1. Where the World Economy Goes, So Go Meetings
With the economy still sluggish in the U.S. and growth rates slowing in China and Europe, expect exhibitors to be judicious with their marketing budgets over the next few years, the whitepaper says. According to a recent CEIR economic analysis, overall growth will be in the 3 percent range annually, with exhibitor numbers increasing more than the number of attendees. International attendance at U.S. events is predicted to rise, as are opportunities for exhibitors in China and other international markets.
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2. Big Data Gains Traction
Harnessing computer power to crunch giant databases to learn more about the preferences of specific groups of people is still mainly something only big companies can afford to do, but that will be changing soon. According to the report, “Companies who are offering BDaaS (Big Data as a Service) … are driving the cost of this analytical tool down substantially. These service companies are making advanced data analysis more affordable and, therefore, much more accessible to smaller organizations with smaller budgets.” Those in the exhibition industry may want to start thinking now how they will use Big Data results to hone their businesses and their shows, since “these are not skill sets native to the exhibition industry.”
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3. NFC, RFID, and iBeacon—Oh,My!
Shows are beginning to offer ways to collect attendee behavior data on site using near-field communication, iBeacon Bluetooth wireless communication, and radio-frequency identification, or RFID, technology. Attendees’ smartphones, sensors under the carpets, and registration systems that generate “heat maps” based on reg card swipes at booths are just a few of the ways show organizers will be able to track where attendees go, and when. This data will then help show organizers see what’s hot and what’s not so they can better plan their future expo halls. The tricky part will be getting attendees to buy into the idea of allowing themselves to be tracked.
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4. More Bandwidth, Please
As smartphones and tablets multiply exponentially—and as exhibitors demand more in-booth connectivity—Wi-Fi infrastructure and bandwidth capabilities are only going to become more important. But facilities will likely have a hard time reconciling the cost of keeping up with an ever-moving tech target. Expect to keep on disagreeing about whether bandwidth should be a low- or no-cost part of the venue fee, or whether the facility can charge extra, at least until a better service model comes along.
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5. Wearable Tech Takes Hold
Smartphones, which continue to gain in computer power and complexity, are just the beginning. Expect to see more wearable technology (smart watches, Google Glass–type eyewear, virtual reality headsets à la Ocular Rift) at non-tech shows in the near future.
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6. Going Mobile
Speaking of smartphones—oxymoronically, mobile is here to stay. According to the report, all generations now use mobile devices, mobile e-commerce is growing by leaps and bounds, and everyone is downloading and using apps. The days when you could tell people to turn off their phones at the start of session are over now that people are accustomed to using their smartphones as their “second screen” for everything from watching TV to tweeting and blogging about an event. But then you have to think about how much messaging from exhibitors attendees will tolerate. Who sets the limits on downloading, and what content should be downloaded? Lots of questions remain, especially around data ownership and privacy rights.
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7. Social Media Marketing Goes Mainstream
Social media has added a slew of verbs to the business-to-business marketing vocabulary—tweeting, Instagramming, YouTubing, pinning—and is causing B2B marketers to increase their budgets to pay for this increasingly sophisticated channel. Says the report, “When attendees and exhibitors enter an exhibition facility, their social media marketing practices and activities are not left outside the door. All parties expect that social media marketing will continue within the exhibition facility and throughout the event.”
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8. The Show that Never Sleeps
Exhibitions and meetings will continue to shift from being once-yearly events to nonstop, 24/7/52 continuous engagements. Of course, this also means show organizers have to corral a lot of content to feed a year-round communication program. While this is still in the future for many shows, “building a content strategy and generating and curating content are new skills and capabilities that show organizers will need to understand and add into their ongoing exhibition management process and budgets in the years ahead.”
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9. Exhibition as Experience
With so much happening virtually on-screen, it’s going to be a continuing challenge to make the tradeshow floor as fun and engaging as an attendee’s smartphone. “The elements of show design must evolve to drive the exhibition experience,” the report says. A few questions to ponder: “Will ‘hosted buyer’ formats become the preferred show model? Will gamification be a necessity for all show configurations? Will apps become the engagement tool that drives the on-site experience? Will knowing an exhibition is a green event increase engagement?”
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10. Exhibitors Need to Be Face-to-Face Marketers
Just because attendees are buried in their smartphones doesn’t give those manning the booth an excuse to do the same. Just the opposite, in fact. Exhibitors are going to have to step up their exhibiting skills, the whitepaper says, including training booth staff, developing lead followup programs, and comparing the cost-per-lead and cost-per-conversion of their tradeshow investments against those of their e-marketing programs. Expect more scrutiny of return on investment in both arenas.
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11. Let’s Get Engaged
The term “engagement” is now so ubiquitous that it’s edging into trite territory, but the idea of getting attendees full, rapt attention is only going to gain momentum moving forward, the report says. What we need to do now is determine what engagement really means—if someone is tweeting, are they engaged? Are they engaged enough to come back next year? How do you engage someone pre-event? And keep them loyally engaged in the now year-long show experience? As one might expect, the report calls for more research into what constitutes engagement, and what drives it.
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12. The Next Generation
The topic of Millennials is almost as overdone as engagement—and it will be just as important to show organizers moving forward. A few things to think about: How do you get the next generation of attendees to value and attend a show? What marketing channels will appeal to all the generations of potential attendees you need to reach? How do you tweak the show experience to make it engaging for the different generations in attendance? What do show organizers need to change to appeal to younger attendees? Interestingly, the whitepaper adds that, with personal marijuana use becoming legal in some states—something it says young people currently are more inclined to take advantage of—“the industry will need to address these changes in terms of employees, contractors, on-site access to marijuana as part of event catering, personnel policies, liability issues, insurance, etc.”
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13. Threats on the Rise: Terrorists, Data Hackers, and Health Emergencies
Show organizers that have yet to develop contingency plans for today’s increased risk of a terrorist attack, public protest, or pandemic health event need to get cracking, says the whitepaper. Yes, most venues have a plan, but you should too. “This Task Force is recommending to the entire exhibitions, meetings, and event industry that every exhibition plan include updated contingency plans for both physical and healthcare emergencies. These plans should be reviewed by the event team with facility management and key local authorities (as necessary) prior to move-in for each exhibition or event.” Data hacking is another threat that is becoming all too common—do you have a plan to protect your exhibitors’ and attendees’ sensitive data? Do you have a data privacy protocol in place to protect the rights of all those people you’re going to be tracking throughout your show?
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14. Acquisitions Ahead
We’ve seen a bump up in mergers and acquisitions in the exhibitions and events industry, which, “especially in larger transactions, is being driven by public companies and pools of professionally managed private equity funds. Private equity funds are continuing to invest in this industry because their return on investment is significantly higher than other investment options due to the higher profit margin structure of this industry.” Expect to see more M&A as companies buy up verticals to boost their dominance in a specific subject area. Even association shows, which “have generally been off the radar screen of the M&A community,” may start getting some suitors in the few years, according to the report.
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