A fruitful lesson: Wisdom from the Warrens Cranberry Fest

From the pages of In Business magazine.

For the past three years I have had the opportunity to travel to Warrens, Wis., with my sister and cousins for one of the world’s largest festivals — Cranberry Festival. This three-day event boasts more than 1,600 vendors selling everything from cranberry wine and ice cream to custom woodwork and crafts. I have never seen anything like it.

Even if you spent a full day walking all 3 square miles of the grounds, you probably wouldn’t have time to look at what each booth had to offer. It got me thinking about what some vendors were doing differently to set their booths apart and draw people in to see their products. After walking down path after path crammed with businesses looking to sell us their wares, we identified three clear differentiators that made us want to take a closer look.

The first thing that set the more successful booths apart was that they got people’s hands on their products. Whether that included giving out samples of cranberry pretzel dip and glasses of wine or having people feel how soft their alpaca wool blankets were, they got people involved. Many studies show that if you can get your product into the hands of prospective customers, they are more likely to purchase it. They can see themselves using it, and it becomes more real to them.

If your business is service-based, you can stage demos or provide free trials. You can also give potential customers something that represents your service. For example, a CPA could give out a branded calculator, and then when the prospect thought of calculations or numbers, he or she would think of that specific accountant.

The second thing that allowed some booths to rise above the others was a well-defined set of products. When you walked past some vendors, it was very clear what they had to offer. It was easy to see stands that sold custom woodwork, food, or clothing. However, there were also stands that had several seemingly unrelated products. Not only did this confuse customers, it also turned people off because it appeared that these vendors weren’t specialists in any particular area. If people couldn’t tell what types of products were being sold, they didn’t take the time to investigate further; they just moved on. The lesson? You need to make sure it is very clear to your prospects and clients what products or services you provide and how they are related.

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The third and probably biggest differentiator was the skill of each vendor. Out of the 1,600-plus vendors selling an incredible variety of handcrafted products, I bet you would never guess that one of the most crowded booths was offering an organic cleaning product. The product itself was not all that thrilling, but the guy demonstrating it was incredible. He was smiling and upbeat and truly believed in what he was selling — and it showed. People who went to the event for artisan gifts and unique food were walking away with carpet and countertop cleaner they probably could have gotten at a local big-box store. The salesman wasn’t pushy by any means, but he made people excited about a product, and it paid off! If you make sure you are passionate about your product or service, prospects will take notice.

Follow these Fast Track Action Items to help differentiate your business and set yourself apart from your competition!

Fast Track Action Items for November:

■ Find a way to get your product or service in the hands of your prospects. If you have a physical product, how can you get samples to top prospects? If you provide a service, how can you help potential customers understand your process?
■ Clearly define your product category. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Make sure prospects and clients know what specific services or products you provide and why they are better than the competition.
■ Show your passion for your profession. No one should be more excited about the product or service you provide than you. When you believe in what you do, it shows — and that can be the difference in whether or not people buy from you or from your competitor.
Email me at jennaatkinson1@gmail.com to let me know how you differentiate yourself. What has a company or person done to “pull you in” to products or services they were providing?

Jenna Atkinson is the president of CONNECT Madison, a young professionals group offering development, community engagement, and relationship-building
opportunities to local business leaders.

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