In Iowa, mid-August is more than just back-to-school time. It’s Iowa State Fair time! Ten days of hot, sticky fun … and by that, we mean food on sticks, of course. They say if you can put it on a stick or deep fry it, you’ll find it at the fair. The fair annually attracts more than 1 million people and is the largest single event in the state — it’s that big of a deal.
Complimentary fair tickets are one agency perk we look forward to every year, allowing 2RM associates to take in the sights and sounds of the fair. Highlights include a talent show, queen coronation, farm equipment and animals on display, live music, rides, games, and an Iowa craft beer tent. Among the cows and carnival rides this year, we took away something extra: a refresher on some important marketing lessons. Check out our Iowa State Fair takeaways:
1. MAKE SURE YOUR BRAND IS VISIBLE AND CLEAR
We noticed that food vendors use brand names like Oreo or Twinkie, but they don’t use the actual product branding in many cases. Because of this, a clearly branded SPAM food truck stood out … especially with its tagline, "Sizzle Pork And MMM." Global brands like John Deere and Traeger are easy to spot and highly visible in the product section, but fair food has always been more generic. This is a missed opportunity for both the vendor and the brand to attract loyal customers — or at least people who know what they’re getting when they see a familiar brand logo. It could also mean that brand guidelines aren’t being followed, which isn’t ideal.
A simple and effective way to put your brand’s best face forward is with a photo opp. Everyone is looking for a fun backdrop, cutout, or frame to take photos for social media. Stretch those creative muscles and watch the user-generated content grow!
2. OFFERING NEW ITEMS CAN REFRESH INTEREST IN YOUR BRAND
While tradition is an important part of a storied event like the fair, reinvention is critical, too. The fair could become a relic without regularly updating and enhancing attractions and offerings.
Food is the easiest and most visible way the fair changes from year to year. Sometime in July, news breaks of the new food items that will debut at that year’s fair. It generates excitement (free PR) and allows fairgoers to make a plan. Refreshing the buildings and adding new attractions also keeps the crowds coming back.
The lesson here: If you only offer the same products and experiences on repeat, customers could get bored or feel that you don’t care enough to innovate. But if you iterate on popular items or find ways to complement them, you can pique new interest and even snag some customers you wouldn’t have attracted. Don’t get stale like a fried Twinkie left in the sun!
3. CUSTOMER SERVICE STILL MATTERS — AND SO DOES FUN
We understand that not every vendor working in a hot food truck for 10 days will be the most cheerful person. But a smile, a helpful suggestion, or a simple “thank you” can go a long way. And if it’s apparent that the people in that cramped truck are having a good time working together, that’s even better. After all — we’re all here to have a good time and make (or spend) money.
“Don’t get stale like a fried Twinkie left in the sun!”
If your customers don’t feel that you appreciate them or enjoy what you do, they are less likely to feel loyal to you. Have you seen a brand share a lighthearted social media video and wondered why they’d spend time and resources on that? It’s because most people like to see others having a good time, and it can inspire them to join the fun. Besides, life — and summer! — is too short not to find some fun in each day.
4. VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE
There is literally something for everyone at the fair, whether it’s a food or drink, a ride or game, or an exhibit. Some people make a tradition of seeing the famous butter cow or other annual staples, while other fairgoers skip those things. Some may stumble into a building just for the air conditioning and find something entirely new to them, like the competition for dollhouses and miniature rooms.
Varying your offerings helps ensure that you appeal to a wide array of customers. Not everyone needs all the bells and whistles, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want the bare minimum, either. If it’s manageable, customization is ideal. But if that’s not feasible, having at least a few options is good for attracting more potential customers.
5. MAKE YOUR PRODUCT, PEOPLE, AND SERVICES ACCESSIBLE
There are ways to make the fair less expensive and more accessible to all. For example, some businesses provide free or discounted tickets to their customers and employees, and tickets are also discounted online for months leading up to the fair. Plus, if you get your ticket ahead of time, you can show it at designated shuttle stops for a cheaper ride, avoiding the hassle and expense of parking at the grounds. There are also a wide variety of free exhibits, free entertainment stages, animal learning exhibits, and other opportunities for families to experience the fair for just the price of admission. Staff also does a good job trying to make everything physically accessible, including ADA-compliant upgrades to historic buildings.
The point is this: As a brand, you should meet people where they are and make it as easy as possible for them to enjoy your products and services. Some are willing to pay a bit of a premium for a superior product, but don’t price yourself out of the game. And don’t create unnecessary obstacles, like web forms that ask for too much information only to provide a basic piece of literature. Create an inclusive, equitable brand experience however you can because that is a surefire loyalty builder.
Associate Whitney Free and her husband Joe in front of a mural at the Iowa State Fair
A RELATED BONUS LESSON
It takes all kinds. There are fanatics who come to Des Moines and camp nearby for the entirety of the state fair, and there are those who are reluctantly dragged along for one evening. Regardless of how vocal your customers are about their feelings for you, they are giving you their time and hard-earned cash. Every type of customer matters and deserves your best effort. If you want to make sure your branding and marketing efforts are worthy of a blue ribbon, contact us today to get started.
For a look at more 2RM Iowa summer favorites, check out 10 Things We Love About Summer in Iowa!