Back to School for Trade Show Organizers: Build In More Ways to Learn and Connect

Back To School for Macro Mondays by Blandine L on flickrThis is the second in a series of posts on the findings of reports published by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) based on research recently conducted on attendee retention strategies.

The way we buy has evolved for both the B2B and B2C sectors. Trade show organizers who have re-imagined their expo floors into a solutions-based destination rather than one of a hard-sell shopping place are winning at delivering attendee value.

Results from a recent CEIR study bolster that insight. It encompasses responses from both show organizers and their loyal attendees about the factors that drive attendance. In many instances, the organizers’ perceptions can be quite different from those of the attendees.  Previously we looked at the divide in what attracts attendees to the exhibit hall. In this column, we’ll focus on the preferences influencing education as a motivator (from Part One of the reports).

The Learning Tree

When evaluating the factors that are most important learning draws for attendees, both the attendee and the expo organizer agreed on the top two reasons:

  • To keep up-to-date with industry trends…what’s new or emerging?
  • Professional networking.

But there was a huge divide on the third factor “to attend conference programs/sessions.” Organizers ranked the importance of this factor at 73%. Yet, only 45% of attendees said it’s important to them.

That begs the question: Where are these attendees getting their industry trends if not in conference education programming? CEIR’s researchers surmise that learning and trend-getting, “occurs on the exhibition floor and via a variety of networking interactions.”

Let’s Drill Down on This

Interestingly enough, The Decision to Attend Study for Conventions and Exhibitions survey conducted last year by The Experience Institute, PCMA, and IAEE, had very different results. It surveyed 7,171 attendees and potential attendees across 10 associations in their first phase. Over 90% of respondents said education was a strong attendance driver.

Not surprisingly, when CEIR provided additional insight by running cross-tabs, much higher ratings on the importance of conference sessions were present at association-run shows that rotate locations, and have a smaller attendance and expo floor (82 – 83%). Conversely, independently run, non-rotating, larger exhibitions (14K+ attendees) were the segment that graded conference sessions in the 45% range.

This is a strong indicator that the CEIR responses are very heavily weighted by responses from independently run, non-rotating, larger exhibitions. If you’re not a SISO member, be sure to look for the crosstab insight.

The CEU Factor

There was another factor under learning, “attend for continuing education credits, CME, etc.,” which only 21% of loyal attendees rated as important or very important. Shocker to organizers’ perceptions: 47% of them perceived it as an important reason.

We expect the representation of medical and healthcare-related verticals and other professions where certification is essential to licensure was quite small.

CEUs have been on a path toward commoditization for many years. We estimate the value to be somewhere between $5 and $30 per hour. To most CEUs are the cherry on top of the main value proposition. To organizers, we believe that CEUs are the Fool’s Gold of Attendance Marketing.

Stay tuned. We’ll be digging more into the other CEIR reports for actionable insights.

How has the value of CEUs evolved for your trade show or conference? Do you run a large show where education is becoming more and more important to the attendee?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *