Ever since I was invited to join The Network of Aspiring Women (Birmingham Group), I’ve felt more in touch with my feminine side (see post here).  Perhaps that’s why my interest was piqued by a recent discussion on the BtoB Marketing LinkedIn Group.

Kate Bishop, Marketing Co-ordinator at Custom Fluidpower, has a dilemma.  To use, or not to use, promotional girls at a trade show stand? Her boss is insistent but she has concerns.  I share them.

First, let’s be clear about exactly what a “promotional girl” is.  The clue is in the name.  It is not someone hired solely for their industry knowledge, expertise or charm (although they may of course have all three).  It is someone hired, primarily, because they are a) a woman and b) pleasing on the eye.  Another moniker used in the discussion, “booth babe”, leaves even less room for doubt.

Like the booth babes, it seems Kate’s question attracted a lot of interest.  As I write, 116 comments were posted by 76 people over the course of three months.  Quite frankly I was amazed that there was so much discussion to be had and remarkably the result is a hung jury.  47% are in favour, 53% are against.

Interestingly, almost all of those in favour feel a need to embellish their response with a caveat.  Use promotional girls if…

  • They’re tastefully dressed
  • They’re knowledgeable
  • It is in line with your target audience’s tastes
  • They vet prospects

To me this seems like a lame attempt to gloss over the truth of the matter.  It also misses the fact that there are powerful commercial reasons not to go down this route.

At a tactical level it seems counter-productive.  In a B2B environment, odds are that if someone needs to be enticed in this way then they’re not really a serious prospect. Valuable and finite sales time will be wasted in fruitless conversations. Furthermore, it may well alienate female buyers who see it as offensive, pathetic or both.

At a more strategic level though, I’d be concerned in two respects.

First, the technique sends clear messages to the market about your company’s personality and the substance of your proposition.  Neither message is favourable and may do serious longer term damage to the brand.

Second, it could perhaps indicate fundamental, deep rooted issues.   The offer is too weak to be of interest without a cheap gimmick.  The brand reputation is such that buyers won’t actively seek the stand out.  Market engagement is so poor that setting up qualified appointments pre-show doesn’t seem to be an option.  Moreover, by advocating the use of promotional girls rather than addressing these problems, the desire seems to be to cover the gaping wound with an Elastoplast.

Kate, maybe you’d like to suggest to your boss that he takes a long hard look at his marketing strategy rather than the promotional girls.

Read more about our approach to business-to-business (B2B) brand perceptions research.

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About Andrew

Andrew has specialised in B2B research for over a decade and co-founded Circle Research in 2006. He is a columnist for B2B Marketing Magazine, a regular contributor to Research Live and frequent speaker at leading events such as the B2B Leaders Forum, Customer Experience Live and the Social Media World Forum. Andrew is a Chartered Member of the MRS, teaches the MRS B2B research course and holds an MA in Psychology from Aberdeen University alongside an MSc in Marketing from Strathclyde University.

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