Innovative Exhibition Experiences Will Change The Event Industry
At a recent conference, I had a chance to speak with the director of an exhibition business who told me something very interesting. "The exhibition industry is in trouble. Our customers (attendees and exhibitors) are starting to question how or why they should come to any shows or events at all. This is the industries fault. We haven't done anything to improve innovative exhibition experiences in a long time. A wave is coming, and those that blaze new paths and change the attendee and exhibitor experience will be the ones that stick around."
"The exhibition industry is in trouble. Our customers (attendees and exhibitors) are starting to question how or why they should come to any shows or events at all..."
I thought that was a pretty bold statement coming from someone who had a long track history of success in this industry. To circle back to our conversion, the gentleman's biggest concern was that the industry as a whole was failing to progressively build value for customers; given the changing dynamics of marketing and technology. So what innovations, can actually be implemented to help these exhibition businesses that want to become market innovators?
Our new CTO (of Ungerboeck Software), Manish Chandak, had an interesting perspective."If an event or show becomes difficult to interact with or hard to measure in this changing climate, the people that spend money of these engagements will eventually choose to cut these costs and spend more money on Google Adwords, digital marketing, or whatever they believe to be easier and more effective".
"...we cannot let this industry fall behind the times or this industry will be in real trouble."
Manish is right, digital marketing and other outlet costs can take less time to execute and are more easily measured. This creates a strong value-to-risk proposition to businesses. However, what many are missing is the value that can be extracted from a trade show, exhibition, or conference that cannot be found through online or digital resources (ever!). The problem is that too many event businesses are not incorporating technology into their business in a way that properly helps potential customers represent value to their organization. Manish believes the same thing. He concluded our recent conversation by adding, "...we cannot let this industry fall behind the times or this industry will be in real trouble".
What innovate exhibition experiences are the most valuable?
As we depend on technology more and more, a greater value seems to be being placed on experiences. Live experiences are harder and harder to come by, so those that occur are more special than ever before. This would seem to be a dynamic selling point for conference, exhibition, and trade show businesses; however, the model that is often deployed does not properly recognize or take advantage of the significance of these gatherings or interactions.
Event professionals should seek to create an immersive experience for their attendees. This is largely what's missing from many events. Attendees will often come to the show, pass through the expo, view the keynote, sit in a session, eat a free lunch, and head back to their room and talk to their kids on the phone. The exhibition director that I referred to earlier called this "the attendee cycle of death". Again, strong words.
Events should strive to eliminate cycles like the one above. They should try to create these getaway experiences that capture the minds and attention of attendees. There must a be greater integration with the technology that people are now using every day (and in some cases every minute). Few shows are truly tapping into the power of mobile devices and social media, and they know it.
Imagine if your event could provide a true birds of a feather experience using a conglomeration of technology. Based on a custom profile, you could link together individuals in similar demographics (industry, software systems, experiences, work history, interests and much more). Many come to events hoping to make these powerful connections, to learn from each other, and take away valuable boots on the ground knowledge. This kind of interaction doesn't happen inside of a break-out session, nor does it traditionally happen organically.
Events that find ways to use technology to create better networking, expo flows, and conversation opportunities, will become stars for attendees. Imagine how much better you would describe your experience at an event if you were able to connect with multiple industry colleagues like yourself who were able to help you navigate current challenges or issues. This is all possible today using mobile technology, social media, and advanced floorplanning technology.
The exhibition experience can enhance the exhibitor/attendee ecosystem
This idea of an immersive and engaging experience has sort of always existed, right. Everyone wants to have a great show that attendees and exhibitors both rave about. But expectations are changing, and how events deliver these experiences is going to be looked at differently than ever before. Millennials — and their adoption of new technology — is causing a shift in expectations across the board.
Meeting these expectations is how the exhibition industry will remain relevant, by creating experiences that can't be created elsewhere. But, with the lasting impact of social media and other digital avenues, exhibition businesses will have to better understand where they can truly create greater value in what they offer today. This includes:
- Helping exhibitors and sponsors create more interactive experiences for attendees
- Providing a mobile experience that allows them to be connected across the event in real-time
- Delivers an outlet for keynotes, breakouts, and other speakers a certain stickiness by connecting with social media and other lasting networking opportunities
- Other future digital experiences that can only be accessed by attending the event — or by understanding what was shared at the event
This is the ecosystem that will create a massive benefit for exhibitors and attendees alike. They both will feed off of more innovative exhibition experiences. Attendees want to be immersed, and come away with valuable new knowledge, access to expertise, and new connections. Exhibitors want to come away with leads and opportunities. Both of these goals can be better reached with the integration of innovative technology focused on the entire experience.
How do exhibitors create an immersive experience?
As much as we like to talk about what exhibition businesses need to do to improve the experience of attendees, some of this is at the feet of exhibitors. For the most part, exhibitors are known to be pretty creative thinkers when it comes to booth space and promotional ideas. It's always a competition to get people to your booth and to achieve the best results, right? The problem is that many are thinking about how to attract people, but not necessarily considering how they can improve their experience once they've landed in their booth.
Exhibition businesses can do a lot to help exhibitors implement these new practices and better leverage them for improved results. This could include:
- Showing products or tours in virtual reality
- Provide real-time access to demo's or broadcast special promotions on Periscope in real-time
- Digital information that only attendees can take with them
This experience is something exhibition business can use to market and sell more booth space (or upgraded booth space or sponsorships). Additionally, businesses will be able to impact revenue in a totally new way from both sides of the fence when they consider these elements as well...
- Providing a better digital platform or website
- For attendees: A better way to access and capture information and stay connected to their experience
- For exhibitors: More advertising opportunities, and a way to stay connected to attendees
- Better Wi-Fi and Mobile Connectivity
- For attendees: Access to a more immersive digital experience and further incentive to remain at the event
- For exhibitors: Greater booth capabilities
- Technology lounges or bird of a feather lounges
- For attendees: A safe place to network in a structured setting, access technology, and become immersed in the event itself
- For exhibitors: More sponsorship opportunities
- Location technology
- For attendees: A way to better interact with opportunities to network, access knowledge, and understand what's going on with the show
- For exhibitors: A better way to access and understand attendee behavior
- Scientifically backed engagement models and infrastructure
- For attendees: A better experience navigating and interacting with the event
- For exhibitors: Maximized opportunities
Wrapping up how to create innovation exhibition experiences
Exhibition businesses, attendees, and exhibitors alike all equally benefit from an enhanced exhibition experience. The largest area for improvement resides in the opportunity to create more immersive experiences using innovative technology. This responsibility is that of the exhibition, conference, or trade show business and it's team. It is extremely likely that those businesses that invest in the immersive experience of their customers will be poised for growth in the coming 2-3 years. Those that do not run the risk of being left behind.
If you enjoyed this article, you should probably download our latest E-Book: Hacking The Exhibition Bottom Line — full of hacks for better sales, better experiences, and creative strategies for growth.