by Jessica Finnerty
In this day and age, most everything in our lives is “experience driven.” We live in a world where everything is tailored and personalized to appeal to our specific interests. This is especially true in the trade show universe.
With technology providing more and more options that negate the necessity for face-to-face interaction, the best way to keep your show relevant is to connect with your attendees and make it feel personal. Give them an experience that is more than just the show–something that resonates on a deeper level.
My show is in the automotive sector, specializing in products and services for your car after it has left the dealer lot. And while I love my show dearly, I will be the first to admit that it can be a bit dry. So a few years ago, when we first started trying to brainstorm ways to make our event more experience driven, we came up on the same wall of excuses that I am sure many shows face–“Our products don’t really lend themselves to that kind of thing” and “There is only so much that you can do to make windshield wipers exciting.” Eventually, though, we came to realize just how SMALL we were thinking. We wanted to appeal to the PEOPLE, and their interests and experiences stretched so much further than just the products they could see on the floor.
Once we came to that conclusion, it changed our thinking completely. And with a sudden jolt we came to a realization–we were an automotive show without cars! Oh sure, there were a few scattered about in some of the exhibitor booths, but that was really it. Our show goes on in conjunction with another, flashier, automotive show, SEMA, which heavily features hot-rods and highly customized vehicles, and our mindset had always been that showcasing cars was “more of a SEMA thing.” At the time, we believed this way of thinking was helping to differentiate us from the competition, but in fact it was only serving to put unnecessary limitations on us. Just because they were doing it, didn’t mean that we couldn’t do it our own way.
We solicited local enthusiasts in the Las Vegas area to lend us a variety of different cars and staged them in the upper and lower lobbies of the Sands. These cars weren’t super modded out, however. We stuck with mostly classic cars (the kinds that many of our attendees might have owned or seen when they were young) alongside a few newer models, just to keep things interesting. And to help add that personal touch, we made sure that each car had information on its owner, including their favorite brands and products and any work they had done on the cars themselves.
The display was a hit. Attendees and exhibitors alike swarmed the showcase throughout all three days of the event. Many took pictures with the cars, but many more were content just to look and read the stories. They talked among themselves and shared their personal connections and memories with each car. Our social media, which was struggling at the time, saw a dramatic spike in usage. The buzz was louder than we could ever have expected, and the feedback from all of our key volunteers was nothing but positive. It might not have been as flashy or cutting-edge as some of the stuff they could see at the other show, but it was PERSONAL. It told a story that most everyone could relate to and, by doing so, opened a door to our attendee’s emotions and struck a chord with their passion. Suddenly AAPEX was more than just a show–it was an experience.
Since then, we have tried many different things, and keep looking for new ways to appeal to the people who make up our industry. And the difference has been noticeable. Our numbers have been steadily growing, and each year manages to get labeled as “the best show ever.” It’s amazing how much excitement can be generated just by adding a personal touch, and how much can be accomplished once you break out of routine thinking.
Jessica Finnerty is Manager, Meetings and Events at Auto Care Association. Opinions are her own. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.