The use of exhibitions in the UK is becoming an increasingly popular marketing tool and its importance is rapidly assuming similar levels to continental Europe where the medium is taken more seriously.
The key benefit to exhibiting is that it allows face-to-face communication with many existing and potential customers within a short timeframe.
Exhibitions break down in two categories:
The majority of events run are trade related and many now have conferences attached to help draw bigger crowds and, through payment to attend the conference, organisers' revenue is increased.
The potential of exhibitions, however, can be achieved only if the exhibiting strategy is professional. A badly run stand can cost heavily in terms of money, time and the image of the organisation, which is in full view of the entire industry.
Unlike other forms of marketing, such as advertising, direct mail or sales promotion, a brief cannot simply be handed to an agency after which the orders start to roll in.
Exhibitions require an enormous amount of effort and staff time but the good news is that most exhibitors actually run stands very badly. In many cases the more people spend on stands, the more they turn them into fortresses that visitors are wary of approaching.
For first time exhibitors, therefore, the medium can offer a great deal without having to spend heavily, and it is the best medium in which to outsmart the error-strewn competition.
Common mistakes include:
- Failure to set objectives
- Failure to identify the right event
- Failure to understand the dynamics of stand design
- Failure to train staff in the running of stands
The starting point has to be the setting of objectives. What exactly is to be achieved from exhibiting? Is it, for example:
- To sell direct at the show?
- To start a relationship with potential clients?
- To change the image of the company?
- To launch a new product/service?
There are of course many other possible objectives and combinations of objectives.
The important point is that they need to be set and, if possible, they need to be measurable because this provides a focus for stand design and activity and a means to evaluate success.
Having a set objective provides a clearer picture of the suitability of a particular event. Exhibition organisers should be able to help by providing audited visitor profiles and media attendance figures from previous events. They will also give details of pre-registration figures but these figures can be misleading because those who register may not actually attend.
A better indicator is the number of stands booked, especially those who attended the previous year because many companies will put effort into marketing their presence among their customer base and repeat bookings suggest that those companies found the event worthwhile.
It is also worth looking at press coverage of shows and talking to customers about the exhibitions that they attend.
It does not, however, always follow that the biggest exhibitions are the best. If, for example, the objective is to launch a new product, it could be worth taking space at a smaller, cheaper trade event in London than a huge event at, for example, Birmingham's NEC.
This is because the key objective may be to get press coverage. In Birmingham the trade press will have many more stands to visit and products to write about. In the smaller, London event, this is not the case but, with the media being concentrated in London, press presence could be on a similar scale.