Event marketers see new opportunities in Gen Y

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The exhibition industry is paying attention to Generation Y, the technologically adept superconsumers born from 1977 to 1997. As these young professionals enter the workforce, eclipsing Generation X and matching the enthusiasm for exhibitions recorded among baby boomers, events marketers need to develop strategies that embrace the demographic, said Cathy Breden, executive director of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. “Generation Y has the same kind of core-value base as the boomers in terms of a predisposition to attending exhibitions,” she said in an April webinar presented though the International Center for Exhibitor and Event Marketing. “This is why we are so focused on determining what it is going to take to engage Gen Y.” CEIR conducted studies of young professionals in 2009 and 2010, and has informally built on that research through conversations with show organizers and exhibitors who shared insights for accommodating generational diversity on the trade show floor, Breden said. Generation Y enters a booth after already having dissected the company and its products on the Web, she said. The young professionals are looking for an interactive experience, one in which they can contribute to a conversation or experience rather than simply receiving information. “Use your booth as research and development for your products and your services,” Breden said. “Give them the opportunity to tell you what they think.” Flashy booths that embrace sustainable features such as digital-only handouts and recycled furnishings appeal to this demographic, as do online extensions, social media channels and connections to local charities. Booth staff members need to be trained to communicate with multiple generations, and interaction among different age groups should be encouraged. Gen Y is interested in opportunities to gain career insights and network with older attendees. “Gen X and Gen Y—and Gen Y especially—want to be treated as equals,” Breden said. “They don't want to be sold to; they want to be engaged in a conversation. They also want to be recognized for who they are. In many instances … they probably have more decision-making and influence into a purchasing decision than the exhibitor thinks that they may have.” Other generations also require strategic adjustments. Boomers still like direct mail, for example; and it may take more work to get the independent skeptics who define Gen X onto the show floor, Breden said. “Gen X [professionals] are attending exhibitions at a lesser rate than the Millennial groups. You need to make sure that you are focusing a lot of your marketing efforts on Gen X.” But Gen Y, by virtue of its size and affinity for the face-to-face medium, demands attention. “This generation we view as the opportunity for the exhibition industry,” Breden said.
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