A new study into the visitor marketing behaviours of exhibition organisers highlights the growing influence of digital platforms. Yet as UBM’s CPhI team claims, this should be a complement to live events. EN reports.
Like most industries, the exhibition sector is embracing digital media to communicate to current customers and appeal to new ones. While visitor registration and show marketing are major areas being transformed by the digital age, questions are also being raised about the complementary avenues an exhibition brand can stretch into on behalf of its exhibitors outside the face-to-face environment.
Research firm Vivid Interface embarked on a fresh survey of UK trade exhibition organisers this year in a bid to gauge to what extent digital marketing is influencing visitor marketing strategies today. The research followed on from a similar survey conducted in 2009 and took into account new marketing streams such as social networking.
According to Vivid Interface MD Geoffrey Dixon, the research found the reliance by trade show organisers on email communication is likely to continue, though with some levelling off in performance.
In the original visitor marketing survey conducted in conjunction with International Confex and the Association of Event Organisers (AEO), 29 per cent of trade show online spend was devoted to email marketing campaigns. The follow-up survey of 20 trade show organisers in 2012 showed this figure increased to 34 per cent of budget.
However Dixon claimed the ratio looks set to decline over the next 12 months, with social media spend increasing from five per cent of the current online budget to 15 per cent, pushing email marketing back to less than 30 per cent of budget.
At the same time, social media is yet to arrive as a truly effective recruiter for trade show audiences. The 2012 findings and supporting Vivid event research showed five per cent of visitors are influenced through social media platforms to register for trade shows today.
Against this, email marketing increased its performance in generating registrations between 2009 and 2012, providing 50 per cent of visitors in 2012 (2009: 34 per cent). This increase is mirrored by a decline in direct marketing, generating 25 per cent of visitors to trade shows from a high 43 per cent in the 2009 survey.
Dixon said a similar impact can be seen by looking at the overall effectiveness of online communications. When compared to offline in converting registrations to visitors, 59 per cent were found to be registering for trade shows from online marketing activity in 2009. This has increased to 69 per cent in 2012.
At a wider level, organisers are also embracing digital media to extend their brand reach into their chosen markets. This is opening up new lines of communication as well as sales opportunities for organisers.
In 2012, 16 out of the 20 organisers surveyed said they use email newsletters to communicate to their markets. Of these, 13 provide searchable databases of exhibitors and half say they deliver white papers about industry issues.
Digital in context: CPhI
As a way of detailing the digital trend emerging across marketing strategies, UBM’s peripatetic pharmaceuticals trade show CPhI tested its exhibitors’ desire to utilise various digital media to communicate to its audience.
The survey saw Vivid examine the ‘brand permissions’ CPhI held with its exhibitors to occupy a digital communication space. The starting point was to measure how exhibitors allocate marketing budgets between online and face-to-face activities, Dixon explained.
The survey was able to show that on average, 52 per cent of exhibitor budgets are being applied to face-to-face marketing activities and 21 per cent to online/digital (see Graph 1). CPhI exhibitors were then asked to state which media they felt was best for meeting their business needs. Digital media and the Internet were considered to be best for increasing brand awareness, for new product launches and for recruitment.
In contrast, face-to-face media came out tops for generating leads, thought leadership and for deepening relationships with existing customers. For Dixon, the implication is that CPhI exhibitors are using digital and face-to-face media for different objectives. Importantly, the expectation is that exhibitors will invest more in digital media over time for a specific selection of their activities.
In addition, Vivid’s survey for UBM Live found CPhI exhibitors expect to increase the proportion of leads generated through digital media over the next two years, no matter how much they expect to increase their marketing budgets. Exhibitors who expect to enlarge their budgets over the next 12 months are also those expecting to generate more leads through digital media in two years’ time.
The opportunity identified for the CPhI brand is to work with its exhibitors to provide digital access to markets through the CPhI brand, and so increase the event’s brand reach, Dixon claimed.
“This element of the research was aimed at developing an understanding of the opportunity for the CPhI brand to provide digital marketing solutions for its exhibiting customers,” he said. “Similar work was undertaken with the visitor base to measure the CPhI brand gravitas and brand permissions for CPhI to extend its reach into pharmaceutical markets using digital communication platforms.
“A cross-media marketing combination of face-to-face and digital activity can be designed to meet the majority of vendor needs into the future and CPhI knows how its brand is perceived by visitors at all levels and sectors of the pharmaceuticals industry.”
UBM Live portfolio director for pharmaceuticals, Greg Kerwin, was originally surprised to learn digital didn’t rate higher in lead generation for its customers: 49 per cent claimed live was their top choice, against 38 per cent who cited digital.
“In sharing these results, many of our customers explained that while digital can be a cost-effective means to generate a large quantity of leads, they aren’t nearly as qualified as those that come from live events,” he said. “On the other hand, our customers are continuing to invest in digital and expect a greater percentage of their new business leads to come from digital sources.
“This shifting investment to digital cannot be ignored. The challenge customers have given us is to create better solutions that leverage the historic success live events have had in generating quality leads with digital’s low-cost model to increase quantity.
“It’s no longer digital versus live or quantity versus quality. It’s digital plus live and quantity plus quality as the path to success.”
In response, the organiser is expanding its digital offerings, as it believes the CPhI community trusts the brand to facilitate the same invaluable business connections online, Kerwin continued.
“The debate as to whether or not digital will replace the live event medium is no longer relevant,” he claimed. “But as live event producers we are foolish to become complacent. Every live event organiser needs to have a digital strategy well integrated into their event strategy to remain relevant and better serve the needs of their customers.”
CPhI is concentrating on developing products that address exhibitor demand for brand awareness and new product launches. The organiser has also developed a webinar team to help clients target specific groups within its data when launching targeted products.
Mobile apps are another emerging area of importance, along with programmes that help visitors and exhibitors find contacts and pre-arrange meetings. The show’s online product directory is also being improved, Kerwin claimed. To ensure content suits the needs of live participants, UBM’s digital team now works alongside the events staff.
“It’s no longer selling clicks and square metres to our customers,” Kerwin added. “We are spending more time understanding our customers’ marketing challenges and goals and returning with bespoke solutions that provide greater access to key market segments and measurable return on investment.”
This was first published in the July edition of EN. Any comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org