You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade to a more recent browser for a better experience.

Event Horizon: Episode 6 - Supporting Exhibitors

By Parul Shah


Hi guys, another week, another episode of Event Episode. I’m Parul Shah, and I want to dedicate today’s episode to our exhibitors.

We conducted the first wave of our pulse survey with the exhibitor community in late June, and I have two big takeaways from the study that I want to share. I know, you’re thinking, “…but she usually has three takeaways for us.” But trust me on this, two will be plenty for today.

Our first takeaway is we see exhibitor confidence index and return-to-business outlook align with that of the attendees.

And our second takeaway is exhibitors are struggling to see ROI with online event participation.

As usual, let’s unpack each one.

Our survey revealed that exhibitors have a .66 confidence level, which indicates an uncertain state of mind. If you recall, attendees had a .65 confidence index in wave two of the pulse survey.

In the survey we ask them for one word that describes their emotional state towards exhibiting at in-person events, you see here in the word cloud that “Cautious’, “Concerned”, “Hesitant,” and even “Frustrated” rise to the top.

If we think about the professional personas for our exhibitors — for instance, a start-up exhibitor within tech — then it’s not surprising to see words like frustrated and hesitant because they want to get in front of their customers and be able to sell. But we also have to remember that they have consumer personas. They are members of society, like all of us, and that side is perhaps more cautious and concerned. All too often we tend to view of our audiences only through the lens of their professional personas, but today, more than ever, we need to be sensitive and mindful to how they feel as both consumers and professionals.

With this first takeaway, let’s also talk about when they expect to exhibit at in-person events. This graph you see here shows us that exhibitors (the green line) and attendees (the blue line) are pretty much parallel pathing. We see for the near-term — the next 6 months or so — less than half the exhibitor sample plans to exhibit.

This is, of course, driven by travel bans within their organizations, as well as restrictions to large-scale gatherings. We do start to see a shift around the new year where there is more positivity. We believe there’s a few factors at play here:

  1. If we look at information from the CDC and Dr. Fauci on a vaccine update, early next year is when we might have a possible vaccine.
  2. There are also a series of large events that take place at the beginning of the year, so this too is generating some hope for the event industry.
  3. And then there’s something about a new year, and shedding this past year, that might contribute to a more positive outlook.

All of these factors coalesce early next year and hence the upswing in optimism. And as we transition into spring of next year, there is even greater hope with 70% of exhibitors expecting to participateand that number jumps to 85% as we move into late 2021.

Now let’s turn our attention to their struggles with online events. The value they are expecting to see, the leads they hope to capture, and overall success are all falling short of expectations. Why, you ask? Well, it’s because showing up online is not the same as showing up at a booth.

As digital experts and strategists, it’s our responsibility to educate and inform the exhibit community on how to develop an effective and sustainable online experience strategy.

So, what does that shift from in-person to online look like?

  • Think thought leadership over purely sales. The one thing our data tells is that the online channel, while ideal for content, is still struggling with the commerce piece. So rather than trying to focus only on sales, address your customers' most pressing questions and demonstrate how you deeply understand their needs.
  • Another shift is that we need to move from thinking just a 3D booth to executing a series of presentations, round tables, or panels that allow for interactivity and dialogue with your core customers. And don’t be afraid to limit how many people are joining these small group discussions so you can focus on quality over quantity.
  • And lastly, shift from evergreen content to content that is unique and only available to attendees if they engage with you during the online event. You want to highlight your most innovative content that cuts through the noise and is relatable to your customers.

Keep in mind that as we are confronted with these new realities of digital experiences, we need to think beyond just the delivery portion. Attendee experience journey, content, and context are all hypercritical to your success.

Well that’s all I have for today. I hope this gave you some tangible insights that set you up for success at your next online event. And if you have any research requests, please feel free to comment and I’ll be sure to address your questions! As always, thank you for tuning in. See you next time.

Read next

Event Horizon: Episode 1 - Adaptability Video

As we look at the return of events, what should we keep in mind?

Event Horizon: Episode 2 - Listening Video

Listening is the key to meeting the expectations of our audiences.

Event Horizon: Episode 3 - Learning Video

Using data to learn key insights for the future

Event Horizon: Episode 4 - Online Excellence Video

Three top-of-mind strategies for online events

Event Horizon: Episode 5 - Applying Our Insights Video

Shaping online events with data

COVID-19 Event Marketer Sentiment Research: Wave 2, May 2020 Research

Research: Marketers' perspectives on the global pandemic

Back to Top