Partner, Create 'Experiences' and Personalize, Exhibit Industry Says

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Recently, the state and future of the exhibition industry was put on display in St. Petersburg, Russia, at UFI's Global Congress. Trade Show Executive put together some takeaways that I'd like to build on.

1. Find uncommon partners. Russian Cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy delivered the opening keynote, about his mission to the International Space Station in 2013 with NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins. "If we can work together in space, we can work together on Earth," Sergey said.

I recently wrote about IEEE GlobalSpec, an information and technology services source for engineers, that is partnering with Nerd Girls Inc., a global movement dedicated to encouraging and inspiring girls and young women to pursue careers in STEM. Through the partnership, IEEE GlobalSpec will market a series of Nerd Girls media initiatives including newsletters, the Nerd Girl Nation web series, and content on

2. No more "digital." "Don't use digital anymore," said Jo-Anne Kelleway, CEO of Info Salons Group. There is no longer a distinction between digital and offline experiences, she added. For today's generation, digital is part of every experience.

3. Replace festivalization with relevant experience. "I don't like the word 'festivalization,'" said Reed Exhibitions CEO Chet Burchett. The idea of increasingly trying to be an entertainment venue is dangerous for B2B events, which produce business outcomes, he said. "There's nothing wrong with the idea of having a better experience, but I would replace the word 'festivalization' with experience — relevant experience. I think that's got to be the focus."

I've been guilty in the past of pushing festivalization, and even a 2019 Trends report still recommended it. But the keys to that report—more focus on co-curation of sessions, social media activity and innovative workshops, visuals and venue design—could also point to better business outcomes without all the festivities. Probably some kind of balance is best.

4. Driving the customer journey. "We are using event technology to customize the journey for individual attendees," said Kelleway. When they were at Melcrum, Kelly Parsons and Victoria Mellor went, in the words of Parsons, "from having thousands of subscribers at $500 each to having a few hundred members at $30,000 or $50,000 each. By the end of my time at Melcrum, we weren't even using the word member—we were partners with our customers in the truest sense of the word."

5. Business + personality = emotional response. "Most customers are willing to share their personal data," said Miranda Martin, portfolio director, niche events, Fresh Montgomery. Use that data to profile your audience and provide content streams specifically for them, she said. "Design experiences for an emotional response based on their business and personality profiles," Martin said.

A new study has found that emotions are just as important in B2B purchasing decisions as in B2C. "It's never been more obvious to us that we make decisions based on emotion, gut instinct and knee-jerk reactions," said Belinda Green, head of strategy at B2B agency Gyro which conducted research in this area in partnership with the Financial Times. "We have to remember, we often are mentally primal beings, and our brains are wired a certain way," she said.

6. Mixing entertainment with business. According to the Global Visitor Insights study by Explori, 88% of CEOs age 34 and under think both business objectives and entertainment are important. They are also much more likely to spend more time at shows that are entertaining, said Sophie Holt, global strategy director, Explori.

7. Provide more opportunities to women. More than half of the female respondents did not feel treated equally when it comes to salary and career opportunities, and more than one-third believe they are held back from having more responsibility. "Women clearly make up the majority of the workforce in the trade fair industry, but they only represent a minority of the leadership," said Gwen Kaufmann who led the project, ringing a familiar chord.

I reported last month on the women's leadership panel at our BIMS Conference, and much of this came up. Financial literacy was pointed to as a must for women who want to climb the ladder in any industry.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…