Events retain strategic power by expanding the ways in which they engage customers

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Recent data and our experience working with marketers to execute global exhibit programs confirm that while the trade show model is undergoing rapid changes, the channel remains a crucial sales tool within the integrated marketing mix. Large industry trade shows, as well as smaller-format, third-party and proprietary events, face similar challenges and opportunities. George P. Johnson's “EventView 2010“ research indicates that 50% of marketing leaders controlling multichannel budgets rank events as “taken under consideration with other mediums.” At the same time, 54% of respondents ranked trade shows as the external-event format that receives the largest share of their budgets. Taken together, this information is strong evidence that trade shows will continue to play a prominent role within marketing. (Research for “EventView” was conducted in the first quarter of 2010. One hundred eight senior executives in sales and marketing management positions in North America were interviewed in person. Participants were selected in industries including automotive, technology, health care and finance.) Regardless of show size, real change was evident in the way marketers are more carefully scrutinizing their audience profiles, eliminating underperforming shows and rethinking participation in remaining properties. There is also a new, more sophisticated strategic and creative imperative driving planning and activation that parallels this shift in above-the-line marketing such as PR and advertising. The implications of these trends break down into three areas: 1) Portfolio planning. Going to trade shows as a matter of course, assuming that the right audience will be in attendance, is over. Today's exhibit marketing leaders are investing in research and modeling their event investments to align with customers' progress through the sales cycle. Marketing efficiency, not message volume, is the key to portfolio planning success. Auditable, reliable information is a more powerful currency today than ever before. This means that in some cases marketers are using empirical data to cut shows from the portfolios. In other cases, this data is used to reallocate resources to better drive engagement via more customized messaging, integration with online and social media and use of interactives, among other refinements that more directly align with the business objectives motivating event investment. 2) Brand experience. Today's exhibit marketers are more aware then ever of the relationship between product, brand and experience. The focus on trade shows is evolving from event execution to a more nuanced approach, rooted in creating brand experiences that are in and of themselves powerful expressions of a brand, product or service. Key to competitive differentiation, this new experience-based model is increasingly supported by executive marketing leadership. A recent GPJ-Forbes Insights report suggests that CMOs believe that really engaging customers is the key to keeping customers and finding new ones. In fact, more than 50% of the 300 CMOs interviewed in April in person ranked experiential marketing such as trade shows as achieving the highest levels of engagement, far more than any other channel. 3) Technology. Time and again the use of technology continues to separate the merely successful from the outperformers. We're seeing more marketers developing data strategies first and foremost, which then gives rise to the right investments in online, social, lead capture, fulfillment and other areas. Smart marketers are leveraging strategy first, then technology. In the case of large trade shows, technology implementation is also an especially valuable conduit to engagement as it provides an opportunity for the customer to directly experience the brand of their own volition. More than just a broadcasting platform, mobile promotion, SMS texting, social media integration and other technologies provide a measurable means of delivering relevant and timely content that opens a dialogue with customers. Jeff Rutchik is senior VP-client services, worldwide and general manager of George P. Johnson Experience Marketing, where he works with b-to-b and b-to-c. For a copy of “EventView 2010,” e-mail [email protected]
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