You are here

Old School – Meet New School

Show-to-Show: Thoughts from the Show Floor by James Morris

This week I dropped my youngest two daughters to their respective schools. Both were bright eyed and ready for a new adventure. Every time I do so, I get a twinge of nostalgia and the sudden urge to sharpen a No. 2 pencil in an old-school, manual pencil sharpener. Then, I remember that I never have to eat cafeteria food again, and I feel a deep appreciation for adulthood.

The interesting thing about a new school year is that students graduate from one grade and advance to the next. The message to our children is, “Don’t get held back!!“ As marketers, we need to make sure our strategy is doing the same thing, growing from one set of standards to the next. This is especially true in the event marketing space. The notorious Millennials are currently at the top of the class. (Am I allowed to call them “notorious” if I am not actually one of them?). Mostly born in the late 1980’s to the early 2000’s, they are by far the most tech-educated generation yet and are one of the main reasons marketers need to up their game.

Once upon a time, event-marketing spaces were often filled with jugglers, magicians, celebrities and the occasional booth model to capture an attendee. Today’s audience is much more sophisticated and being driven to engagement via technology. I am a big advocate of social media on the show floor, but make no mistake; the engagement process has moved well beyond the now passé hashtag or tweet. Driving new buyers to your event space now requires fun, interactive and fully digital entertainment. Within my customer base, the biggest challenge has been convincing those companies that have found what they consider a sweet spot in their industry. They may go to 50-250 shows a year and their behaviors over the past decade have remained mostly unchanged. To them, this strategy has worked. And it will work… for now. But as the audience and buyers change, so must the engagement process.

When I started with Atlantic 10 years ago, the person who hired me had me read Jim Collins’ “Good to Great.” An outstanding read highlighting how companies transition from being average companies to great companies. In full disclosure, the dated book shows its age, but the concept helps to prove my point. Those companies that believe they have event marketing figured out are the same companies that waste significant amounts of marketing dollars simply “exhibiting” at an industry event.

This new generation audience is not only good at navigating the Internet in search of the best version of what they intend to buy, but also utilize technology in just about everything they do. As we review the event marketing space, it is critical to our efforts to make sure we are catering to this demographic. And if you think things have changed already, just imagine how the next 10 years are going to look in the event space.

It may seem to be hard to get into Millennials’ heads because marketers have limited control over the most updated platform. However, if we try to look ahead and make the engagement entertaining enough, I argue the platform is less relevant. Many marketers will push back on updating efforts with an interactive because the price tag can be high. Without fail, those forward thinking marketing directors who see past the price tag, and understand the value of digital interactive are recognizing a much stronger ROI (regardless of the platform). Even the most simplistic product offering can become sexier if the engagement around is fun and inviting. After all, isn’t that what marketing is all about?

So, you’re probably thinking, “thanks a lot Captain Obvious.” If so, perhaps we can chat about what you are currently doing to attract new, younger buyers in the event space. Just as my girls are off to school to learn a new chapter, I am always willing to learn new things. After all, I don’t want to get held back.