Navigating the AHR Expo: Hash Tags Required
Have you ever found yourself at a loss when trying to understand, attract, or retain Gen Y customers or co-workers? Generation Y, a.k.a. Millennials, are generally defined as those born between 1980 and 2000. They’re the techie kids, who some think only care about smartphones, hash tags, mobile apps, and constant change.
That’s where I come in.
Imagine understanding and working successfully with the Gen Y demographic. Interested? Allow me to be your resourceful translator and help open the door to a world where the Gen Y mentality makes sense. As a Gen Y-er and an HVACR industry newbie, I find myself in a prime spot to incorporate my first year experiences with my expertise on Gen Y topics and thought processes. Together we will endeavor to bridge the generational gap and learn how to communicate and learn from each other.
Let’s start with my first International Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) in Dallas. This is one event the Heating, Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) staff prepared to tackle for some time and as the new kid on the block, it was my first time navigating the busy, slightly overwhelming waters of the expo. I went on several excursions around the floor and found only about 10 percent of the products on display were familiar to me. Some exhibits, however, were less of a booth and more of an enormous spectacle reminiscent of a carnival.
While making my way around the show floor I stopped to talk with different distributors, exhibitors, and attendees. After chatting with those I met about their expo experiences and expectations, I started to get a better idea of why so many gathered each year at this event, especially distributors. I realized that distributors seemed to come each year to catch up with their suppliers and solve business issues that have come up throughout the previous year. The expo was about making connections and spreading influence - a time-honored tradition among the business world that likely dates back to Moses.
My tour guide for the first leg of my networking adventure was David McIlwaine, president of HVAC Distributors Inc. He took me for a stroll pointing out that he always brings his team in with a clear plan of attack to make sure he makes face-to-face connections with everyone on his target list.
“Typically what we’ll do is try and figure if there are particular vendors that we may have issues with and make that our first priority to stop by and see them,” he said. “Secondly, we’ll look at our product offering and check if there are holes or gaps that we need to fill in or are there complimentary products that we need to be looking at? Are there products we’re not happy with or an alternative we can look at?”
The second leg of my networking adventure was with Tom Roberts, chair of HARDI’s HVAC Systems and Equipment Council and president of cfm Distributors Inc. He cautioned that it was important to, “schedule some time with people, but not all of your time.” I found he was right. It’s important to leave room for unscheduled face-to-face connections and spontaneity.
#HASH TAG COMMUNICATIONGranted, face-to-face connections can’t be beat, but let’s not forget about the benefits of using social media to connect, interact, and build a marketing message.
When a large group of people in one room are essentially selling similar products, it is important to come up with new and unique ways to influence people.
For the acclaimed 10,000 visitors that flocked to the expo and the thousands of exhibitors, only a small percentage of them were tweeting. From the @HARDInews account I tweeted a few funny quotes I overheard while meandering up and down the aisles - without attribution of course. This chatter was both amusing and fascinating. Some people were really excited to show off their smartphone-controlled thingamabob, others were worried about a competitor who had a bigger booth or a location with higher traffic. Of course I used the appropriate #AHRExpo hash tag and afterwards, one of our HARDI members braved the long trek from one side of the expo to the other to talk marketing. Another guy at the expo found out where HARDI was exhibiting simply from the hash tag.
What struck me as odd was how many people weren’t using hash tags to communicate their marketing messages. Social media is there for you to spread your message and build your brand awareness for free. It can be any message you choose, it doesn’t matter what kind. The power of Twitter is real, folks.
For example, during the expo @TraneCommercial tweeted, “Stop by the Trane booth for the Trane Anniversary celebration - we’re serving cupcakes at 3:00 See you there! @ahrexpo.”
You could almost see the mass exodus of people following their stomachs to the Trane booth. Giving people an incentive to stop by the booth is absolutely vital. That will provide traffic, but you also want to use the incentive and message to keep people in the booth as long as you can. Don’t just let them come and take what they want and leave. Use social media to get them there and then get their business cards and engage in face-to-face conversation.
I know many HVACR companies are wary of jumping into the social media seas, especially with all the uncertainties that can cause seasickness, so to speak. The key to remember is it’s free marketing and has infinite influence. It’s an amazing way for you to reach your customers in real-time and stay connected with them.
I discovered more about this industry I warily stepped into in two days than I thought was possible. Truly, the best way to absorb it all is to just dive in and get as much knowledge as you can. From what I learned, the key component at the AHR Expo is making connections and building a better product. Take it from a Gen Y-er, use social media to help you generate business connections. As for the better product, I’ll leave that up to the pros.
Vanessa Spates is the communications and PR coordinator at Heating, Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International. Contact her with your Gen Y questions and topic suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.