The Handshakes Business27.02.2015 15:15
Last week I had the privilege to deliver the opening speech at the UFI Global CEO Forum. Among many other topics in my presentation, one seemed to become the new catch-phrase of the exhibitions industry: The Handshakes Business
Exhibitions are known to be an important part of the marketing mix of any B2B company. Actually a recent study by AMR projects (for 2015) trade shows as the biggest item in that budget with 30% share, outspending digital (at 25%) by 5%.
But the trend lines in the same study (if they do not change) suggest that tradeshows will be eclipsed by digital (at the expense of print advertising) in the few years to come. Now this is not exactly great news for the exhibition industry and thus leads me to dig deeper into the potential future digital vs exhibitions clash. The immediate question is why we at ITE, one of the worlds top ten exhibition organisers, are not feeling this (loss of business specifically because of digital) on the ground at as of now...
The first piece of evidence I dug out comes from academic research found in Kotler and Keller's Marketing Management. They go on to list the common communication platforms firms use and break them down into groups: Advertising, Sales Promotion, Events and Experiences, Public Relations and Publicity, Direct and Interactive Marketing, Word-of-mouth Marketing and Personal Selling.
Tradeshows fall into Sales promotion and personal selling categories, completely separated from all kinds of digital (and many other forms of) marketing. Digital sits with Advertising and Direct and Interactive Marketing where it is totally disrupting the former and defining the latter. This is the main reason why print advertising is in all kinds of existential states today and the media world is taking the lead in addressing digital by all means, because they have to... The eyeballs business is changing.
Moreover, a quick data mining session into our CRM shows that marketing related job functions as main contact of our client is less than 15% of our contracts. We are selling to commercially driven, sales function roles, not marketing, not agencies. Although we're considered as marketing platform providers, in the eye of our clients, we're more part of the sales structure (in big enough companies with both functions).
Drawing back to the exhibitions industry, our promise to our client is the ability to meet or rather shake the hands of buyers of their products who happen to be our visitors. And I claim this is the fundamental difference between the handshakes business and digital, which is busy disrupting the eyeballs business for forever.
In the light of this small study, I conclude that the future clash might still be out there but for now, Digital is complimentary to the exhibitions industry; at least for now. It is up to our industry to use digital as a tool to nurture more and higher quality handshakes and have happy clients.