Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

May 13 2013

How to Manage A Multi-Generational Trade Show Audience

By David McMillin, Staff Writer

While some professionals have been concerned that the continuing evolution of technology will lead to less-crowded trade show floors, a new study from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research analyzes how different generations perceive trade shows. The good news? The study reveals that those attendees don’t plan on staying home anytime soon.

SEE ALSO: What Will Trade Shows Look Like in 2016?

With data from more than 9,000 attendees and 800 exhibitors, the report shows that more than 90 percent of respondents indicated that the value of exhibitions today is the same or greater than it was two years ago. Millennials are arguably the most tech-savvy segment of the data, but that love for social media and online communication can’t replace the face-to-face experience. In fact, 53 percent of respondents ages 18 - 27 indicated that they plan to attend more exhibitions within the next two years.

“The good news is that face-to-face interactions at exhibitions are highly valued by professionals of all generations, including younger professionals,” Nancy Drapeau, PRC, research director, CEIR, said in a statement. “The fear that the relevance of this medium will wane with younger professionals is not evidenced in this study.”

“However, there are differences organizers and marketers need to understand,” Drapeau added.

Here’s a look at a few of the key takeaways:

1)  Be A Teacher - While all generations indicated that they also hope to attend conference programs and educational sessions, a larger portion of older millennials and young Gen Xers (ages 28 - 39) placed an emphasis on the ability to take advantage of those educational offerings.

2)  Online Is Okay - Think that online engagement is going to encourage attendees to bypass the face-to-face experience? Think again. The screen is most effective in selling young attendees to register for the in-person event: 31 percent of millennials indicated that online interaction increased their participation in exhibitions and conventions.

3)  These Are Window Shoppers - While exhibitors would love to close the sale on the show floor, the study highlights that making an actual purchase ranks relatively low on the priority lists for all generations. Only 19 percent of older Gen Xers and 20 percent of Boomers ranked making a purchase as a top reason for attending.

SEE ALSO: Trade Show Myths Debunked

The Importance of Inspiration

While trade shows are clearly known for their ability to connect buyers with suppliers and offer product tutorials, the study highlights that younger attendees are looking for more than new tools and technologies. Nearly 50 percent of millennial respondents indicated that one of the primary reasons for attending trade shows is to get inspiration and motivation.

“As younger attendees register and Boomers retire from the show floor, it’s important to remember that the traditional show floor model may not be enough to excite the emerging audience of trade show attendees,” Sherrif Karamat, chief operating officer, PCMA, says. “Show organizers must identify opportunities to transform trade show booths into one-of-a-kind experiences.”

For more helpful insights on what the future may hold for trade shows, click here to download Scenarios for the Future: Convention Exhibits & Trade Shows of 2016.

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