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April 17, 2006

The power of face to face

For marketers, having their entire target audience captive to their product is something dreams are made of. But it needn't be. Events provide the ideal opportunity to get your brand into the field in front of a willing audience, and they can play a decisive role in delivering a range of key marketing objectives - from sales and marketing, to product demonstrations and raising brand awareness.

As Trevor Foley, group chief executive of the Association of Exhibition Organisers (AEO), points out: "What other media use all five senses to communicate, and what other media offer permission not interruption marketing? People are choosing to visit your stand and experience you're brand. That's an incredibly powerful proposition."

With traditional media facing a harder time from more media-literate customers, companies are turning to face-to-face events and harnessing the power of live brand experiences. In fact, the AEO claims that events are the fourth largest media with 11 to 12 per cent of media spend, while research from global events marketing agency The George P Johnson Company (GPJ) shows that events secure 24% of companies' marcoms budgets, and that 33% of companies plan to increase their spend.

This change has forced the events industry to become more sophisticated. It now offers a wide range of packages and options that not only draw visitors in but also adds value. For example, many exhibitions now include seminars, conferences, roadshows and training sessions, so the lines between the different types of event are beginning to blur.

"Through variety and innovation, events are being tailored to meet business aims by offering new and different ways of uniting people into the brand," says Foley.

And it can go further, by having a portfolio of different events you can target different companies with a different mix of activities much more closely tailored to their needs.

Malcolm Greig, director of European client services IBM, Europe, for GPJ, and former head of events EMEA for IBM, explains how powerful a tool this can be. "IBM kept on-going records on all its leads and contacts. This meant we could track companies along the customer cycle and then target them with specific events on route. We knew who our customers were, what their buying patterns were and who had attended events before. It also enabled us to pick out subsets of customers and target them more closely for smaller activities. Knowing our clients requirements so well meant we had a 40-50% lead conversion rate."

Despite all this, many companies are still not integrating live events fully into the marketing mix. "Non-believers see events as costing a lot of money and being hard work/tiring," says the AEO's Foley. "Many marketers lack understanding of how to measure the return on investment from their events. The reality is if you don't know how to measure the results of an event then you shouldn't be there."

Gregg agrees, saying: "If you don't know why you're doing an event then there's no point."

His advice is simple: "Decide what you want from an event and then you can measure its effectiveness. Put measurement first, getting the right people to the event is driven by the agenda of your event and that should be driven by what you what to achieve."

At the end of the day a well-run event is the next best thing to a sales call.

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