This post written by Nora Johnson, Market Research Analyst, Marketing Design Group
As we look toward future exhibition marketing campaigns and messaging strategies, a familiar market segmentation framework emerges. It begins with participation by exhibitors and attendees before cascading into industries, roles and, perhaps, geography. Plans move forward smoothly until the question emerges: what about the various generations represented? A freeze ensues as people wonder if they’ve just quadrupled campaign efforts, needing to appeal to each generation for each of the identified markets.
Fortunately for the exhibition industry, appealing to multiple generations is not so daunting, as preferences and perceived value associated with face-to-face interactions at exhibitions is largely consistent across all age groups. Recently, CEIR released Generational Differences in Face-to-Face Interaction Preferences and Activities which analyzes the use and value of face-to-face interactions at exhibitions amongst Millennials (ages 18-27), Older Millennials/Young Gen Xers (28-39), Older Gen Xers (40-49), Boomers (50-64) and Traditionalists (65+). The report suggests that despite varying psychographics among the four generation groups identified, the intent to attend exhibitions in the future and top preferences and reasons for attending are congruent.
The following sections explore commonalities to embrace and assumptions to avoid when marketing to different generations.
REACHING ACROSS GENERATIONS
Going strong. Average attendance at exhibitions does not significantly vary across age groups, and roughly 81% of respondents in each age group anticipated steady or increased attendance in the coming years. Professionals across all age groups are committed to and find value in attending exhibitions. Your job is to reach them.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Looking for new products/vendors and gaining insights on industry conditions/trends remain the top two reasons for attending exhibitions. This rank order was consistent across all four generations. Provide and promote these opportunities, and you will appeal to professionals in all age groups.
Knowledge is value. In the report, professionals not only shared reasons for attending exhibitions, but exhibit staff preferences as well. Industry professionals prefer credible/believable staff members that are knowledgeable about the product or solution and willing to provide information. Ensure your exhibitors are aware of this so that they will manage their booth appropriately. If necessary, tailor your message to address the quality of the exhibitors who will be able to provide in-depth information and answer difficult questions.
Familiar is good. Focus your message on professional benefits and leverage shared attributes that may appeal to multiple generations. For example, Millennials have a bond with Traditionalists and blend into Gen Xers. Boomers and Traditionalists share a sense of loyalty – to brands and to employers, respectively. Professionals not able to identify with all message points may still be able to identify with a few and understand or respect the others. This familiarity will aid in your reach efforts.
Two common assumptions emerge when considering generational differences: technology preferences and career phases. Assumptions in either area, based on generation designation alone, may result in missed reach opportunities or audience alienation.
Assumption #1: Technology is not embraced by all. CEIR’s Generational Differences and How to Attract Attendees report reveal that while younger attendees are more likely to attribute increased face-to-face activity to online interaction than their older counterparts, websites and emails continue to play a dominant role as digital tactics organizers use to engage prospects and incentivize them to share content with their colleagues. These digital media serve as information conduits, complementing and supporting the preferred peer-based and word-of-mouth sources of information. When content is relevant and interest ignited, professionals across all generations have been seen to adapt to established media.
Assumption #2: Careers predictably transition with age. Ascribing a career phase to a generation is no more accurate than ascribing a technology preference. You risk belittling the accomplishments of younger professionals and frustrating older professionals who find themselves in a new industry or upon a new career path. According to CEIR’s Generational Differences report, more than 34% of the professionals surveyed – in each of the generation groups – held executive or upper management roles and nine out of ten had net purchasing power. The lesson here: decision makers and influencers will be found across all generations. Appeal to the role, rather than the generation, with the intent to boost job performance and you will overcome the generation gap.
As you commence your marketing efforts, tap into generational commonalities for general messaging to cost-effectively appeal to a broader audience. You may certainly choose to target the various generations, particularly if your message or call-to-action aligns with a certain session, committee or initiative; however, you can take comfort in the fact that for exhibitions in general, a majority of the professionals across all generations are on board and on the same page.