Innovative Meetings

Knowing Your Customer

An award-winning marketing campaign for the Food Marketing Institute's FMI2012 was based on an iconic shopping image — and on the customer as the common denominator.

Know your customer” is an idea that any organization can embrace. But when the concept was introduced to the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) as a campaign to promote its biannual meeting — FMI2012 — by Maryland-based Fixation Marketing, it worked on many different levels.

FMI was looking for a marketing plan to entice two different sets of potential attendees: retailers, including representatives from food stores of every type, from big-box chains such as Safeway and Target, to smaller independent retail operators; and suppliers, who are the companies and vendors that provide not only food products but also shelving, software, and other services. And while FMI2012 was a big meeting — drawing approximately 14,000 registrants and 2,800 exhibitors to the Dallas Convention Center on April 30-May 2 — FMI only had a budget available for one marketing campaign.

Fortunately, Fixation’s idea for a print campaign applied across the board. “Know Your Customer,” which appeared in a number of industry print publications, featured an ad on one page with an image of a customer with a barcode covering his or her mouth, followed by a page on which the barcode was dropped, revealing the customer’s whole face. The images not only implied that it was important that FMI knew its own customers — the attendees and exhibitors at the show — but also that food retailers need to know their customers (shoppers) and that exhibitors in turn need to know their customers (the show attendees).

“We try to shy away from [a single campaign] for clients, because two groups can be two completely different audiences, so sometimes what you say to one or how you say it needs to be different,” said Mike Gallagher, Fixation’s creative director. “But because the retailers and the exhibitors were so close together and we found such common ground between them, the budgets that … helped drive us in the direction of doing one campaign for both really ended up making a lot of sense. The language and the core idea worked for both, … [and] if an ad was placed for an attendee and an exhibitor happened to see it, it would still influence the exhibitor because it would feel like the rest of the campaign.”

FMI2012 also ended up centering a large portion of its educational content around the “Know Your Customer” message. “The retailer, who is the supermarket, is working with their customers that come into the store two times per week, so there were lots of sessions that looked at the customer of today and tomorrow,” said Susan Borra, FMI’s senior vice president of communications. “There were sessions on Millennials and how they shop differently from Boomers.

“We [also] know that consumer demand and consumer approaches to shopping are changing — look at technology-enabled shopping, from using your smartphone in the store to get more information about products and coupons, to digital marketing to online ordering — all those kinds of things are important issues for us to pay attention to in the future.”

And all come back to the core concept of knowing your customer.

Breakout: Awarding Success

Ultimately “Know Your Customer” was a successful campaign, both for FMI2012 attendance and for Fixation Marketing — which won two gold awards in the International Association of Exhibitions and Events’ 2012 Art of the Show competition. “[Fixation] has an incredible creative department,” the Food Marketing Institute’s Susan Borra said. “They really stretched our thinking and helped us formulate how we even put the show together.”

Plans are now under way for FMI2014 with the theme “If It’s Out There, It’s in Here.”

More Resources

For more information about FMI2014, which will be held at McCormick Place in Chicago on June 10-13, 2014, visit

Learn more about some of Fixation Marketing’s other tradeshow and event campaigns at

Innovative Meetings is sponsored by the Irving Convention & Visitors Bureau,



Katie Kervin

Katie Kervin was formerly assistant editor of Convene.