Once a year, the marketing departments of the world’s top electronics brands share floor space with tech geeks and enthusiastic bloggers at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The city’s convention centre is where brands typically launch everything from personal devices and domestic appliances to entertainment systems and driving aids.
Marketers can do some serious business at trade shows like CES and many brands choose to invest heavily in order to get noticed.
“We need and want to be where the buzz is happening,” says Hiral Gheewala, Intel’s marketing director for corporate events. Intel launched several new products at this year’s CES, including the Ultrabook lightweight laptop, and invested a big budget in staffing for the event, sending enough experts to cover a booth that was visited by thousands.
The world’s most famous microchip maker was in good company. A total of 2,700 companies took part in CES 2012 last month, not least because the show has a particularly big international reach. From an estimated total of 150,000 visitors, more than 30,000 come from outside the US.
“All companies that touch consumer electronics in some way are represented,” explains Karen Chupka, senior vice-president of events and conferences at the CES. “It is a good opportunity for brands to come and see how they want to position themselves and reach their consumer.” Even Lady Gaga was in attendance last year, using the event to launch her Polaroid sunglasses.
Another reason for the show’s popularity is that it aims to identify trends that are emerging. For example, Ford chief executive Alan Mulally gave a keynote speech two years ago about innovative in-car technology and now six major car manufacturers, including Mercedes and Audi, participate in the show.
“It’s an important opportunity to engage with potential partners as well as expose tech media and influencers to our products and strategy,” says Michelle Moody, technology marketing manager at Ford.
Despite the global economic uncertainty, shows that look carefully at how they can attract the right return on investment for their visitors are going from strength to strength.
The South By Southwest (SXSW) event, which is held each March in Austin, Texas, offers a unique convergence of original music and technology, promoted under the banner of discovery.
“We are a cost-effective way for brands and service providers within the industries we serve to market themselves,” claims SXSW managing director Roland Swenson. “We are most likely known for the artists that perform at our music festival and the films that we premiere, but the real heart of our event is the industry conference and trade show.”
Alongside a well-attended four-day trade show, the event offers opportunities to get up close and personal with great minds in the music and technology industries including a carefully considered range of speaker programmes, technical workshops and panel presentations featuring the likes of author Malcolm Gladwell, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Craiglist founder Craig Newmark.
Over the past two years, festival sponsor Chevrolet has not only used the event to launch features such as its MyLink in-car infotainment package but team up with geolocation provider Gowalla to build brand awareness among the tech-savvy audience.
Many indoor events expect their growth for 2012 to come from integrating even more conference elements into their events. At French music industry conference Midem, the programme has grown from a small addition to the event’s exhibition area several years ago to become the focus of the week-long show with everything from workshops to a “hack lab” that showcases new apps.
This year’s event saw brands from Coca-Cola to Air France attending to offer music marketing case studies, alongside the event’s more traditional exhibition stands.
Facebook vice-president of partnerships Dan Rose explains why he was keen to use an event to put across his company’s stance on how the music and marketing industries can work better together. “We’ve had 5 billion songs shared on Facebook from over 50 countries. Our goal is to make big companies social, and social companies big,” he said last week.
The Marketing Week Live event has also seen its conference programme grow, with speakers appearing not only on a main stage but also at four individual theatres around the event in 2011. The 2012 show will have six areas within the overall event, each with its own programme of speakers.
It is important, however, for marketers to remember that simply speaking at an event or setting up stands at exhibitions is not enough. They need to ensure that they amplify any positive word of mouth or impact from the show by using other marketing channels too.
Hugh Keeble, managing director of event organiser Imago Techmedia, says that both brands and exhibitions themselves must ensure they have a year-round programme of marketing, particularly through social media, to ensure that they stay in touch with their audiences. Otherwise, he warns, it is “ignoring the market demand”.
As technology advances and economic challenges converge, the landscape of business is changing rapidly. However, trade show and conference events can capitalise on the rise of new, cost-effective marketing channels such as social media to ensure that they remain must-attend dates in the business calendar.
Brand in the spotlight Q&A
Director of B2B marketing
Marketing Week (MW): What is the serious business reason behind exhibiting and speaking at global events such as ad:tech or Mobile World Congress?
Robert Bridge (RB): We will only be involved if we see a genuine business benefit and if it supports our overall B2B marketing strategy. We are selective about which events we support to ensure that our involvement is more than just logos on a stage or flyers on chairs.
MW: How do you effectively engage in memorable and insightful ways?
RB: We partnered with the Festival of Media Global in Switzerland in 2011 to launch the Yahoo! Academy programme to a global audience through intimate, insightful and educational sessions based on digital media industry topics. The Yahoo! Academy sessions were delivered by our executives to an audience of about 30 delegates at a time, and included a question-and-answer session.
These were in addition to our exhibition stand at the event and a panel discussion with Yahoo! EMEA managing director Rich Riley, News Corporation chief digital officer Jon Miller and Unilever senior vice-president of global media Luis Di Como.
MW: How does this type of initiative fit in with the rest of your marketing?
RB: Much of the activity Yahoo! runs at an event will be part of a wider initiative. This needs to be the case for us to achieve maximum impact and ensure our story resonates with our partners. In November 2011, we were the headline partner of Internet Week Europe. Since launching the Yahoo! Studio team in the second half of last year it’s been our focus to ensure we highlight this team of creatives, planners, strategists and editors that create digital campaigns for our clients. So at Internet Week Europe we transformed a traditional art gallery into an interactive digital media canvas with demos of campaigns we have run.
MW: What are your plans for event-focused marketing?
RB: We aim to ensure that our audience learns more and better understands our business and industry. We take our leadership position and the talent working at Yahoo! to create impactful campaigns that resonate with our audiences. There will be lots more of this through the industry events calendar of 2012.
- Social media not only allows show or congress brands to interface with their audience year-round but allows them to capture a much bigger audience.
- Well-executed events are retaining their value because they help to bring the human touch to a brand.
- Brands can use congresses and shows to maximise the opportunity to do face-to-face meetings and networking.
- Securing speaker slots as part of sponsorship packages is an effective way to drive footfall to a company’s stand.
Top trends 2012 predictions
Venue sales director
We’ll be seeing the rise of event-based marketing, where the audience is immersed in a full sensory experience. Brands are realising the benefits of deeper audience connections that are created through live activity.
UK sales and marketing director
NYC & Company (the New York City tourist board)
With modern technology, communication is instant and is revolving, allowing for consistent communication with stakeholders. So the need for peripheral shows is diminishing. But I do see larger, keynote trade shows prospering around the world as the global market becomes a smaller place.
Head of European marketing
Tomy (toy brand)
People are doing more and more with technology, particularly visual aids such as iPads. Money is tight now though, so you have to be careful where to spend the budget. Doing overly elaborate things on your stand doesn’t give a great impression when there might be job cuts within the business.
The Conference Awards
Companies want to develop large-scale events that own the market like GSMA does with the mobile phone industry. There will be more year-round communication to achieve that aim providing contact with things like spin-off events, blogs and workshops.
Imago Techmedia (event organiser)
Social media is going to play a bigger role for those attending events. Any event without a year-round social media and online strategy is ignoring the market demand.
Casestudy: World Travel Market
For one brand manager from the travel sector, a day trip to World Travel Market at the ExCel exhibition centre in London involves a visit to the Thai stand that is hosting a demonstration of local dance, a culinary experience at the Brazil Tourism stand, a networking lunch and two conference sessions. This is on top of a long list of face-to-face meetings with existing and prospective business contacts.
The show, which is held every November, is the leading global event for the travel industry. Its organisers claim that £1.4bn of business deals were signed during and after the 2010 event. Growing year on year, it saw a 10% increase on overall visitor numbers in 2010 to almost 27,000 people, which rose again to 28,000 in 2011.
However, the bigger the show, the greater the potential for it to be overwhelming. To get round this problem, organisers helped develop a mobile app that allows visitors to ‘bookmark’ exhibitors they wish to see as well as any of the seminar and conference content on offer.
Simon Press, exhibition director at World Travel Market, says: “Assisting visitors in their organisation prior to the event and ensuring a positive onsite experience is crucial. Social media played a big part in last year’s event with a dedicated team on hand to reply to all tweets and Facebook messages.”
The WTM app was downloaded more than 6,000 times in 2011, enabling visitors to use th+
e interactive floorplan to plan their day.
This need to approach the floor well prepared is an experience common to all those taking part. Small Luxury Hotels ensures it has a presence at key trade shows, including WTM, to represent the 520 hotels within its portfolio and to update the trade on its growth as a brand. Paul Kerr, chief executive of Small Luxury Hotels, says: “The aim is always to build meaningful relationships that ultimately result in increased numbers of bookings.
“Trade shows have definitely changed over the past few years and we find it more productive to attend only those shows that consist of pre-booked appointments. It ensures we meet with the highest calibre of travel agents or media contacts.”