Reimagining the Exhibitor Directory

The traditional exhibitor directory format—a paragraph of company or product information and some contact information—is old and tired. For sure, attempts by some organizers and software developers to spice up the listings with video, press releases, and other pieces of content, as well as more intuitive ways to search for companies and products has been a step in the right direction, but there’s so much more that event producers can do. If exhibitors are the currency of a trade show, why not stretch those dollars as far as they can go? Here’s how.

New templates

Maybe there is a better way to present exhibitors than a directory. The only form factor that was available when directories were invented was a printed guide. Today, there are so-called online marketplaces that help buyers plan their visits to wholesale trade shows (thinks gifts and apparel) as well as online magazine templates and mobile apps. Without being so clever that usability is compromised, organizers can be a lot more creative about delivering exhibitor information to potential customers.

Professional writers

Not every company has a creative agency at its disposal. Hence, many directory descriptions aren’t all that descriptive and read more like advertising (how many “leading” companies can there be in one industry?). What if trade show organizers took on the task of writing or rewriting the entries? Realizing that it is an investment and some shows are hard pressed to get exhibitors to give them anything at all (let alone something expertly written), it seems like an amazing opportunity for organizers to leverage company and product descriptions as a marketing tool, as well as a navigational device.

Different product categories

Some company and product categories are a given. Attendees have to know whether they’re looking for a machine tool or a storage rack. That said. Why couldn’t the categorization be a little more expansive and reflective of the needs of the audience? What about adding, for example, categories, such as:

• Solutions for keeping fleet vehicles on the road longer

• Products specifically developed for small businesses

• Platforms priced under $10,000

• Offerings that come with lifetime warranties

Smarter search

Most exhibitor directory search engines rely on keywords. The problem is that the keywords—usually provided by the exhibitors—aren’t necessarily well thought out or cognizant of what terms buyers might use. What about different ways to search? One framework that comes to mind is a Q & A type format that allows buyers to post blind inquiries (many prefer not to be contacted without prior permission) to the directory and exhibitors to respond to those specific questions. Artificial intelligence and suggestion engines could lend a hand to company and product searches as well. And here’s a thought: what about a human helper—a sort of exhibitor concierge to help attendees find the right information?

More availability

Why do exhibitor directories have to go away right after the show ends? Certainly the needs of buyers aren’t limited to the three-day duration of the show. When done well, exhibitor directories can be both an asset to the show organizer and an opportunity for the exhibitor. Leaving the directory up and available (perhaps with some restrictions on access and exhibitor identity) after the show could be a tremendous resource for organizers, exhibitors, and buyers.

With so much innovation in digital platforms, SaaS offerings, and search, there is no reason why exhibitor directories can’t be reinvented. Trade show organizers that play a major role in the reconstruction can reap the benefits: better “packaged” exhibitors, more informed buyers, and a year-round presence in the marketplace.

This post was written exclusively for Ungerboeck by Michelle Bruno, MPC, Bruno Group Signature Events

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