Don’t You Forget About Me: 5 Considerations To Attract Gen X & Y Attendees

CEIR Report Power Of Exhibitions In 21st Century Review Part I

“A trade show is a trade show … I don’t expect anything to change.” Chad, 26.

Imagine this comment came from one of your recent conference attendees. What would you do? How would you engage Chad in a future exhibition or event?

Chad’s negative sentiment is not unusual from others his age. Organizers and exhibitors need to recognize that the exhibitions and event marketplace is on the cusp of a major generational shift and plan accordingly. The long-term health of the show is depending on it!

In October 2009, Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) released the first part of an 18-month study, Power of Exhibitions In the 21st Century: Identify, Discover and Embrace Change from the Point Of View of Young Professionals. The purpose of the study was two-fold:

  1. Provide a better understanding of how a new, younger attendee demographic thinks and feels about exhibitions and events.
  2. Provide a clear blueprint for how to produce exhibitions and events that will create a positive value-added experience for younger professionals.

The CEIR report also explains why organizers and exhibitors must change the way they currently do things if they want to keep young professionals attending year after year. For the purpose of this study, CEIR defined young professionals as those under the age of 40. Generation X are those age 28 to 39. Millennials are those 27 and younger. As a collective whole, these two generations are technology savvy, individualistic and innovative.

Here are five takeaways from the report that organizers, exhibitors and event professionals can use for improving the planning and executing of future exhibitions and events.

1. WOM rules! Especially with your exhibition and event registration marketing.
More than half (52%) of respondents learned about an event from their work colleagues. 88% use social media regularly. Each time an exhibition or event creates a successful brand, the opportunity to improve the overall image of the industry increases with more people saying better things about their experience.

Identify the various exhibition influencers that have large social networks that believe in your event and can help spread WOM. Identify and reach out to key bloggers that will write about the event before it starts. Create blog and Facebook badges for attendees and speakers to post on their individual pages.

2. It’s time for organizers to innovate, think differently and not rest on their laurels.
87 percent of Generation X and Millennial respondents are very to somewhat likely to attend an exhibition in the next two years. Does willingness to attend automatically translate into guaranteed attendance? No.

Organizers have to find ways to convert their willingness into action by meeting more of Gen X and Y’s expectations and needs. (See number 3 and 4 for more tips.)

3. Give away bacon and add more cowbell to create more fans.
There is a large gap between the average number of job-related exhibitions these young professionals had the opportunity to attend (7.6) and the average number of exhibitions they did attend (2.8).

Number 2 and 3 speak to the opportunity of attracting and gaining Gen X and Y’s loyalty. Perhaps it’s time to provide more bacon and add more cowbell. Seriously though, adding more bacon and cowbell can be as simple as helping Gen X and Y meet each other before the event through the event’s eCommunity, providing social lounges on the exhibit show floor complete with recharge stations, and allowing Gen X and Y to help plan parts of the event. All of these suggestions are things Gen X and Y expect according to the CEIR report. (See number 4 for more ideas.)

4. Organizers must increase the value of attendance.
Non-attendees of both generations feel that exhibitions take too much time away from their personal and professional lives.

Organizers need to provide the irresistible offer. How do you do that? Provide exclusive education and content that is relevant to Gen X and Y that can’t be found online. Provide receptions and parties that are open to everyone and nix invitation only events. (Research showed Gen X & Y don’t like exclusive parties.) Provide speakers and entertainers that attract younger generations. Neil Diamond is out. Black Eye Peas is in! Consider business lounges like those in airports that attendees can visit to do some work, connect with the office and call home. Provide Skype stations where attendees can call their family members and check-in with their loved ones.

5. Location, location, location!
Two-thirds of those that did not attend said their reason for not attending was convenience. Two out of ten said the location was a problem. Millennials who attended placed high importance on the fact that the exhibition must be held in a city they are interested in visiting.

Does this mean having your show in Vegas every year is a good or bad thing? Gen X and Y want event locations within walking distance of entertainment districts, night life and other local hot spots. Millennials are known to have a love affair with fine dining, food and wine. Make sure you’re location provides opportunities for their more sophisticated palates and breaking bread with their peers.

Did any of these points surprise you? What resonates with you about your attendees? What changes will you make to your next event to attract and retain young professionals?

Look for more research highlights and suggestions in an upcoming post. Also, CEIR’s Power of Exhibitions In the 21st Century Part 1 41 page report offers a wealth of insight on what Gen X and Gen Y want.

ICEEM (The International Center for Exhibitor and Event Marketing) is hosting a soldout webinar on Wednesday February 17 entitled “Do Young Professionals Think Your Event Sucks?” IAEE and CEIR are providing an archived recording of this Webinar to members and nonmembers for a nominal fee.

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  1. Wheezer Badger says:

    I think the above points are right on, but one did surprise me. The part about inviting them to help plan parts of the event.

    Upon thinking about his I think it is probably one of the best points. If you give them an opportunity to be a part of planning the event beyond just attending then they feel a much stronger bond with the event. I also see this as a way of making sure your organizers are not just assuming what generation X and Y are looking for. I think we sometimes get too wrapped up in thinking we know them.

    I also see this as a double edged sword if not handled properly. If you hear, but don’t listen you then leave them feeling unappreciated. You need to be be ready and willing to implement some ideas that might not be what you were expecting. They need to be evaluated and strongly considered.

    I love the above ideas and would love to attend a show that supported this philosophy.

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeffhurt: Don*t You Forget About Me: 5 Considerations To Attract Gen X & Y Attendees #eventprofs #tradeshow

  3. Traci Browne says:

    Boy do I feel old now! Great summary and thank you so much for this Jeff, it’s great info we need/should pay attention to. I also liked the idea of including them in the event planning but what really stuck out was the exclusivity thing. Our generation (over 40) loves it. We’ll go to the opening of an envelope if it’s invitation only.

    Definitely going to keep that in mind for future events…that and plenty of space to lounge and recharge accessories.

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