It’s show time!
You’ve spent all year preparing for the most important show on your schedule. Yet, the majority of attendees are skipping right past your booth. What could have gone wrong? What are the other guys doing right? It’s an age-old question that has been illuminated in a new study.
A recent report by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) reviewed the engagement strategies that are most likely to drive attendees to people and products on the trade show floor. The study included 972 exhibitor surveys, 172 exhibition organizers, and 10 in-depth exhibition executive interviews.
According to the report, “As digital continues to expand its marketing influence, face-to-face event marketers are pressed by senior management to innovate their face-to-face marketing approaches at exhibitions, to integrate digital and other efforts to maximize the ROI of the exhibiting investment. Innovation and experimentation are essential to assure exhibiting approaches evolve, keep pace with attendee needs and preferences, and deliver the best exhibitor outcomes. At the same time, experimentation also presents a danger of unintentionally diluting the key engagement aspects attendees come to experience at an exhibition.”
The CEIR report broke its findings into the three main pillars of exhibition floor attendee engagement: people, product, and learning. Let’s take a look at the three pillars and see how you could use them to deepen your engagement with attendees.
“The top-ranked factor that brings attendees back to a business-to-business exhibition repeatedly is the quality of face-to-face engagement with booth staff and product experts,” the report states. “When it comes to maximizing the level of attendee engagement exhibitors can achieve in their booths, the most important decision an exhibitor makes is selecting the right booth staff.”
Seeing the importance of this type of interaction, it is somewhat shocking that over a fifth of all exhibitors do not prepare their booth staff by giving them proper training.
Booth Staff Training
- 21 percent do not train at all
- 74 percent train using in-house staff
- 1 percent use an outside vendor
- 6 percent use both
The report also analyzed the most popular people engagement tactics used by exhibitors in their booths and the level of “high attendee use” each tactic experienced. The number one tactic was talks with sales and marketing staff, with 75 percent of exhibitors utilizing this approach for a return of 81 percent high attendee use. Being able to speak with a technical expert or executive garnered the second and third best attendee ROI, 79 percent and 72 percent respectively.
If you’d like to differentiate yourself from the crowd, there are a couple of interactions that not many exhibitors use but still generate an impressive audience. Theater-style educational presentations were leveraged by only seven percent of exhibitors but were consumed by 59 percent of attendees. Product promotions in a theater-style setting are utilized by even fewer exhibitors (five percent) yet earn 51 percent of spectators. Finally, booth tours are only provided by 10 percent of exhibitors with 49 percent participation of attendees.
Exhibitors with the largest booths and with the most booth staff tend to provide a wider array of tactics. This makes sense, but it also highlights the necessity for smaller booths to maximize their approach to ensure they get the most value for their efforts.
Ultimately, the report concludes, “When it comes to people-to-people engagement, the chance to talk with booth staff sees the highest attendee use. Adding space for general receptions, peer-to-peer engagement and meetings with booth staff will also maximize attendee engagement.”
The second factor most influential in bringing attendees to an exhibition repeatedly is providing chances to interact with the product itself.
The study notes that, while product engagement is second ranked to people engagement, it is mainly due to the diverse nature of products showcased in an exhibition. For example, while some exhibitions highlight products that can be interacted with, such as foods, consumer products, or large capital goods, others showcase products that cannot, such as pharmaceuticals, or are intangible by nature.
“Though, where a product is something that can be interacted with, it is important to offer this engagement opportunity, as it is a powerful marketing weapon,” the report states.
In fact, the exhibitor tactic that earned the largest attendee response was interactive product displays that visitors could see, touch, taste, etc. While only 46 percent of exhibitors utilized this tactic, 78 percent of attendees responded positively. The next most popular attendee attraction was to have exhibit staff scan the person’s badge to capture product interest for follow-up. Seventy-six percent of attendees were engaged by this activity and only 43 percent of the booths had this ability.
The most heavily used exhibitor tactic was to distribute printed product information with 87 percent engaging in this activity; however, only 62 percent of attendees found value in these materials.
Again, for those looking to provide worth that is not being maximized by most exhibitors, there are some tactics that attendees gain value from that are not being provided by many companies. For example, the ability to purchase a product on premise is only offered by 19 percent of exhibitors while 57 percent of attendees appreciated this opportunity. Also, only 24 percent provided interactive screens or tablets promoting their products while 50 percent of attendees engaged with this activity.
Those exhibitors with intangible products needed to find another way to display their goods. Using a combination of interactive screens or tablets and static graphics and signage seemed to generate the most use or attract the most attendees into a booth.
“When it comes to people-to-product engagement, interactivity is key. Where possible, showcasing the product itself generates the highest attendee usage; and product demonstrations are also highly used. In terms of providing attendees with product information, the most used approach is badge scanning by booth staff,” the report states
According to the report, the third pillar, learning, is actually intricately tied to and interwoven with the first two pillars.
“Learning is a pillar that exhibitors fulfill in multiple ways. In an exhibit booth, formal skills-based education or learning sessions can be offered though exhibitors are more likely to satisfy learning needs via other methods. There is a synergistic effect from face-to-face networking with exhibit booth staff, other product experts and peers, or interaction with the product or service itself that delivers the learning attendees are seeking.”
As for people and learning opportunities, we’ve already mentioned that theater-style education sessions are one area that more exhibitors could be taking advantage of. In addition, providing a product user, peer-to-peer interaction area is only being offered by 24 percent of exhibitors, but it’s something that 61 percent of attendees appreciate.
For areas that combine product and learning, 39 percent of exhibitors provide an area for one-on-one or small group product demonstrations, but 56 percent of attendees find value from these events. On the other hand, 69 percent of all exhibitors had some sort of static graphic or signage promoting their products, but only 49 percent of attendees respected these efforts.
Other Engagement Tactics
The CEIR report also examined tactics that went beyond the three pillars to generate buzz on the exhibition floor.
The most popular of these was a tried and true booth staple: promotional products. The report found that 67 percent of all exhibitors had some form of giveaway or sample for visiting their booth (I would have thought 110 percent, but 67, ok), while 70 percent of attendees welcomed receiving these trinkets.
The next most popular activity was performing a raffle prize drawing to capture leads, with 40 percent offering this lottery while 62 percent enjoyed the game.
Speaking of games, gamification is a tactic that has yet to catch on with many exhibitors, with only seven percent offering some sort of game that helped educate attendees about their products in a fun way. Yet an overwhelming 67 percent of attendees responded to the activities positively, which indicated more exhibitors would benefit from making an attempt at this approach. Meanwhile, 10 percent of exhibitors attempted some form of games that give attendees a chance for fun but was not linked to a product. While still well received, the appreciation for this activity dropped to 58 percent.
Using a celebrity is also an extremely effective way to get attendees (65 percent) to engage with your booth. However, this tactic is rarely used, only five percent, likely due to the expense involved in obtaining a celebrity.
Finally, providing an amenity to draw attendees to your booth, such as charging stations or beverages, was provided by 15 percent of exhibitors yet appreciated by 56 percent of attendees.
The report summarizes these findings, “Exhibitors use other tactics aimed at generating traffic to their booths or offer ways to make the booth experience memorable. Giveaways, samples and raffle prize drawings are well-established tactics that are most popular and enjoy high use. Gamification to educate and engage attendees is a minority activity though a use is high.”
Using Emotion as an Engagement Tactic
The final aspect the report examined is how several exhibitors effectively used emotion as a marketing tactic.
“A long-standing tactic in business-to-consumer marketing is the emotional effect of a promotion, its impact on enhancing the memorability of a promotion or conveying an emotional aspect of a brand, to establish or reinforce brand affinity, connection. Emotion is also used to entice prospects and customers into a booth to engage with showcased offerings. An aim is to help attendees connect and understand products, with the aim of having them see a fit with their needs.”
The goals of a company often align with the emotion they try to convey to their visitors. For example, a company with the main focus of closing sales will attempt to send out a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. Whereas, a company that was attempting a new product launch sent out feels that attempted to get visitors to engage with a display or interact with a product.
The CEIR report provides extremely useful insight to generate attendee interest in your display. For help implementing some of the suggestions in the report, give The Trade Group a call at 800-343-2005.
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