Sprinkling the magic all over the show

How are exhibitions and events evolving in the digital age and what can brands do to convert more leads into sales at trade fairs or consumer shows?

The panel

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(Left-right, above)

Branwell Johnson, chair, deputy editor, Marketing Week
Graham Bremer, head of marketing, Electrolux
Pamela Brown, head of marketing & insight, British Gas Connected Homes
Jade Harris, marketing manager, Dermalogica
Annick Ireland, Group marketing director, i2i Events Group (runs trade events in retail, health and education)
Mithu Lucraft, head of academic marketing, Palgrave Macmillan
Kate Marriage, experiential marketing manager, Spotify
Rob Nathan, group marketing director, Media 10 (operates Grand Designs Live, among other shows)
Simon Rose, marketing director, Experian
Richard Thompson, head of marketing partnerships, The Guardian
Tony Wilson, general manager events, BMW

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In association with FaceTime

Marketing Week (MW): What are you looking to do when you attend an exhibition and how do you measure the effect of being there?

Simon Rose (SR): Leads and lead conversion rates are important. Brand experience is important. We have to prioritise the events that get the greatest coverage of our potential customers. Breadth of industries represented is important, we clearly measure return on investment as well as increasing conversations with existing customers. 

Graham Bremer (BM): It varies enormously. There’s no single message that we want to address or put over. It could be trade leads or new business or getting those attending to write articles about the message we are trying to put across.

Electrolux has just launched a range of steam ovens but the product itself is not the news – it’s the experience of using a steam oven and how it cooks the food. That was the main focus of what we did at the Taste of Moscow food show recently: not so much selling the product but selling the message to a premium audience.

Jade Harris (JH): It’s about positioning and branding and making sure that Dermalogica is seen as a leader, having the biggest space and presence. We do not retail products at shows, so there’s no financial pressure.

Kate Marriage (KM): It’s been interesting to see how the industry has moved. When the recession hit, many [internal] people wanted events written up a week later with all the success metrics featured, particularly for brand showcases. I’m excited to see that people are starting to look at more of a long-tail strategy so that maybe we are going to be looking at our event six months down the line. That enables brands to see what experiential can bring across the board.

Tony Wilson (TW): Most of our events are put on because of lead generation. The more leads you have, the more people you have in the sales funnel. Only one in three people are in the market to buy a new car in any year, so you might gather 1,000 leads but only one third may want to buy a car a year-and-a-half later. Trying to track those leads 18 months on because of something we did is difficult – there have been so many other touchpoints since then.

Pamela Brown (PB): The reason why British Gas goes to consumer facing events is twofold: to demonstrate the product and also get product developers talking to customers. The brand is the people and we need to be in touch with consumers. There’s only so much quantitative and qualitative research you can do – there’s nothing better than talking to customers. There are golden nuggets that you discover, which don’t happen sitting behind glass in a focus group. For a new brand in a new product in a new category, face-to-face is very important.

MW: What kind of people do you have on stands; are they from a variety of departments?

TW: We always have staff work at these events and they love it. Visitors are surprised that people from BMW actually represent the brand alongside promotional staff.

PB: There’s nothing worse than talking to a promotional person who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Annick Ireland (AI): One common feedback we get is that people don’t want to see so many sales or promotional staff on stands. People who go to these events really want to talk to experts. Very often exhibitors don’t realise that.

JH: If you’re representing a brand where people have questions and you haven’t got people there, then you are not delivering a quality brand experience. People will want to know that stuff and if you can’t deliver it to them, basically you will fail all the investment you’re making.

People don’t want to see marketers at events, they want to see TV critics and talk about Breaking Bad so we bring those people

(Richard Thompson) RT: People who come to a show where The Guardian is closely involved expect to see The Guardian people. And that’s probably not marketers. They want to see a TV critic and have a conversation about Breaking Bad. We want our product to come to life and we do that by bringing some of those figureheads to events and interacting with the public. I think the journalists find it valuable as well because they get direct feedback without the mask of online anonymity.

MW: When organising an event, what stakeholders in your own company do you have to bring into the process? How do you get them to agree on a strategy?

Mithu Lucraft (ML): The marketing teams at Palgrave Macmillan hold meetings across the business, coordinating and planning because there are so many stakeholders involved, trying to boil down to as few objectives as possible. The higher education part of our business is separate from our scholarly piece but we are sharing a stand, so you have editorial teams from both sides and sales teams from both sides plus the marketing team. It is a complicated message and somebody needs to make sure it comes together.

KM: There has to be somebody to project manage that and make sure all these bases are covered, so you’re going out to market with one cohesive and coherent message.

MW: What are the challenges in getting backing across the group outside your department for taking part in events and exhibitions?

JH: Trying not to confuse the message. It is difficult to keep everybody on the same page. Just having the marketing team putting out guidelines and keeping everything together.

GB: An event is a tactic to deliver on the strategy and the strategy doesn’t, and shouldn’t, really change. It’s important that we publish the marketing strategy a year ahead and the events, whether B2B or B2C, are there to support delivery of that strategy.

When you get last minute things coming in that are left-field, it’s a question of going back to that strategy and remembering that this is what we are delivering.

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RT: Understanding what the key objectives are is the lens to deciding what events you should be doing. Everything should feedback to the overall route you are trying to take. Events are the physical embodiment of how that comes to life.

GB: Getting it right the first year of an event is rare. It was our third year at the Cannes Film Festival this year and someone from another company told me it took his organisation nine years to get its presence really motoring. For big events it can often take years to get it really honed for a strong ROI.

AI: Three years does seem to be the sweet spot but it’s very difficult to persuade small companies in particular [to take part], as they are so focused on the bottom line.

JH: As an established brand, working with the organisers can be a challenge. Because what we are doing is not that new or different, we need the organiser’s support to bring new people in.

PM: My gut feeling is that the event organisers are not being as proactive with us as they could be. Organisers should say, ’This is what we know works really well at raising awareness for a new type of product at an event’. I think there is definitely a place for more conversations between the brand and organiser.

RN: The take up for pre-show ‘exhibitor workshops’ has traditionally been poor in the B2C sector for all events. When you consider that we have up to 750 companies taking part in events we probably get 5 per cent turn up to a workshop. Sometimes exhibitors don’t even fill out forms telling us what they are doing on their stand.

TW: How much we engage with the exhibition organiser to get the most out of it depends on the type of event. For something like the Frieze London art fair, we provide a VIP car service and we work closely with the organiser to make sure the brand is visible and that we provide enough cars.

Events are about positioning and branding. We don’t retail at shows so there’s not financial pressure

KM: It’s the organiser’s responsibility to collaborate with some of the exhibitors, acting as a channel to drive traffic. Twitter feeds for example. We’ve discovered that collaborating with organisers has really helped us in terms of driving quality footfall to those experiences.

RT: Collaboration is key. Whether it’s an exhibition or a music festival, the question is how can we work together? The great thing is that you know there’s going to be a large number of people there. Our job is to make sure they are aware that we are there as well. When you get even closer to an event, that’s when you weave yourself into the experience of what that event is.

PB: Attendees have a better experience if we are more collaborative. If delegate numbers decrease, then we are less likely to attend. And we are seeing that people are not going to the big shows as much as before.

RN: Our problem is that we often only get to deal with the media agency, not the brand directly. Also, with 750 exhibitors for the Ideal Home Show, there is a question of who you prioritise. Sometimes brands will meet with us and expect our PR person, who we have engaged to promote the event, to be working just for them.

MW: What channels do you use to promote your taking part in an event?

JH: We try to do a pre-show email and a post-show email as well.

RT: When we get involved in an event, we know what the message is going to be from the beginning. It just becomes more engaging. People start to think about you without having a heavy sales message. It’s about thinking more about the engagement.

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GB: The other important thing at any event – and I know it is a bit corny – is ‘sprinkle the magic’. For example, we might have Gino D’Acampo doing a live cooking demonstration on stage. It’s always about doing something a little bit different. But to do that you need to engage with the organiser.

RW: That kind of sprinkling of magic is really important to us. We try to promote the exclusivity of the brand, doing things that only BMW could do.

MW: What kind of unusual engagement tools do people use?

SR: For exhibitions we will parallel stream the organiser’s campaign plan to our customers and our prospect base. We’ll take highlights from previous years’ events and ‘content’ that out through YouTube, sales teams and the website.

And then for our events we do something similar with a longer timeframe six months in advance. More of our customers are self-selecting what they want to receive and what helps them to do their jobs better.

KM: A few weeks ago we invited Nile Rogers to talk about his music career. It was super-interesting stuff. And at the Amsterdam Dance Event we had giant screens everywhere that had a live Twitter feed with everybody’s comments about the event with the hashtag Spotify.

GB: We have just started live streaming cook-alongs so people can tweet chefs their question while they are doing a demonstration. A live stream is definitely something that works.

KM: There are so many exciting touchpoints now that you put on a live event and there are many ways you can have people interacting via social media, via live streaming, via creating content that is used by multiple media channels. Getting people to “insta” [???] their pictures and post them with the Spotify hashtag – not just putting an event but blowing it out through multiple touchpoints.

MW: Has anybody worked on an event where they have not had a lot of money but still attracted attention?

GB: My previous employer was a tool company that had a new saw blade. We bought an old car that we installed in Birmingham NEC and one of my staff cut it in half with a chainsaw. It was very low cost. But the impact was people 10 or 15-deep gathered around the stand.

KM: It’s so important to provide something interesting and relevant to the event but that it ultimately ties back to your product. You’ have to provide something that is interesting, engaging and fun – and those are the three pillars of what you are doing at a brand showcase.

AI: The key thing is having something that’s responsive. People do not like being marketed at. Often they want to have experiences, something that is two-way. Most of our shows are incredibly product-led but increasingly it’s about having some kind of two-way engagement.

MW: How should exhibitions evolve to engage with a younger generation?

PB: Because of the kind of market we are selling to, which is homeowners, they are not getting any younger. I do wonder how the market overall is going to get younger people to go to exhibitions.

TW: It’s very important that we get involved with younger people at an earlier age because everybody ends up buying a vehicle.

GB: We do lots of work with schools on the food side and a lot of grassroots rugby and cricket. School kids become advocates. We have a lot of 10- to 15-year-olds talking about our brands on social media, which is fantastic. It’s about engaging with children. Targeting the younger generation is a much longer burn. Yes, the kids engage with us but it’s the parents who buy into the brand unconsciously.

RW: You’ve got to make it cool; you’ve got to make it interesting. In terms of your event or exhibition, you’ve got to make it fun.

RN: For many people the first exhibition might be a wedding show or a baby show. We don’t charge a fee for children coming to our exhibitions and we provide crèches. We want to encourage children and keep them entertained but at the same time we don’t want couples to be distracted because purchasing decisions are made together.

GB: A lot of this is about engaging the family. We do parent and child cooking classes for example. If you get a happy child, you get a happy parent.

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