Inside the Minds of Trade Show Exhibitors

Find out what exhibitors want from events, and what they are willing to spend to get it.

More than 2,000 exhibitors are participating in NPE2015: The International Plastics Showcase this week at the Orange County Convention Center. According to the results of CEIR's recent survey of trade show exhibitors, most said they intend to use the same size booth this year as they did in 2014.
More than 2,000 exhibitors are participating in NPE2015: The International Plastics Showcase this week at the Orange County Convention Center. According to the results of CEIR's recent survey of trade show exhibitors, most said they intend to use the same size booth this year as they did in 2014.
Photo: Courtesy of The International Plastics Showcase

Face-to-face exhibitions are the predominant marketing tool for companies that include them in their marketing mix, accounting for more than 40 percent of companies' total marketing budgets. That’s one of the findings of a study conducted by CEIR, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, and released earlier this month. The report is based on the results of an online survey conducted in the fall of 2014 that included responses from 641 exhibitors provided by Freeman, Global Experience Specialists, and Shepard Exposition Services.

CEIR’s director of research, Nancy Drapeau, says the report, along with a companion report released in December regarding exhibitors’ budget allocations, can help planners understand how to work more effectively with exhibitors. “Pay attention to the settings that are made available at an event. Make sure that in addition to the booth, what marketing support offerings can they provide to help exhibitors achieve their top-ranked objectives?” she says. “Even for tracking sales leads and the like, how can they help exhibitors be effective in fulfilling those leads?”

Here is a summary of the most recent findings:

1. Companies that participate in face-to-face events do so primarily to support critical sales and marketing goals. Top objectives identified by respondents included identifying new sales leads, building product and company awareness, and meeting with existing customers. “There are seven stages on the purchase process,” Drapeau says. "So even with your current customers you want to maintain those relationships because inevitably that can result in repeat purchases or upgrades. And exhibitions are an important place to have those face-to-face interactions."

2. Exhibitors measure the value of participation based on both sales and marketing strategies. Respondents indicated the top two metrics are the number of new, qualified sales leads generated at the show and the ability to increase brand awareness. In a separate question, respondents were asked to identify the one measure most important to management, and 36 percent selected “number of new sales leads” as the most important metric.

3. For exhibitors who indicated they measure the success of participation based on the number of sales closed, more than two-thirds of respondents indicated those sales need to close within six months after the event to be include in the R.O.I.

4. Exhibitions are the marketing strategy of choice among brand marketers who include them in their marketing mix. Respondents indicated they spend more than 40 percent of their budgets on trade shows and events; the next most popular choices were general online marketing, trade online marketing, and trade magazine advertising, all at about 8 percent. “It’s a pretty powerful testimony to the channel. We see online is there as well but nothing comes close to business-to-business exhibitions,” Drapeau says.

5. Median spending per exhibition is $20,000. Exhibitors who spend more may be doing so because they participate in fewer events but invest more in each of them, or because they allocate more than 50 percent of their marketing budget to face-to-face events. “If I’m an organizer I’d pay attention to these guys, because if you’ve got someone that sees the value of the audience your delivering, and the investment in a particular event is a big allocation of their marketing budget, you need to take good care of those exhibitors because they are reliant on the event for the outcomes of what they are doing,” Drapeau says.

6. Exhibitors indicated email is their primary tactic for digital marketing, with social media and websites coming in second and third. “You need to be cautious how you use your email list. It’s the golden goose,” Drapeau says. "Use it in a way that the recipients will appreciate, that you are sharing content with them that they want. If you over-email, if you spam them, you’re going to lose them." Prior research conducted by CEIR found attendees also select email as the preferred method of receiving information about events and invitations from exhibitors. “Email has been found to be consistently effective from the various audiences in the industry,” she says.

7. More than half of respondents indicated they will participate in the same number of events in 2015 as they did in 2014; the median number of events is five. But about 30 percent of respondents said they expect to participate in more events in 2015. “It’s not a huge uptick, but the results suggest a willingness to add an event," Drapeau says. "They are constantly on the hunt for an event that can deliver the audience they want to engage with face-to-face."

8. More than 70 percent of exhibitors indicate they use the same size booth each year, with a median size of 100 net square feet. “I don’t see much movement in terms of booth expansion, but where there is movement it is tactical. It’s the company that sees an event as their place, and they’ve got an agenda they want to achieve and they want to make a big splash,” Drapeau says. "Exhibit booth sales staff should pay attention to those opportunities."

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