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As Attendees and Technology Change, So Do Shows’ Marketing Approaches

A recent three-part report from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research finds exhibition producers acting differently in their promotional strategies and tactics.

The Center for Exhibition Industry Research has released the third and final part of an extensive research report titled “Attendee Acquisition Trends: Driving Growth.” It is based on survey results from 273 organizers of B-to-B exhibitions.

Among the most notable results in parts one and two of the report, released a month before part three: 63 percent of responding event producers said that at least 90 percent of their attendee registrations in 2022 took place within 30 days of the exhibition. In 2018, that figure was less than 50 percent.

In light of this, most organizers are not focusing on attendee acquisition as far out as in the past: 64 percent begin their efforts no more than eight months from the start of the show. In 2018, that figure was just 37 percent. This shift also might be due to only half of respondents having the same number of marketing people as in 2019, and with just 33 percent saying plan to add to their marketing staff this year.

Among those organizers who use exhibitor-invitation programs to drive attendance:

• 67 percent provide a code to exhibitors to share with those they invite
• 60 percent provide a banner ad with a link that the exhibitor can post on its website
• 51 percent provide a link for invitees to register that can be used in exhibitors’ email signatures.
• 50 percent offer a “wide range” of marketing-support services, including free passes for exhibitors to disseminate among their target audience.

Further, the use of real-time dashboards to monitor marketing results is still relegated to a minority (43 percent) of the responding organizers, with associations’ use of real-time dashboards at just 39 percent.

Show Producers’ Self-Reflection
In part three of the report, exhibition organizers cited the areas where they are most focused on improvement. More than two-thirds (67 percent) say they are sharpening their digital-marketing approach, especially in light of the transition to having younger attendees and prospects. Similarly, 61 percent said they are adjusting on-site content in both its form and presentation environment to meet attendees’ needs and desires.

The top-three new marketing-related activities among organizers is sharpening data analytics for better decision-making (55 percent); enhancing social-media content-marketing efforts and using it for lead generation (48 percent); and maintaining year-round engagement (46 percent).

Lastly, respondents said that the greatest potential for strengthening their shows is to market to potential first-time attendees, especially through social media and with attendee referrals and testimonials.

Other Insight on Potential First-Time Attendees
During a session at June’s Professional Convention Management Association’s EduCon meeting in Toronto, Freeman’s Ken Holsinger led a session about the preferences of younger attendees. There, the firm’s senior vice president of strategy noted that show organizers must move away from email and towards bite-sized content posted to social-media outlets including Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok to attract the attention of younger audiences that are starting to dominate many industries.

Holsinger’s proof that social media is strongly relevant: a recent Freeman study of event attendees found that the top three ways people under age 35 find new products are through social media (57 percent), through YouTube ads (46 percent) and by searching the internet (42 percent). In contrast, email did not even register in the top eight responses.

However, the CEIR survey did find two traditional marketing channels are working well enough for responding show organizers to maintain their interest in using them: 63 percent said they use direct-mail campaigns to their house list and database, while 57 percent use advertising in trade-media outlets.

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