Inner Circle

Marketing Strategy  

Highlights from the Exhibition & Convention Executives Forum

by Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes

On May 27, more than 200 event industry executives gathered at Sam Lippman’s ECEF to glean inspiration and share ideas for creating and promoting trade shows and conferences—now and into the future. As a proud event sponsor, mdg was there, eager to take it all in. In case YOU weren’t there, don’t worry, we took notes …

Look for change in the fringe. Scott Schenker, General Manager of Events and Production Studios at Microsoft, encouraged us to look at the societal, technological and cultural transformations taking place in the world to inspire change within our events. “In the fringe” changes he discussed included trends relating to wearable technologies, collaborative consumption (Airbnb, Uber, etc.), robotics, the changing environment and more. To illustrate his point at a granular level, he cited data showing that the majority of people in the U.S. believe that marijuana should be legal for recreational use and asked, “If it were legal in your state, would you consider adding a marijuana tasting bar, similar to a wine tasting, to your event?” See the polling results here.

Death to the “Early Bird.” Scott encouraged organizers to re-think the “unlimited” early bird discount and instead consider limiting supply. For instance, perhaps “release” a set number of discount tickets that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Once those are gone, regular pricing kicks in. This has an added benefit of eliminating some of the budget unpredictability associated with registration fees.

Create a “Plus Pass” for attendees who want a VIP experience. Is there a way to give your attendees the option of upgrading their experience through ancillary benefits at your next event? Scott challenged us to think about developing an “Up Pass” or “Plus Pass” for attendees who might want things like reserved seating at a keynote presentation, access to a certain hotel and/or clubs or features associated with the hotel, onsite lounge access, entrance to exclusive events, etc. Typically, people who want this elevated experience are event loyalists who pre-promote the event to their networks and give positive post-event reviews.

Collaborate with other organizations to achieve show floor synergy. Gene Sanders of SPI, Marian Bossard of the Toy Industry Association and Megan Tanel of AEM shared examples of successful, and sometimes unlikely, partnerships that have helped to grow a trade show floor, increase attendance, provide niche content and/or attract positive publicity for an event. As an example, NPE: The International Plastics Showcase partnered with the Savannah College of Art and Design at its most recent event. Students from the college staged a fashion show during the opening ceremony, showcasing their high-end creations made entirely from recycled plastics.

Think past your “to do” list. Lori Anderson, President and CEO of the International Sign Association, kicked off her talk about attendee personas by reminding us of a couple of basic tenets for all show organizers. First, it’s imperative for us to remember, regardless of how long our events have been in existence, that we’re only as good as how our last event was perceived. Second, event organizers must think past the immediate tactical decisions associated with their next event to discover meaningful opportunities for change. NOTE: These opportunities just might be developing in the fringe!

Experience! Experience! Experience! Kerry Bodine, co-author of Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, expanded on the general theme of the day – ensuring that event organizers deliver a top-notch experience for their exhibitors and attendees. She stressed the importance of understanding what the entire customer experience is like for your audience and figuring out what’s needed to ensure expectations are met or exceeded at every step along the customer journey. As a first step, develop a sense of empathy for the customers and fix the things that are important to them. Kerry cited data stating that 89 percent of companies either currently compete or plan to compete primarily on customer service. Of these companies, 65 percent have in place a Chief Customer Officer. Based on all the research, it’s pretty safe to assume that your customers will expect an increasingly elevated experience and level of service at your event.