ABM research finds trade shows attract buyers

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A new study released by American Business Media shows the importance of trade shows when it comes to reaching buyers and influencers.

ABM commissioned Harris Interactive to research how media "end-users" (readers, event attendees and online participants) use business media in their decision-making. Harris conducted phone surveys from February to April. The study generated 588 responses from executives in the 21 advertising categories tracked by the Business Information Network, including banking, financial and insurance; computing, software and telecommunications; business advertising and marketing; and health care. The findings were released at a news conference at Bloomberg headquarters in New York.

Seven out of 10 executives surveyed said they purchased or recommended the purchase of a product or service directly as a result of advertising/promotion at a trade show.

Aside from being a trigger for purchasing products and/or services, b-to-b trade shows also play a prominent role in driving executives to seek additional information either on a company's Web site (77%), by talking to a sales rep (73%) or calling a toll-free number (40%), according to the survey.

"People want to experience things they're looking to buy," said Regina Corso, research director of public affairs and government research for Harris Interactive. "But it's not only people attending them. It's also the people who go to trade shows and mention it to their salespeople."

ABM President-CEO Gordon Hughes II said that about 85% of ABM's members have trade shows in their revenue mix. "If you're not in the business-whoops, you better get in it," he said. "And if you are in the business, it's time to start playing offense."

The trade show industry has bounced back after being in the doldrums following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. B-to-b trade shows with more than 30,000 net square feet of exhibition space fell 5.3% in 2002, according to Tradeshow Week . In 2004 they grew 1.5%, and in 2005 were up 3.2%.

While the Internet is all the rage, advertising in traditional media sources is still pushing the sales needle, the study found.

Almost 60% of executives surveyed said an advertisement in a b-to-b magazine prompted them to purchase or recommend the purchase of a product or service; 79% said they would look for more information about a product or service on the company's Web site; 58% said an ad prompted them to call a salesperson; and 19% said it would prompt them to attend a trade show. In contrast, 49% of executives said that visiting a b-to-b Web site prompted them to recommend or purchase a product or service.

"It can't just be Web, Web, Web," Harris' Corso said. Without a 360-degree approach to b-to-b advertising, "the message gets lost in the gray space in back of the brain."

When it comes to researching new purchases, b-to-b Web sites ranked highest in early stages (66%), salespeople were second (52%) and b-to-b magazines ranked third (50%).

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