No business like show business

In today’s digital world where brands struggle to present a human face, trade shows offer an excellent chance for face-to-face contact, which, a study suggests, may boost customer loyalty by creating subconscious connections.

“It’s much more appreciated if you visit your grandma for a cup of tea rather than simply sending a card in the post,” suggests Austen Hawkins, chief executive of the newly formed events marketing body FaceTime. And the same is true, he says, for business people. In fact, despite the plethora of digital channels now available, face-to-face contact remains vital to brand building.

Research commissioned by FaceTime and carried out by online quantitative agency Cog appears to support this. Around 1,200 visitors were asked for their opinions before and after attending one of four trade and consumer shows between November 2009 and January of this year.

When asked before they walk through the door of an event, whether the interactivity of shows means they are the best marketing technique around, 42% of respondents agree. When asked the same question after their visit, that figure leaps to 60%, and when a neuroscience technique (see box, page 26) is used to gauge implicit agreement, the figure reaches an impressive 81%.

The researchers also uncovered a range of motives for attending events. For example, of those who have taken time off from work to go to a trade show, 28% say they are there mainly to get new ideas, while 19% claim it is for networking opportunities. The main reasons people claim to be attending consumer events include/ to research a specific project (21%); to learn about innovation or new ideas (20%); general interest (17%); to meet people (17%); to research and order products (14%); and to receive expert advice (9%).

Perhaps surprisingly, few visitors to both consumer and trade shows claim seminars are the main reason they are there (1% at trade shows, and 2% at consumer events).

Hawkins believes these low figures may surprise many companies that demonstrate their products at shows. “When exhibitors do marketing for an event, they concentrate a lot on content because it is believed this is a key reason for people coming along,” he says.

Nevertheless, Hawkins is not alarmed at these statistics. He believes most people do not visit shows to be educated and informed, but rather to actively engage with brands: “I talk about permission marketing,” he says. “People come along to the show to buy and be sold to.”

The study appears to confirm this. Before attending a consumer event, few of those questioned (8%) claim that a range of pre-selected exhibited brands are more connected to their customers than other comparable non-exhibited brands. But when asked afterwards, 16% say this is true – rising to 35% when those who implicitly agreed with the statement are included.

Recommendation is also found to increase following attendance. When asked before an event, 30% agree they would recommend brands included in the study to friends. When quizzed afterwards, that figure rises to 51%, and then to 68% when implicit agreement is taken into account.

However, visitors to trade shows appear to be less impressionable, the research suggests. Prior to attending, only 6% of those asked say that brands pre-selected by the researchers are “ones that I aspire to”. After the event, that figure rises to 7%. However, 19% of consumers implicitly agree with this statement when neuroscience questioning techniques are used.

The FaceTime research shows that brands can use shows to build lasting relationships with customers. Like the child who takes the time to visit granny, these businesses could be the top choice for trade visitors and consumers alike if they spend a few minutes of quality time with them.

The Frontline


Paul Byrom

Managing director, Upper Street Events

I wouldn’t say I was surprised that only 1 or 2% of visitors say seminars are the main reason for visiting a show. Building interesting content into shows is really important and gives a rationale for people to attend, but the main reason why people are going to attend shows is not necessarily seminars. There are so many other powerful reasons to go. However, I do think an underlying reason why people go is for the added benefit of seminars.

If you look at some of the shows on the trade side, they offer continuous professional development – although my company tends not to use this term. It’s more about providing an engaging environment for those people who attend. And we don’t necessarily call them seminars either, because that sounds a bit dry.

We’ve got a tangible set of results which gives credence to what we’re doing. For people who makes a conscious decision to pay to go along to a consumer show or to take time out of their busy work schedule to visit a trade event, we believe their mindset is much more open to messages than when they’re engaging with any other form of media.

The research by FaceTime into the effects of events on visitors shows that events can provide a very strong opportunity to build a fantastic relationship, if you are able to present yourself in the right way.

Nigel Nathan

Group managing director, Earl’s Court & Olympia events venues, which put on shows including ’Growing Your Own Business’ and ’Stitch & Craft’

You can see from this research that there are major shifts in people’s bonding with brands.

I think marketers have enormously undervalued the power of live events, partly because they don’t understand how they work perhaps because the industry has been really bad at promoting them. Intuitively, I’d say it has been the latter, because we just don’t know how to quantify eyeball-to-eyeball time.

It did surprise me that such a small percentage attended shows for seminars, although I believe the main reason people attend shows is to check out the market and look for new things.

The Methodology

Philip Wilson, owner of Cog Research, explains how neuroscience was used to find out people’s real thoughts about attending events.

“Everyone has a two-track mind: an element of it is conscious but the vast majority is subconscious. Our ability to compute information is amazing, but we’re not conscious of our decision process – we compute data and a feeling emerges. So a large amount of information is being fed into a decision that we’re not even aware of.

“We asked how people felt before an event, then afterwards we asked: “How did you feel before and how has this experience changed that?” and

“Before the event, what did you think?”. What they say usually differs to what they said before attending, but because the event experience is absorbed, they do not attribute it to the event. An example of this is explicit and implicit response data. After an event, people could tell us explicitly what they gained from the event. However, if an additional percentage implicitly had a positive attitude, this wouldn’t have been picked up from conventional market research techniques. This technique allows us to reveal what has arrived in the subconscious mind.


    Leave a comment