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Breaking NeoCon

Rethinking the NeoCon algorithm.

NeoCon, the annual rite of passage, signals that we are moving from one year in contract furniture to the next. The event amplifies potential brand value – or missed opportunity. What can be different this year to capture untapped potential? There is no silver bullet solution, but step back and reconsider how you think of NeoCon. It may offer footholds to increase your brand value.

How many industries have an event quite like NeoCon? Sure, there are many tradeshows, but the ratio of the size of the industry to the size of NeoCon provides a unique opportunity. The contract furniture industry is small enough to gather key decision makers and big enough to generate critical mass. How do you currently leverage this great opportunity?


Significant brand value is left on the table (pun intended) every year at NeoCon. There's no a lack of new products, features, messages, or parties – these are plentiful at the Merchandise Mart in June. But companies have formed habits in running a NeoCon Algorithm – a cycle of creating, launching, and promoting products on the NeoCon timeline – over and over since the show's inception in 1969.


This approach worked in 1969, and for a few decades after – but the world has changed. In fact, the event marketing paradigm is moving on entirely, and the bottom line is that the showroom now lives on a mobile device, 24/7.

The typical tradeshow format is archaic but isn't likely to go away. Why? Humans are hard-wired to find face-to-face connections and seek meaningful, immersive experiences. In an age of a million technology-enabled micro-personal touchpoints, people have a need to connect with a larger community and find shared meaning. Industry event gatherings like NeoCon may be less formal in the future, but the experience will become more important.

If NeoCon is routine but significant, and people desire larger community experiences, then what should the next generation NeoCon experience be? How might you take steps toward creating a more meaningful NeoCon experience this year?

Creating a dialog

One significant shift in the next generation of brand communication (and showroom expression) is that you can no longer inform someone into loving your brand. More information, more choices, and more volume does not create loyalty.

The slogan-driven, top-down brand campaigns of the past are being phased out. Mark Parker, CEO of the brand juggernaut Nike, who built the brand on these types of campaigns, has a great way of summing up this shift: “Connecting used to be, ‘Here are some products, and here’s some advertising. We hope you like it.’ Connecting today is dialog.” Sure, you’re not Nike, but the trend is clear and is coming to a competitor near you.

Dialog is an important word to define. It may sound obvious, but it is about allowing a two-way exchange with your customer. It means giving them space to engage.

Creating opportunities for dialog is about allowing customers to co-create your brand meaning. It can be a scary thought for companies that want to overly control their message, but in fact it does not mean relinquishing control altogether. It means developing a strategic communication framework for your offer. Your goal is to engage the market and create meaning with your customer.

In order to create this dialog, you must go beyond product and benefits – for that matter, your offer. You need to create a narrative for your brand that is grounded in shared values and challenges with your customer.

In today’s wired world, endlessly beating the drum about your offer can be like watching vacation movies from Mount Rushmore with distant relatives – it’s impressive information, but I’m probably not going there. (By the way, Mount Rushmore attracts 3,000,000 tourists annually, covers over 1.2 million acres, and the heads are about 60 feet tall. Let’s go!)

Breaking NeoCon

Brand dialog levers

How can your NeoCon showroom support broader brand dialog? This is a big question. Moving a brand is not easy or quick. However, here are three levers for creating a dialog for NeoCon. What is the right mix for your offer and customers?

  1. The Creator Lever – Define who is the key enabler for dialog: The company, customer, or co-creation?
  2. The Content Lever – Define the range of reasons to have a brand dialog, moving from inspirational to functional content.
  3. The Context Lever – Adjust the dialog in the context of the customer’s goals and behaviors.

Like using a graphic equalizer, tuning your brand with the right mix of these three levers will help create a better dialog with your customer. The first step is being intentional about where these levers are pointing, creating a clear narrative thread. We’ll be exploring how to be intentional with these three levers in subsequent articles.

While the true next generation of NeoCon may be years away, beginning to evolve your experience will put you ahead of competition within a densely packed market and tradeshow experience. This can only be done by breaking the typical NeoCon Algorithm, one small step at a time. The reward? Building loyalty by providing multiple starting points for communication throughout the year – in other words, creating a dialog with your customer. 



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