What are the most effective ways to attract attendees to business-to-business exhibitions?

A new paper from the Centre for Exhibition Research (CEIR) examines strategies for re-establishing an audience base in the challenging business environment.

This is the first in a line of CEIR projects aimed at providing stakeholders and organisers with knowledge that would enable them to improve upon and outperform their performance from 2019.

The CEIR Index statistics show that the majority of people experienced a recovery in 2022, and this is anticipated to continue into 2023 and 2024.

Attendees are waiting longer to commit

CEIR research found that event planners are reserving 90% of their registrations 4 weeks before the event date, an unexpectedly high rate compared to pre-Covid. This supports what has been mentioned anecdotally in the business. CEIR research from 2018 showed that less than half of registrants joined up due to uncertainty caused by the epidemic, company clearance, and other relevant circumstances. Attendance is expected to increase and regular registration patterns will resume now that Covid has subsided, travel restrictions have been lifted, and employers are authorising business travel for employees. Attendance marketing initiatives have started later in the cycle, with 64% of organisers starting their outreach 8 months before the exhibition dates and 37% in 2018. This is likely due to the need to wait and see if the commercial climate is favourable for a successful and profitable concert.

Marketers must rebuild their attendee databases

Industry recovery is still unequal, and the performance of an exhibition closely reflects how quickly a given industry is recovering. Strategic marketers are establishing recovery timetables and goals in accordance with this. Rebuilding attendee bases with first-timers is one of the most successful techniques for attracting attendees during the pandemic.

Marketers are aggressively selling to the company categories they believe have the most untapped potential, creating target personas and marketing to customers that suit those descriptions. Partnerships and automated marketing technologies are also powerful engines for attracting attendees.

Interest in hybrid events is waning

Event planners are retreating from hybrid events, with only 13% of events with 10,000 or more people having the option of online involvement. CEIR research in 2021 and 2022 showed that the biggest events are less likely to be hybrid. This does not mean event planners would not continue to curate event content for online usage, but they may choose to do so in new ways. Future research in this area will involve more experimentation.

Inflation presents challenges for exhibitions

Attendance is suffering as costs increase, with 57% of event organisers citing the cost of travel as the main difficulty. 83% of organisers demand a participation fee, and attendance registration fees account for 37.6% of total revenue. However, registration figures are not always reliable and only 84.4% of people who registered for events in person typically show up. Online attendees are even more likely to drop out of hybrid events.

TheĀ full report, priced at US$49 by CEIR, is now available for download.

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