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The Customer Journey at Exhibitions: 4 Steps to Engage Trade Show Visitors

Guest blog from Michael Heipel

Compared to e-business, the event industry has been slightly hesitant when it comes to analyzing the customer journey at trade shows. How can event organizers optimize individual touch points with trade show visitors along the customer journey? How can they literally wow their attendees and engage them?

Even in the Digital Age of Business, live events like trade shows and conferences are more important than ever. Just think about the massive hype around Apple Events. Hardly any event creates such a high amount of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). People get crazy about the presentation of new iPhones and gadgets from Cupertino. The same applies to events from Samsung, Google or other technology giants.

The good news is: Live events are still extremely important. They generate awareness, engage and amaze people, and speak to their emotions.

However, organizers have realized that the idea of bringing exhibitors together at an event is no longer enough to be successful in the exhibition business.

Today, there are endless alternatives to present a company and a product. This has led to a rather fragmented concept of communication. The real value lies in the reach and the quality of contacts that an event offers.

Visitor marketing and the customer journey of a potential show visitor are key elements of a successful exhibition strategy.

Here are four steps to engage your visitors:

Personas matter: Have you ever seen a pie chart attending your exhibition?

How well do you know your potential and actual visitors? How much do you know about their concerns and challenges, their reasons to attend an exhibition (and the reasons why they don't)? You might have a rough idea, based on your experience. But what about your service providers and partners that have a major impact on the customer experience throughout various touchpoints along the customer journey?

Personas can help. They put faces and names to your customers, and they tell you more about wishes, hopes, dreams, motivations and pain points. You will find great tips on how to create personas on the Event Marketing Blog. You certainly have more than one "typical" customer, but altogether there shouldn't be more than 5-6 personas representing 80-90% of your visitors.

Personas help you and your service providers to make sure all communication efforts are aligned with customer needs.

Journey Mapping: Where does the Customer Journey at exhibitions begin and what does it look like?

The next step is about analyzing individual touchpoints that your customers have with your exhibition. Where do they find them? And what experience do they have? You will soon realize the customer journey at exhibitions begins long before the event.

An example: You organize an exhibition for transportation and logistics. Your target group: Logistics specialists in e-commerce companies. The customer journey of this person begins way before the exhibition takes place – it almost certainly starts with a Google search. Are you present at this stage? Can you provide useful, good content? What happens afterward?

Besides the virtual touchpoints, there are important personal touchpoints in the real world. You may want to map all touchpoints with customers to a Journey or Experience Map. Ask yourself: Where and how do the customers experience the exhibition before, during and after an event?

Storytelling: Create lasting moments

No visitor in the world is interested in the size of the exhibition – what matters is the value of the event: Will the customers find solutions to their problems at the event? Will they be able to meet industry peers and learn about trends?

Exhibition organizers often waste too much time with discussions about space, square meters or exhibitor numbers. This is too abstract. People need stories - success stories or personal stories from speakers or industry experts; they need emotional stories that engage them. Anything but boring!

Which stories are you able to tell? Where do they fit into the customer journey? It doesn't matter if you tell the story on your website, on social media, in an e-mail, through printed ads, brochures or videos. Consistency counts. The way you present yourself and your stories need to be perfectly aligned.

Positive experiences facilitate customer retention at exhibitions

Brian Solis is a business innovator and an expert for digital business. In his latest book „X – The Experience When Business Meets Design“ he writes, "The future of business lies in experience architecture and you are the architect!"

Great experiences engage your customers and tie them to your exhibition. Bad experiences make them leave. Experience design is about creating lasting customer experiences with your exhibition (brand) that your customers are likely to share.

Ask yourself: Which touchpoints along the customer journey can be improved in terms of customer experience?

Customer experience is not "one big chunk of marketing," but includes a variety of small experiences and positive surprises. Some examples: Do your customers find you when they search topics that are related to your exhibition? How do you answer the phone when a customer calls? Is your website optimized for mobile? How do you welcome customers at the event? Do you offer smooth ticketing processes? What about directions and visitor orientation at your exhibition? How do you thank visitors for attending your event?

I once stayed at the Grand Hyatt in Shanghai and had a particularly memorable moment: The lady at the exit of the lobby said goodbye AND included my name when wishing me a nice day. Wow!

Why shouldn't event staff do the same? It is even easier for them at an exhibition because visitors wear a badge!


The strength of global brands like Disney, Nike, and Apple lies inconsistent and emotional experiences. They put a lot of thought into the way customers perceive their brand and how they can shape experiences.

Exhibition organizers, think about the customer journey and the experiences of your show visitors. It will pay off!