We have been talking a whole lot lately about technology. That’s because there’s just a whole lot of technology lately to be talked about. But, where does that leave good, old fashioned, face-to-face interactions? According to most of our guests, including the ones on this week’s show, it leaves them just about where they’ve always been. Relationships may be augmented by all this bleeding-edge technology, but when the rubber meets the road, people still like to be with people.
This week, I’m happy to welcome Brad Falberg and Todd Bugg of Exhibitus, an award-winning exhibit company, which is on the Inc. 5000 this year.
Keep Attention on Relationships
When Falberg first got into the convention industry back in 1992, virtual-reality was in it’s infancy, but already there was talk about the technology eliminating the need for trade shows altogether – or at least for elaborate trade show displays. He worried that it would end his livelihood. Twenty-five years later, it’s clear that isn’t the case. Falberg says, “The way that we see it, these technologies are helping to augment the trade show experience. They’re not going to supplant it. The reason for that, is that we’re people. We want to look at each other, we want to see each other, and we want to interact with each other.
Conventions are a great place to do that. Body language, as Falberg points out, is a large percentage of the way we communicate, but it gets lost in our tech heavy communications styles. He explains, “As you move onto the telephone, and then on into texting, or email, it gets stripped away even more, so face-to-face marketing and interaction is just not going to go away.”
Says Falberg, “Face-to-face marketing is strong right now.” He sites a 2016 study by the Center for Exhibition Industry (CEIR), which shows that attendance to shows has increased in recent years. According to the study, 40% of brand marketers participate in more shows than they did a few years ago, 57% say they will maintain their current level of participation, and 24% will increase participation. For the companies surveyed, 77% said that participation in the exhibitions support relationship management with existing customers, and 87% said that the exhibits helped with relationship management for prospective customers.
Use Technology to Create an Experience
On last week’s show, we talked about developing an experience for your customers. Last week’s guest, TJ Calloway, CEO of Onward Reserve, started his men’s clothing business online, but moved it into retail stores, initially as a marketing device for his website. What he found was that the experience he was able to create through sensory involvement in the brick and mortar location was attractive to customers in and of itself. He was right about its ability to serve as a marketing device for the website, but he also found that the store became a destination for shoppers who enjoyed the experience he and his team had created. Says Calloway, “It’s an emotional connection. You walk into the store, and you feel like you’re a part of Onward Reserve, and you understand the lifestyle.” A big part of this experience comes through design, but much of it comes from interaction with the staff.
The same is true for trade shows. Exhibitus has a team of designers, including “experience” designers. The experience they create, however, is to serve those in-person interactions that a trade show allows. Success is not one-size-fits all. It comes with collaboration between the company and the design team, and, says Falberg, “It’s widely varying, and it just takes a tremendous amount of creativity. There’s no playbook or formula. You really have to do it case-by-case.”
Focus on ROI
Exhibitus has a big focus on ROI. The industry has undergone many changes over the last few years, including shorter timelines and tighter budgets. This makes the ability to measure success even more important than ever before.
Exhibitus looks in four different areas to measure that success.
- Leads that generate sales. That involves not only collecting leads, but having a system in place to follow up with those leads and measure success.
- Customer retention. If your customers come to the trade show they’ll be looking at your competitors. You need to be there too, and Exhibitus has developed ways to measure that value for their clients.
- Value of impressions. Exhibitus results division has a system for measuring impressions, and places a monetary value on each impression the company earns at the convention.
- Cost savings. With face-to-face meetings still a crucial part of business, flying a CEO all over the country to have those meetings can rack up some serious costs. Falberg explains, “When you actually put the numbers to that, compared to that same CEO going to the show and setting up 10 or 15 meetings in a row, there’s a huge savings there. And as we say in our session, ‘A dollar sold is 10 cents earned, a dollar saved is a dollar earned.’ So for every dollar that you can save is a 10x savings factor.”
Keep Up With Technology
Conventions may not be going anywhere, but technology is changing the convention landscape (as well as a lot of other landscapes). Bugg suggests that the millennial population, in great part, drives this. Timelines are becoming more condensed under the management of twenty and thirty somethings, and the general environment of displays is changing.
Falberg says, “Technology has really become a bigger part of the trade show experience, but content is king…it’s about what happens with that technology, and as designers, we’re being expected to do more than just come up with the environment.” The technology is about engaging the attendee quickly.
Strike a Balance
While the in-person relationships are here to stay, virtual ones are likely not going anywhere either. Knowing how to balance them is important. This comes up frequently on our shows these days. The team at High Road Craft Ice Cream uses technology to limit the time spent in meetings – but they still make time for regular in person huddles when needed, and social time together. Dick and Josh Bare from Arbor-Nomics Turf are seeing a future with less on the ground employees due to technology– but still insist on their sales visits happening in person (while using technology to speed the process up). Previous guests from Dragon Army talked about technology someday enhancing networking by using facial recognition to bring up contact info or LinkedIn profiles and making them visible to you on your smart-contacts or implanted eye devices (Yup. Implanted eye devices. Up and coming, one of these days), but even these future-iffic technology projections don’t eliminate those face-to-face meetings.
For Exhibitus, and for the rest of us, the key is to find a way to utilize the available technology to connect on an even deeper basis with your customers. As trade-shows develop, they continue to enhance those experiences on many different levels – but the end result is the same as it’s always been – building a customer relationship that will bring them back well into the future (eye implants and all).