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Why 2018 is Not the Peak Year for Business Exhibitions

Business exhibitions remain a hugely value asset to any marketing plan. Here, Aaron Inglethorpe of Discount Displays explains for CEO Today why investment in exhibitions is only set to grow in response to clearer trackability and more integrated campaign strategies.

In a report back in 2016, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR)’s 2016 Index Report predicted a new peak for the global exhibition industry in 2018.

According to the report, more businesses than ever would be investing in exhibitions by this year, driven primarily by growing GDPs and bigger marketing budgets.

But while exhibitions have undoubtedly remained a staple part of many business plans, their predicted insurgence doesn’t appear to have happened quite as anticipated, with Google Trends showing a relatively consistent level of searches for exhibition related keywords in the UK.

That, however, is set to change. With the development of new technologies, new tools and new ways of thinking, investment is exhibitions will become an increasingly desirable prospect for CEOs looking to reach larger audiences and make more sales. Though 2018 may not be the big year for exhibitions, it’s definitely a starting point for a step change in the way we assess one of marketing’s longest standing participants.

Why don’t we invest more?

The exhibition trade is worth millions to the UK economy each year, so it’s by no means a small contributor. In terms of the way we as business owners view exhibitions, they’re amongst the only remaining channels that enable us to meet with our prospects and build our networks face to face.

But at the same time, a growing digital world has paved the way for highly granular tracking and the ability to see how the money we put into a specific channel generates bottom line impact for our business. Thanks to tools like Google Analytics, there’s a clear “it started here” and “it ended here” customer journey and we can quantify how our activities have driven sales as a result.

Exhibitions, traditionally, are more difficult to track. We can put money into a PPC campaign or target a specific keyword through SEO and we’ll see trackable return on that investment. But in exhibitions, many businesses are still trying to measure value based on business cards collected and sales made on the day or in the immediate aftermath. And that’s simply not representative of all the value an exhibition can bring.

Taking a broader reaching approach to tracking

Tracking is, of course, an essential part of marketing. It is only when we know our activities are delivering value that we can justify further investment and, as CEOs, justifiable investment is an important route to growth.

One way in which the marketing industry is responding to the recognition of more complex customer conversion journeys is through changes to the way value is attributed.

Consider how you’d monitor the value of a paid advertising campaign as an example. You can easily see that, when you put money in here, you made this sale and that was worth this much to you. Providing the sale is valued higher than the initial investment made, it’s all good.

But what if that advert reaches a customer, they take a look at your business but, for whatever reason, they’re not quite ready to buy? Perhaps they’re still browsing or simply don’t have the time right now. Maybe they’re considering their options.

They come back later, maybe by typing your website name directly into their browser (having remembered it from earlier). Traditional ‘last click’ attribution models would have it such that the credit for that sale is given to that direct visit, and not at all to the advert that originally garnered the customer’s attention.

That’s a very similar story to exhibitions. If someone decides to buy from you there and then, it’s easy to quantify. But more and more, businesses are using exhibitions to sell larger or more complex products, and therefore the exhibition itself is about starting and developing those relationships more than it is about exchanging contracts.

Many marketers are now reporting back to their CEOs on linear or data-driven attribution models, or using assisted conversions. These relatively new models are growing in popularity as a means of showing the contributed value of each channels. It’s no longer just about what drives sales now, but what assists sales – with exhibitions being a great example.

An integrated future

As our ability to track our investments improves, so too does our propensity to invest in what’s termed as ‘integrated campaigns’ – those activities which work in tandem to drive the action we want.

Practically speaking, that means layering channels for optimal success – whether that’s through the distribution of leaflets that encourage future interaction, or the use of newer technologies like ‘beacons’ that allow online advertisers to send marketing messages directly to the mobile phones of attendees at an exhibition or trade event, making for some highly targeted campaigns.

On a less tangible level, it means investing more in brand, too. When we recognise that success won’t necessarily come in the form of sales in the here and now, we appreciate how much our brand messaging (practically in the form of exhibitions stands and other exhibition materials) plays a part in planting the seeds of relationships that can one day lead to custom.

Business exhibitions are still an extremely valuable way to get your business noticed by the right people. ROI can be hard to measure, depending on what you define as success. If it’s purely on the spot sign-ups then you can use software or manual tracking to determine success. But savvy CEOs recognise the broader benefits and will be capitalising on those as a means of justifying – and optimising – their exhibition investment.

In terms of time and budget spent compared to potential new business, it’s one of the most effective marketing tactics you could use. 2018 may not be the year, but if we can appreciate the broader benefits and utilise new technologies to support our data-driven decisions, exhibitions are set to grow massively in coming years.

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