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Exhibitions – past their sell-by date, or going strong?

Why are exhibitions still happening? Most organisations are doing their marketing digitally, and spending a great deal of time on arcane subjects like search engine optimisation to make sure that their website isn’t buried on page 27 of a Google search. Why on earth would they want to go to an exhibition, and get seen by a few thousand people when they could concentrate their efforts online and get seen by many more?

Keynote, a market reports specialist, carried out a survey a couple of years ago, which showed that although the conferences sector had declined, the exhibitions sector was in robust health (www.keynote.co.uk/market-report/business-services/exhibitions-conferences). Conferences, which are essentially static, with people sitting in an auditorium listening to a speaker deliver information, may have been disproportionately affected by the availability of webinars, podcasts and blogs.

Exhibitions however, are physical, real-world events and seem to be enjoying something of a boom. This trend is noticeable throughout society – the growth of music and literary festivals aimed at every segment and age group, is a related phenomenon. People love their digital life but also want something physical and real, where they can interact with others.

Indeed, Keynote reports that the London Olympics has had an on-going effect on demonstrating that the UK (and specifically London) is a great place to stage an event. Greater flexibility in marketing budgets also seems to be a factor. Perhaps in the face of social media and multiple marketing outlets, with new ones appearing all the time, marketing departments have accepted that strategies need to be less rigid.

In fact, many businesses are now realising that it’s not a question of choosing between digital or real-world – it’s both, plus social media, plus whatever else is just around the corner. This “omni-channel” marketing approach seeks synergy between the different marketing channels. So your eye-catching exhibition stand features live streaming video and a Facebook event, which you Tweet about and also get filmed, so you can show it on your website and publish on YouTube afterwards.

The investment in each is leveraged, bringing better Return on Investment (ROI) all round.
Exhibition stand design has to take this into account. The best stands are no longer static displays – they need to be able to engage people immediately, and a good exhibition stand designer will be able to demonstrate examples of stands that have achieved this. Moving pictures are obviously more engaging than still images – and if you don’t have video of your latest product yet, an animation is a great stop-gap.

As the exhibition stand becomes a complex environment with multiple media channels using different content in various ways, businesses will need to engage an exhibition stand contractor who can do more than bolt bits of frame together. In fact, project management is becoming a key skill in this area, and it’s worth discussing this capability with anyone you intend to use.

Exhibitions are going to be with us long-term – and those exhibitors who are able to disrupt expectations, surprise and engage will surely be the winners.

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