By Cathy Breden, CMP-F, CAE, CEM | CEO | Center for Exhibition Industry Research
Regardless of the pandemic, this is the time of year that the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) receives a lot of inquiries about what to expect in the coming months for business-to-business (B2B) events. Therefore, I want to share some of the trends CEIR is seeing and anticipating as we move into 2022 (and beyond). I would like to note that I view these trends as opportunities and that, while some are cautionary in nature, understanding the scope of these trends will help with the creation and development of business plans.
TREND #1 – Increase in Omnichannel Marketing
Omnichannel marketing involves the integration of branding, messaging and online/offline touchpoints. This strategy is much more effective now than in pre-pandemic times because we have learned that two out of three buyers are now opting for remote human interactions or digital self-service.
Due to enhancements in technology and, of course, the global pandemic, the role of marketing has never been more important. Over the past two years, companies have had to figure out how they will connect with their current and prospective buyers in order to funnel them along their customer journey toward a purchase. Omnichannel marketing using a strong digital strategy has afforded brand marketers this opportunity.
With the close relationship between the marketing and sales functions in a company, not only have the marketing teams had to find new ways to connect, but sales teams have had to rethink the value propositions for their products. Selling in the different environments requires a different way of thinking and positioning based on whether they are communicating in-person, via video or telephone calls, or through digital events.
This means that it is very important to understand your customers. Do they prefer in-person, videoconference discussions, self-service via online marketplaces, or some other method of connecting? What channels are you offering to connect buyers and sellers? Knowing the answers to these questions will help inform the value and benefit to your exhibitors of the channels you are using.
TREND #2 – Attendee Motivation is Evolving
Deconstructing events is more important now than ever because they have been produced using essentially the same formula for years. Now, we need to think of our events as a community. For example, consider creating a community around the exhibition where content that is generated from the event is placed on an online platform that encourages conversations to be carried on throughout the year via the platform, or using an association’s community platform.
Creating smaller, niche events might seem attractive for those who may not be comfortable with large crowds and/or to those exhibitors who want to test new markets. Perhaps an exclusive event for your most important buyers creates the best opportunity to bring buyers and sellers together.
We have seen successful collaborations over the past two years, where competitors are able to come together to create or co-locate their events. We are seeing more instances, where it makes good business sense, of collaborations that take place to achieve common objectives.
TREND #3 – Reimagined Workforce
Our workforces have dramatically changed. With the explosion of new technology and digital event platforms, our teams need to be able to receive proper training for this new environment. We, as an industry, pivoted to using Zoom. So successfully, in fact, that Zoom is apparently creating its own digital event platform.
It is important for your employees’ success – and more importantly, for your company’s success – for employees to understand how their roles have changed or may change. For a hybrid event, as an example, you may need two separate teams: one for the physical event and the other to produce the digital event. New positions and titles not previously needed might warrant consideration (Digital Event Manager, as an example).
There will always be the need for a team to oversee the operations and logistics of producing a physical event; however, it will be important to expand their knowledge to understand the goals and objectives of the physical event vs. the digital one, how their role is important to the success, etc.
The Marketing and Sales teams roles will also need re-training. Marketing has become more complex and will need to support the Sales team with new information for the type of event being produced. The Sales team will need to understand how to sell not just to different audiences and assets, but also on the event that is being produced. Selling and communicating the value proposition for a physical event is different than selling for a digital one.
TREND #4 – Sustainability and Social Responsibility
Climate change is at the forefront of importance as exhibitions begin being held again. While the topic of producing environmentally-friendly events has been discussed for years, the natural disasters that have occurred over the past two years have emphasized that climate change is evident and a reality. We are overdue to stop “talking” about it and move to creating actionable change to correct the amount of waste being generated because we know that exhibitions have been a large producer of waste.
For example, the Events Industry Council – a federation of 33 organizations in the global MICE industry – has launched a training program covering sustainability in the areas of event logistics, social impact and business operations.
IAEE, for instance, is undergoing an audit of Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition with the overriding goal of being in compliance with global sustainability standards through BPA’s iCompli. The audit should be completed by the end of this month. We expect to see more programs launched over the next two years.
The impact of exhibitions on local communities, and their support of local and national economies, is sizeable. We must also be thinking about creating an inclusive environment, meaning welcoming those with disabilities to attend by having special accommodations to meet their needs.
TREND #5 – Focus on Health and Safety
Finally, the exhibition industry’s focus on the health and safety of our exhibitors, visitors, staff, and venue staff will remain. Health guidelines and policies will become part of our regular communications. It will be important to be transparent in those communications – meaning that we are sharing the most current information from the World Health Organization (WHO), or the health organization in the country where the event is being produced.
We will need to provide training to our staff members working the event on proper infectious disease prevention. A reliable source is the Global Biorisk Advisory Council – GBAC – a subsidiary of the International Sanitary Supply Association, which has established standards for cleaning quality and efficiency. GBAC is well-respected and the organization offers online training programs.
B2B exhibitions enjoy a strong brand image because personal relationships are still important. COVID-19 is the deterrent, not a negative image, of this business channel. Studies have shown that personal relationships are difficult to replicate in an online environment, therefore B2B exhibitions are highly valued and will continue to be. Furthermore, research reflects there is pent-up demand to meet in person. In the meantime, organizations need to have a strong digital strategy that will complement the live event and will need to continually invest in its technology infrastructure.
Cathy Breden, CAE, CMP-F, CEM is the CEO of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) whose primary purpose is to promote the growth, awareness and value of exhibitions and other face-to-face marketing events by producing and delivering research-based knowledge tools. She is a frequent presenter on the areas of exhibition industry trends and the power of exhibitions in face-to-face marketing.
Breden is also Executive Vice President & COO for the International Association of Exhibitions & Events® (IAEE) where she oversees marketing and communications, conventions and events, membership, education, and administration of the association. In addition, she currently serves as chairperson of the Events Industry Council’s board of directors; as a director on the board of Tourism Diversity Matters; and as adjunct faculty at Richland College. Breden is a Certified Association Executive (CAE), Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) and Certified in Exhibition Management (CEM). She is a graduate of Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA.