When Innovating – Protect and Enhance Valued Aspects of the F2F Marketing Experience

By Nancy Drapeau, PRC
CEIR Research Director

Synergistic Power of Exhibitions GraphicI just returned from SISO’s Executive Leadership Conference that took place this week in Atlantic City. The venue, Revel, and the city did a wonderful job hosting this dynamic event. It was a privilege to be part of the conference program, where I was able to share key findings from the recently released CEIR report sponsored by SISO, the 2014 Young Professional Attendee Needs and Preferences Study. It was a pleasure to share the stage with leading researchers in the industry, and discuss lessons learned on how exhibition organizers can use research effectively for existing events as well as evaluate prospective opportunities.

The focus of this event brought different panelists to the stage who engaged in a variety of topics, yet a consistent theme developed of encouraging organizers in the room to think of ways to transform their businesses and to innovate, rather than stagnate, in efforts to maintain and grow their events.

This is an excellent call to action. However, with this focus that every exhibition organizer should be striving toward, I also encourage organizers to maintain focus. Don’t erode the core, intrinsic value of business-to-business exhibitions – the power and value of face-to-face interactions – with people and product. Innovate to enhance this core value, not diminish it. Innovation should magnify the power of a live event that brings people and product together in powerful and impactful ways that digital cannot.

CEIR research has shown that attendees and exhibitors identify exhibitions as the top ranked face-to-face setting of choice. It is number one for attendees and for exhibitors, it is tied for the top rank with in-person sales visits.

As discussed in the Digital Playbook, digital is a great medium to attract and promote an event. For those unable to attend, it offers a chance to peek in and view what is made available online. But it does not deliver the full experience of being there. And digital is a wonderful way to magnify the effect of content generated at an exhibition, a great opportunity to boost media impressions for the exhibition and its exhibitors, and an effective medium for engaging with participants throughout the year. But again, it’s important to keep one’s eye on the ball. The nexus – the core value of a physical event – is just that, the people in the room and the products that are being showcased.

Being at a well-produced event with like-minded individuals and peers, as well as meeting old colleagues and establishing connections with new ones is a precious opportunity. It sharpens the skills of those who attend, and arms them with ideas and potential solutions for current business challenges along with prospective products that can give their organizations a competitive edge. It also offers the chance to experience products showcased on an exhibition floor: see how they work, interact with the product and have discussions with exhibit staff that can answer questions on-the-spot, as well as engage with product users that can share their organization’s experience with the product or challenges/solutions they too are striving to resolve. As documented in What Attendees Want from Trade Exhibitions, these interactions are highly valued by attendees in general. Young professional attendees also consider these interactions a key reason to attend exhibitions, as is documented in the report CEIR released this week.

So when innovating, how can this core value be enhanced or how can detractors be minimized or eliminated? Isn’t this what iPad strove to do? In order to make the ‘experience’ of the iPad such that any technical glitches were minimized, Apple strove to offer a product where connection between the user and content was as easy and seamless as possible.

If you are an organizer, what about this analogy applies to your event? How can you:

  • Eliminate logistical glitches that can snag attendees on the show floor or get in the way of the exhibit floor experience?
  • Eliminate logistical glitches that make exhibiting difficult?
  • What innovations can ramp up the power of the attendee or exhibitor experience?
  • What settings can you offer to maximize the interactions between attendees and exhibitors, and across all types of participants?
  • Besides exhibit booths, what other settings can you create that enable attendees to interact and/or test drive products on the exhibition floor? Is a product demonstration area feasible?

As a researcher, I can keep listing questions with the ultimate aim of stimulating thought on areas meriting consideration for innovation. If you are an organizer, feel free add to the list and stimulate discussion. Your customers and event teams likely have ideas worth considering. As another CEIR blog’s message articulates, Creativity Leads to Engagement. Let the creativity and innovation flow! Though in doing so, don’t forget to keep your eye on the ball!

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