If you take all the research you read at face value, you might think that e-Marketing was hastening the death of exhibitions. Most of the statistics show a dramatic shift in the B2B marketing mix from live face to face events to electronically facilitated meetings, e-marketing and social media.
Tell that to the teeming audiences that attended this week’s “Technology for Marketing and Advertising” event in London’s Earls’ Court exhibition centre. It’s a long time since I visited such a vibrant show.
Buzzing With Enthusiasm
Bizarre, isn’t it - that an exhibition dedicated to showcasing all the technologies that are supposed to be reducing the need for large-scale live events should draw such large crowds? It goes to show that there is still a real place for well-targeted events.
The participants and organisers did a generally good job as well of creating a buzz at the event. There were long queues for the keynote presentations and standing room only at most of the on-stand presentations. It seems that the age of showmanship is not yet dead.
The audience seemed thirsty to learn. And yet many of the exhibitors failed to satisfy the audiences’ needs and repeated the same basic mistakes that you can observe in other elements of their marketing mix - as well as a few that are unique to the exhibition format.
What Do You Do - and What Problems Do You Solve?
Despite the organisers helpfully organising the show floor into themed areas, far too many of the stands had weak messaging. It was unclear what many of the exhibitors did, or what problems they solved. Given that this was supposed to be a showcase for their marketing capabilities, this seems like a particularly bad case of cobbler’s children. Lesson learned: clearly describe what you do in terms that are meaningful and interesting to your target audience.
Show How You Are Different Before Claiming You Are Better
Even when it was clear what category the exhibitor’s solution fell into, in many cases it was hard to understand what set them apart, or why it would be worth stopping by to learn more. Far too many made claims of market leadership or being better than the rest. Clearly, they can’t all be right. Lesson learned: if you want to attract the audience’s interest, show how and why you are different before you claim that you are better.
Have Something Interesting to Say
It’s a live event, right? Exhibitors have an unrivalled opportunity to engage in a conversation. So why on earth do the vast majority of their staff (more than 90%, according to my sample), use “Hi” or “Can I help you” as their opening remark?
I have no idea what to say to the former, other than to offer an equally weak “Hi” back as I walk on past their stand, and as far as the latter is concerned, well I think we all know, and have given, the standard “no thank you” response with varying degrees of courtesy - whilst keeping moving.
In just a handful of cases, the staff opened the conversation with a confident but not intrusive remark along the lines of “what have you come to see?” or “what brings you to the show today?” - and in every case started a conversation in which both parties learned something of value, and could make an intelligent decision about whether it was worth spending more time on.
This is an old hobby horse of mine, but for good reason. It is not cheap to exhibit at these sorts of events. Like an iceberg, the true opportunity cost is far bigger than it at first appears. Lesson learned: it’s inexcusable that so much of that investment should be wasted through not training or equipping stand staff to conduct effective conversations.
Report Card: Could Do Better
The TFMA demonstrated that exhibitions can still have an important role to play in today’s marketing mix. But it also showed that the format can be subject to many of the same errors in execution as any other medium - as well a few that are unique to the event.
I’m interested in your experiences - good or bad, and as either exhibitor or attendee - of the role of exhibitions and similar events in today’s marketing mix. What lessons could you share with our readers?