By: Robyn Davis, Exhibitors WINH LLC
One of the most valuable superpowers any successful professional could have is the ability to read their audience’s mind – because, if you know what your audience is thinking, you can “take the words right out of their mouth” with your marketing messages, address any objections/issues before they realize they have them, ensure that any benefits you’re excited to provide are what they actually want/will use, and so on.
In my opinion, that’s the biggest benefit of CEIR’s Head of Marketing Insights series for event organizers, like you – after reviewing these reports, you can understand and apply what marketing leaders across North America (the ones who will be involved in the decision to exhibit at your trade show, or not) think about trade shows, like yours.
Here are my top takeaways for event organizers from the first two parts of this series. After you read them, take a look at the study to identify others that relate specifically to you/your show too!
Generally speaking, marketers believe in the power of trade shows…
Trade shows are a great way for marketers to accomplish all sorts of goals, but it’s helpful to understand, specifically, which initiatives marketers believe trade shows can impact the most.
For example, there were two categories that 79% of exhibitors and 68% of marketing leaders, overall, ranked as “effective” (those were meeting current clients and promoting new products).
The vast majority of exhibitors and marketing leaders also ranked several other categories as effective, including relationship selling, meeting prospects, engaging prospects with products, generating sales leads, and building brand awareness.
The most praised category for non-exhibitors was “time and cost effective” – in other words, 59% of marketing leaders whose companies don’t even exhibit at trade shows agree that trade shows can be an effective use of their time and money.
** Recognizing that most marketers do see value in trade shows is a great starting point for any outreach you’re doing. Noting which categories their peers have ranked as “effective” may help you tailor your messaging to the marketers you’re targeting, especially as you remind them to reengage with your shows in the (hopefully) near future.
…but, even so, there are always areas of opportunity for improvement.
It’s good to know what’s working, but it’s also helpful to know what isn’t (as they say, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”). In this case, most marketers agree that trade shows are effective, across the board… so, we don’t really have anything that “isn’t working,” instead, by looking for the categories fewer marketers agreed were effective, we can identify some opportunities for improvement.
For non-exhibitors and all marketers, the lowest ranked category was “cost is in line with value” (45% of non-exhibitors agree that exhibitions are effective in this category and 54% of all marketers would say the same).
Interestingly, the lowest ranked category for exhibitors was “cross-selling and upselling” (65% of exhibitors said trade shows are effective in this category).
** Does your organization offer any education/training for exhibitors or prospective exhibitors? If so, these may be excellent categories to focus on. If not, could you use your internal resources/connections to create some case studies or examples of exhibitors who are succeeding in these areas? Sometimes, the challenge is lack of preparation and sometimes the challenge is not realizing success is possible.
Exhibitors focus on both sales and marketing goals and, overall, they’re confident trade shows can help them achieve their goals.
When asked which goals were important to exhibitors, two categories were considered: marketing goals and sales goals. Across both categories, most respondents agree that exhibitions are a good fit for their goals, but those percentages were slightly lower for the sales categories than they were for the marketing categories… Curiously, more of the sales categories were ranked as a slightly higher priority than the marketing categories.
Their goals weren’t surprising, but for me, this disconnect (albeit slight) was puzzling. I wonder – could exhibitors be struggling with sales and marketing alignment? Are they struggling to prioritize effectively (perhaps not aligning their strategic efforts with their stated priorities)?
** In either case, the bottom line is that, overall, marketers are confident in trade shows and most do believe exhibiting can help them achieve their marketing and sales goals. Striving for perfection, however, perhaps there’s an opportunity for you to help. For your convenience, here are some of the types of goals exhibitors are prioritizing:
- Marketing: brand awareness, targeting specific professionals, promoting current offerings, and launching new products
- Sales: establishing/strengthening relationships with various contacts, generating leads, selling to current clients and prospects, and supporting their distributors and independent reps
Who decides which trade shows to participate in and how the budget will be allocated? Spoiler alert: it’s not just the “events” person.
When I started in this industry, one of the biggest learning curves I had to overcome was identifying who was “responsible” for trade show efforts at any exhibiting company. In some cases, it’s an events person (with “events” or “trade shows” in their official job title), but in many cases, it isn’t. Plus, business decisions aren’t often made by an individual anymore; instead, it’s a team effort.
This second part of this series noted the job titles of those responsible for decisions about which events to participate in and how to allocate their budgets; these professionals were organized into five categories, including:
- Marketing, Communications, and Advertising (51%)
- Executive Management (49%)
- Sales (29%)
- Business Unit, Product, Brand Lead, or Manager (27%)
- Events (14%)
** Because so many different types of professionals are involved in trade show-related decisions, it’s in your best interest to get out and do some networking within each of the companies that exhibit (or are considering exhibiting) at your events. In other words: if you are only connected to one professional at each exhibiting company, you’re likely to be missing out on key information and the opportunity to significantly influence their event-related decisions. If you’re looking for more professionals to connect with, the categories above may be a good place to start.
Once you’re in, you’re in!
When asked about event selection/budgeting decisions, 60% of marketers said “we exhibit at some events every year, we just budget for them – there is no process.” For me, this was the most troubling statistic of the series because, although it sounds like a good thing (to have your trade show automatically added to an exhibitor’s budget each year, without debate), it really isn’t.
Just as your industry, along with each individual company’s goals, offerings, and target-audience, is likely to evolve over time, your trade show should be evolving too. That means, a show that was a great fit for one company this year may not be the next (and that’s okay!), but if that company isn’t making smart, strategic decisions about each of the trade shows they participate in, they’ll continue exhibiting and struggle to succeed… damaging their opinion of your event (and trade shows overall) and, potentially, damaging your reputation as well (as they discuss their experience with their industry contacts).
** It sounds counter-productive, but in order to grow your show in a “healthy” way, you must encourage the right exhibitors to participate and encourage the wrong ones not to… just like, if you want your hair to grow, you need to cut off the dead ends, and if you want your mailing list to be delivered consistently, you need to encourage those who don’t engage with you to unsubscribe. Make sense?
With that, we’ve made it through the first two parts of the Head of Marketing Insights series. Hopefully, you’re already starting to feel like you know and understand your exhibitors/potential exhibitors even better… but there are still a lot of great insights left to discover! So, stay tuned for my next post – I’ll share some additional tips and takeaways from the last three parts of this series that you won’t want to miss.
Through her company, Exhibitors WINH LLC, Robyn partners with event organizers to teach their exhibitors the strategies required to win at trade shows, ultimately improving exhibitor engagement, satisfaction and retention through her award-winning exhibitor success programs. Join her in Trade Show Summer School for more takeaways from industry research and “how to” tips (it’s free!).