear is a powerful motivator, both in the personal and the professional setting. If you understand what scares your target audience, you’ve come a great deal closer to completely understanding them.

By adopting these four principals and devoting yourself to understanding your target audience, you’ll be better equipped to dispatch appropriate hot button messages during your exhibits. These messages will resonate with attendees, and draw them to your booth. That’s a positive response any exhibitor will appreciate!


Written by Susan A. Friedmann,CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, author: “Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies,” working with companies to improve their meeting and event success through coaching, consulting and tradeshow training. For a free copy of “10 Common Mistakes Exhibitors Make”, e-mail:; website:

Contributor: Susan Friedmann

Published here on: 25-Oct-09

Classification: Trade shows, Communication



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