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Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  24 Mar 2011

EXPO: Exhibitions Continue to Exert the Power Of Face-To-Face


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In a world where instant messaging, teleconferencing, Skype and email have taken over as the dominant tools of communication, it’s all too easy to forget we’re dealing with real people as we conduct business from behind the facade of technology.

Yet a study conducted in 2010 by experience marketing company George P. Johnson shows that Fortune 1 000 chief marketing officers say that meetings and events which bring businesses face-to-face with their business prospects and customers "provide the highest return on investment of any marketing channel”.

Craig Newman, CEO of the Johannesburg Expo Centre, the home of South Africa’s biggest consumer expo, the Rand Show, as well as top exhibition brands Automechanika, the Johannesburg International Motor Show and Electra Mining Africa, says one of the most effective ways to communicate with customers, both potential and existing, is through exhibitions.

“Even in the digital age where information is easy to find, people remain social beings who like doing business face-to-face, shaking hands and looking people in the eye,” he says. “All advertising and marketing seeks to communicate with customers and prospects. When it comes to communication, there is little that beats real conversation. Exhibitions allow you to engage in the power of conversation with your audience.”

For many customers, it is this direct conversation that they want. The Centre for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) conducted studies which showed that roughly two-thirds of show visitors “placed a high level of importance on face-to-face interaction during the pre-purchasing stages of the customer’s buying process”.

During a recession, it’s even more important that this conversation doesn’t cease. “There is an unfortunate trend during times of economic hardship for companies to cut back on ‘non-essential’ budget items like marketing,” says Newman. “In fact, this is precisely the time when you should be shouting your brand message from on high. Exhibitions especially are a powerful platform from which to do this shouting.”

He points out that when times are tough, exhibitions work harder for a company’s marketing budget than any other media because it is only at an exhibition can businesses can simultaneously achieve a wide range of business objectives.

“Exhibitions give marketers a platform where thousands of customers can purchase their products, engage with their services or simply have the opportunity to interact with their brands on a one-to-one basis,” he says. “You can sell product, answer questions, overcome objections, close sales, acquire leads, demonstrate products, conduct market research, build their brands and generate publicity. Almost any marketing or sales objective can be met on the exhibition floor.

Newman adds that it is those companies that stay in their customers’ minds during a recession which are more likely to be remembered by these same customers when business picks up again.

Why Exhibit?

So what is it about exhibitions that makes them such an effective marketing tool? “Exhibitions deliver that all-important brand ‘experience’, which deepens the relationship with the brand,” he says. “And because that brand experience involves direct communication with your brand ambassadors, the buying process is generally accelerated. Since competitive brands and suppliers are represented on expos, visitors are able to evaluate different offerings, ask questions, actually see the product in action, and then make a purchasing decision.”

Selling and marketing efforts are also targeted at a self-selected audience. “Expos are the truest form of ‘permission marketing’,” says Newman. “People who come to shows have made a pointed decision to give up either their leisure time or their equally precious work time to attend. These are motivated, active consumers. As importantly, around half of all show visitors come to expos with a buying plan in mind, according to studies done by the International Exhibition Statistics Union, Centrex. Many visitors are therefore attending shows looking to make specific purchases, fully intending to buy something.”

For Newman however, probably the most compelling reason behind the continued success of the exhibition medium, is that face-to-face marketing is personal, emotional and engages all five senses. “There really is no better way to connect your markets with your brand than through exhibitions.”

Did You Know?

* If you’re looking for new prospects, try an exhibition. 77% of qualified visitors at expos are potential new business for exhibitors.

* 82% of show visitors have buying authority. Of these: 39% have the final say in buying decisions, 26% are product specifiers, and 51% will recommend products they saw on the show.

* 82% of visitors at surveyed exhibitions claimed they were interested in the products being exhibited.

* Exhibitions encourage net promotion, where a customer recommends a product, brand or service seen at an exhibition. On average, 34% of show visitors will recommend something seen at the expo.

* When surveying decision makers:

o 89% said that exhibitions helped keep them in touch with industry trends and developments.

o 88% said shows saved their businesses time thanks to gathering many suppliers under one roof, with 62% saying this also saved their company money.

o 86% said exhibitions played a role in their purchasing decisions.

o (Source: The Centre for Exhibition Industry Research, “30 Staggering Stats”)


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