Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 28 2014

The Big Mistake That Trade Show Organizers Are Making

By David McMillin

Every meeting professional and trade show organizer seems to be asking the same question: how do we engage an emerging generation of attendees? As Baby Boomers retire and Millennials move into leadership positions in the workforce, the meetings industry is at a critical juncture, and attracting those young attendees will ensure the industry moves in the right direction.

Despite efforts to find the answer to Millennial engagement, a new report from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research reveals that the majority of trade show organizers are failing to collect a very simple yet crucial piece of demographic information: age. According to a survey of 152 trade show executives, 64 percent of respondents do not capture each attendee’s age during the registration process.

SEE ALSO: Busting 3 Big Millennial Attendee Myths

This statistic leads to an obvious question: how can an organization measure any efforts to engage young attendees if they don’t know who actually fits into the “young” category?

Some respondents indicated that they do capture age ranges for each attendee. However, CEIR highlights that a wide range may prove to be troublesome in the future.

“Among the minority that do capture age, 22 percent offer registrants age ranges,” the report stages. “This method misses an opportunity to obtain a more precise statistic that will never become obsolete. If an attendee selects an age category, for example, age range 25 to 39, at what point does the individual go to the next age category?”

CEIR stresses the importance of specificity in the age inquiry. Rather than a range, ask for the attendee’s actual birthday. In addition to keeping data up-to-date, the report highlights that knowing an attendee’s birthday represents another way to stay in touch with audience members on a more personal and fun level.

“In an era where organizations strive to engage with their audiences year round, capturing date of birth gives the organizer an excuse to reach out with a touch point opportunity where a general birthday wish can be sent, or a special gift or special offer,” the report states.

SEE ALSO: What Your Millennial Attendees Really Want In A Destination

How Other Brands Leverage A Birthday Celebration

Worried that asking for a birthday might feel a bit too invasive? It’s a common practice among just about every other brand — the same brands that are reaching out to those attendees. Banks like Chase and Wells Fargo include “Happy Birthday” messages on ATM screens for their customers. Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts offer free drinks. CVS gives rewards club members $3 on their birthdays. Your attendees are already accustomed to handing out plenty of information. Consider how your organization can be part of the celebration with a one-day registration discount for an upcoming meeting, a free online education course or just a simple note.

More On Millennial Engagement

Are you looking to attract young professionals to your show floor? The CEIR report includes a range of best practices and recommendations along with case studies from 11 organizations with engagement and programming strategies for young attendees. Click here to access the report (it’s free for IAEE members.)

PCMA also released a report that offers a comprehensive look at what Millennials prefer in face-to-face meetings. Click here for a summary of the findings.

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