Nancy Drapeau serves as director of research for the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, an organization that last year surveyed more than 9,000 attendees at 27 of the top 250 exhibitions in the U.S. to better understand generational attitudes toward face-to-face events. Drapeau spoke to Media Business about the series of research reports that CEIR created based on those data, including “Generational Differences in Face-to-face Interaction Preferences and Activities,” released this month.
Media Business: Why is it important for event organizers to pay attention to generational trends?
Nancy Drapeau: As the boomers start to go into the world of retirement, the millennials will take over. In 2015 there will be five generations in the workforce. The question is: Are there any generational differences and how does that impact the needs of the workforce as it relates to attending exhibitions?
Media Business: What are you seeing?
Drapeau: It's important to look at what is shared (by the generations). There has been a question (of whether) face-to-face marketing will lose its relevance if you can achieve so many things digitally. But the (new) study unveiled that face-to-face marketing has a role in meeting the needs of business professionals of all ages. You have the traditionals and the boomers, who customarily use this medium. The results (of the survey) suggest that trend will continue as Gen Xers and millennials move through the ranks of their organizations.
Media Business: What should organizers take away from this research?
Drapeau: It is not that events are doing things wrong and need to change. (Events professionals) need to be mindful and treat each attendee with respect. You really don't know who is walking into your booth in terms of their purchasing authority.
Marketing is something to pay attention to. The ability to interact online generates attendance, but word-of-mouth is the driver for marketing. Millennials are more apt to use social media, but at the beginning, it still is word-of-mouth from colleagues, from more traditional vehicles. The workhorse continues to be email; but if you want to attract younger folks, you need to do more of a digital play.
For Gen Xers and boomers, conferences and session programs will be of greater interest. Younger professionals want the experience—to be inspired, to be motivated. So make sure you are promoting what will be immersive; and make sure you deliver on that promise.
We looked at the value of face-to-face interaction as it relates to the purchasing stages or customer continuum. (The) prepurchase (stage) is where face-to-face interaction has the highest value from the perspective of attendees. But half or more of the millennials place value at the point of purchase as well as after they make the purchase. You have a chance to interact as they are implementing the purchase to maintain a relationship. It clearly signals the importance of face-to-face interaction among millennials, who will be the majority of the workforce in 2015. I wonder if exhibitions will be used for more than what we see traditionally today? There might be expanded use as it relates to purchasing phases and the customer continuum.