At its core, the trade show is about establishing a meaningful connection between the organization's product or service and the attendee. Of this dichotomy, one side is fairly set in stone. The product is the product - while there is some wiggle room for its presentation or the opportunity to make slight adjustments to the top selling points, its true nature can't be changed on a dime. The attendee, on the other hand, can be a tough nut to crack. Everyone is different, and even trade shows with narrow sector or service varieties contend with an incredible spectrum of human experiences, tastes and expectations.
Satisfying attendees at trade shows requires some combination of delivering exactly what a person expects and knowing how to show them that what they want is something they don't even know they want yet. Sound complicated? People are complicated. Thankfully, attendees have spoken. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research recently released a report, "Exhibition Floor Interaction: What Attendees Want," which highlights some of the top desires of the population wandering the trade show floor.
The value of an experience
The ideal trade show experience, according to the CEIR survey's consensus, is a mix of in-the-moment interactivity with a meaningful takeaway. The top two survey answers for the best form of on-floor interaction were product demos and hands-on engagement with products. Attendees also want pertinent information they can explore and internalize after leaving the booth. According to Brian Casey, CEIR president and chief executive officer, the desire for direct involvement is a shift in the trade show industry.
"When professionals attend an exhibition, they want to jump in and immerse themselves with the products and services showcased at the event," Casey stated in the press release. "Interaction trumps theater-style presentations today, as attendees want hands-on experience with products. When they have a question or want to learn more, they expect to engage with knowledgeable exhibitor staff."
What exhibitors need to know
The survey covered both what exhibition organizers can do to stimulate attendee engagement overall, including personalized marketing programs and product focus areas, Trade Show News Network reported. It also provided some guidance for individual trade show exhibitors of all stripes.
Physical and real-time experiences take the cake. Organizers should have enough products available in the booths to offer demonstrations and interactions to passersby. If a product or service cannot be displayed in the booth, the exhibitor should make an effort to showcase an interactive simulation of their offering's key features.
Booth staff skills are important, especially to today's discerning trade show attendees. Organizations have to be able to match the marketing savvy and engagement potential of today's consumer, said Jeff Tanner, the study's co-author and a professor of marketing, said in the press release. Staff not only need to know everything about the product but must be able to weave it into a conversation, often in the form of improvised, authentic answers to attendee questions. Representatives also need to cater to attendee desires and expectations with top-notch listening skills.
"Today's empowered customer expects more from all marketing, and the same is true when they are attending an exhibition," Tanner said.