Shonagh Rae

Year-round Contact with Customers is Key

Sonya Ruff Jarvis is vice president of attendee programs for Reed Exhibitions.
Peter James Field/ Sonya Ruff Jarvis is vice president of attendee programs for Reed Exhibitions.

The value of trade shows, says Jarvis, “is the face time between buyers and sellers. But even the best-prepared attendees can get lost, sidetracked, or just plain overwhelmed, which undoubtedly results in a bad or, at best, average show experience.” She suggests that one of the easiest ways to improve trade shows is through digital support. “This means that attendees are able to schedule appointments, get listings of exhibitors sorted by preferences, navigate the show floor via point-to-point routing, and find show specials and new products, all before stepping on the show floor. ”

Digital tools help attendees maximize their time and increase the probability that they will achieve their show objectives. And technology, Jarvis predicts, “will continue to drive tactical opportunities for improving trade shows. Social media is useful, too, for shows to stay connected to their customers year-round.”

“Facilitating interaction between buyers and sellers is the most difficult challenge for show organizers,” Jarvis says. Gaining critical feedback and using those insights to build a show “can help turn attendees into stakeholders. Strategically, the show becomes more customized and reflects their needs. But this has to happen year-round through a constant dialogue with customers, driven by personal visits.”

“When we in the trade show business truly master establishing long-lasting relationships with companies and the individuals within those companies, the more they share information and trust us as credible sources to help make the connections they seek for their businesses,” Jarvis explains. “The ultimate goal remains facilitating good old-fashioned face-to-face interaction that will preserve the relevancy of industry conventions and conferences.”

Shows Must Stay Aligned with Exhibitors' Business Objectives

Paul Smith is vice president of Owens Corning's Building Materials Group.
Peter James Field/ Paul Smith is vice president of Owens Corning's Building Materials Group.

This year, Owens Corning will interact with its customers at many events, such as the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas; the International Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigerating Expo in Dallas; the International Roofing Expo in San Antonio; and the American Institute of Architects’ National Convention and Design Expo in Denver. Trade shows, says Smith, traditionally have been a valuable component of Owens Corning’s strategy for engaging current and potential customers and for demonstrating its technology. “They provide opportunities to forge relationships, meet with partners, showcase new products, and take stock of the latest industry trends. Our presence at key trade shows also can reinforce the company’s leadership position within the industry.”

On the flip side, though, Smith notes that trade shows “require a significant commitment of time, money, and manpower. When considered alongside attendance challenges, there does come a point at which the return on investment of a trade show presence must be evaluated. For instance, it’s critical to ensure that each trade show is completely aligned with business and marketing objectives, and that the resulting benefits are weighed carefully against associated costs. We do this annually with a very critical eye.”

“The trade shows that ultimately thrive,” he believes, are those that offer more educational and training opportunities “that reach both the target audiences’ and participants’ business goals.” Bottom line, says Smith, is that trade show organizers “interested in driving attendance and maintaining their events’ relevance need to think more about return on investment and increasing “value-added” benefits to both exhibitors and attendees.”