How Has the Pandemic Changed the Customer Value of Exhibitions?

Sue Pelletier, Senior Editor
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The model for trade shows has been basically the same for decades: connecting buyers and sellers in a physical location. The value proposition also hasn’t changed much: leads, leads, leads. Then along came COVID-19, and trade show organizers were forced to take their shows online. While panelists at a recent UFI Connects session agreed there is a pent-up demand to meet again face to face once travel to shows again becomes possible on a large scale, what, if anything, will organizers take from their experience this year to enhance the value of their shows? Has anything changed in terms of the customers’ value proposition?

These are just a few of the questions the panelists — moderator Nick Dugdale-Moore, Regional Manager for Europe, UFI; Laura McCartney, Head of Exhibitor Experience, EMEA, Informa Markets; and Liz Irving, Executive Vice President — Head of Marketing, Technology and Customer Experience, Clarion North America — tackled.

A few of the highlights:

  • The need for connection has never been stronger. Irving said her company has spent a lot of time recently talking with its markets, and one of the key findings was that the need to connect is, if anything, stronger than before, even if it has to happen digitally. “We found new ways to take our markets forward by helping them address their needs today and connect in new ways digitally,” she said. For example, one virtual event her company did paired the event with a series of live product demonstrations from people’s homes. “It doesn’t replace face-to-face, but it allowed those connections to be made further upstream.” Also, digital allows you to create sub-communities, to really home in on specific customers sellers are looking for, “just on a smaller scale than one massive event every one or two years.”Fortunately, Informa Markets was already on a digital transformation journey before the pandemic, “So we were able to employ those virtual solutions fairly quickly, and our customers did genuinely value the opportunity to connect during the pandemic,” added McCartney. This doesn’t mean people weren’t missing the on-site experience and recognize that those in-person connections are irreplaceable. But customers, all of whom were experiencing pandemic-related impacts to their businesses, actually needed more support and more engagement through each touchpoint than they did in the past, said McCartney.
  • You have to be proactive about managing customer expectations. Customers who are used to face-to-face may not even know what to expect from a digital show, so “it’s really important to manage those expectations and show them the value of virtual events lies in the reach of the data,” said McCartney. “There’s an immense business opportunity, but it is completely different.” While they’re used to anticipating the number of leads they get from an on-site event, “They may have no way of benchmarking when it comes to digital events,” she added.
  • Smaller audiences can reap bigger rewards. The key is to really understand the different markets you serve and develop strategies specific to each of those markets, panelists agreed. Also, digital events can extend the reach of those audiences beyond just the scheduled day of the show by keeping the community and connections going year-round.

As Irving said, “We do have to educate folks on the value of digital and how it looks different than face-to-face. But Clarion’s business model now will have digital, and it will have face-to-face. You can take some or all of it to help reach the suite of folks you want to find in your industry.“

View the full session at the UFI Connects website.