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How GE Water streamlined its events

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In 2006, General Electric Water and Process Technologies, a division of GE that supplies water treatment, wastewater treatment and process systems solutions, was a conglomeration of several different companies it had acquired over the years. Each of those companies brought some baggage with them.

“The business [became] a mix of several acquisitions that have been done in [the past] six or seven years. Each of those businesses came with a history of trade shows in events,” said Mayra Bergman, the company’s global customer interaction manager.” In 2006, we decided to make a smaller list of trade shows we needed to attend.”

Like many companies, GE Water decided it was time to put its events together into a portfolio and take a long hard look at which events they were attending and why. “It was the first time we sat down to look at the overall portfolio and how we can improve the events we were attending. It was time to think about the strategy going forward,” Bergman said.

The problem, she said, was merging the separate companies had created a division in the company’s brand. “We wanted to give a unified message in branding. The brand was not strong yet,” Bergman said. “We wanted to go out and improve our branding and our messaging. We were also trying to extend our training program. We didn’t have a lot of opportunities to train our salespeople. We wanted to reduce costs by going into less events and having our own propriety event program [and] use our money in a smarter way.”

After closely examining its portfolio, GE Water was able to slash 270 events, most of which were big water industry trade shows. Before this, it was tricky pinpointing which shows made good business sense because the water industry is so fragmented, Bergman said.

“[These were] the typical trade show where we went in, and had our booth and depended on the trade show management to bring our audience and expand our business within the audience,” she said.

“It was difficult to really bring the message that we wanted to this audience in a trade show that’s not ours,” Bergman added.

After cutting, there were just 40 highly targeted trade shows the company continued to attend. Additionally, GE Water created in 2007 its own World Water Tour. The tour traveled to seven cities, including locations in Australia, Canada and Latin America, in its first year and proved to be extremely successful, Bergman said.

For 1½ days at each location, the company gathered about 100 members of its target community, including plant managers, utility managers, environmental managers and even members of local government and NGOs.

“We were able to build some opportunities,” Bergman said. “In Latin America and Australia, our branding really resonated with audiences. Our branding went up, [and so did] our brand awareness. The media was interested—it was the right decision at the end of the day.”

Additionally, she said, the target event had some unexpected results. “We learned what our customers wanted. From the first event to the last, we modified the agenda, gave them more technical content. [We also began to] understand the value of having external speakers.

“We segmented the customers—some wanted more technical content, some wanted regulatory trends and some were interested in environmental,” Bergman continued. “This allowed us to target the places we want to go and the [customers] that we wanted to hear. [It helped] bring our network together. The mix of messaging and reaching the people and location didn’t exist" in the standard trade show environment.

Ultimately, GE said the World Water Tour was especially effective in international markets—where its customers are not inundated by a wealth of trade shows. The audience attendance overseas was much higher, Bergman said. As a result, the company plans to continue the tour in years to come.

However, she said, the company will continue to attend trade shows. “We didn’t cut out all the trade shows. There’s no way our program is going to reach the number of people that we reach through traditional trade shows. The answer is a mix of both that we find is most effective,” Bergman said.

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