The Return of the Exhibition?
“Human interaction is the key force in overcoming resistance and speeding change.” Atul Gawande
The last 24 months have been challenging for us all globally, both personally and in our work lives. As a company and an industry, we have adapted extremely well to challenging circumstances, adopting new practices, or utilising ones that we already did to a greater extent. Video marketing has become even more important, with companies choosing this as a platform to showcase products, practices, and innovative formulations in visual ways. There has also been the influx of webinars, digital conferences and podcasts. Throughout 2020, at Croda we ran a successful series of webinars entitled Power Hour with Croda. A unique series, tackling trends and key industry themes, whilst at the same time offering our customers the opportunity to engage with our technical experts through a digital medium. In addition to these, we have also hosted two digital sustainability conferences, both events spanning full days. Appetite for both events was shown to be strong, with many attendees viewing the full day, demonstrating that whilst customers could not meet in person, they revelled in the opportunity to gain knowledge in a virtual environment.
Online vs Offline
So, is this new approach to communicating with customers going to replace the more traditional face-to-face events, that we have all attended in the past? Looking at the numbers and feedback gained, one could be forgiven for thinking that face-to-face events are a thing of the past, a dying ember in the ashes of traditional marketing. This is further compounded as a swathe of Millennial and Gen Z peers enter positions of purchasing authority within businesses, making it clear that there is a need to adapt and to ‘move away from traditional approaches’ (check out our Video Marketing Blog). Once we add to this the clear preference for digital communication that these demographics have, with 90.4% of millennials being active on social media and them being 247% more likely to be influenced by blogs than company experts (Hello, my millennial peers), then it starts to build a strong case against face-to-face exhibitions and events.
Then there are those arguments about the importance of exhibitions and conferences. One statistic shows that 92% of attendees go along solely to see new products and innovations, which is a high number of people interested in what you want to sell to them. Furthermore, attendees spend an average of 8.3 hours at an exhibition visiting booths, which if we compare this to the average time spent on a b2b webpage (82 seconds), is not really a fair comparison I know, but it does highlight the staying power that exhibitions do have. This all starts to show us a very different picture being painted in the online vs offline debate.
Whilst we have looked at the numbers here, which enables us to build an idea of how the future of such events looks, there is one key element that we are overlooking. That being, human connection and interaction. Whilst we have had great success, informative sessions, and interesting conversations in the digital world, it seems that the physical interactions that we have with our customers are still highly valued.
It was this feeling of human interaction being vital that we saw when we attended several events across Europe this year. Many events across Europe in fact, saw the highest attendance that they had seen for many years, people in clear anticipation to attend and meet people face-to-face. Although some events, such as HPCI in Poland were not as well attended, one of my colleagues from the Croda Poland team who was on stand there said that ‘with less rush, there was more time for deeper and meaningful discussions with customers.’ Of course, there was some nervousness about attending the event and Anna stated that ‘I did not know what to expect, we did not know how many people would attend, how comfortable people would feel either, but the event was very Covid safe, which made everybody feel more comfortable and allowed us to concentrate on speaking with customers’. In the UK as well, this feeling of reconnecting with one another was very prevalent. I attended an event, representing Croda Personal Care and had the same reservations as Anna, how many people would be there? Would everybody feel safe? Once again, this event was carried out in a Covid safe manner, we had hand sanitisers on every table, we used contactless methods to try formulations and we practised social distancing throughout the event.
It was clear through what was being displayed at the event by visitors and exhibitors alike, that the last two years had been a challenge to all concerned. Key trends at these events included wellness, a desire for us to take care of ourselves as a matter of urgency. One stand had massage therapists on it, taking the idea of self-care to the next level, whilst others and Croda included, focused on the beauty of nature and how we must strive to protect this, through sustainable manufacturing and bio-based, natural ingredients. It seems as thought the last two years have taught us not only to respect and cherish the human interactions that we have, but also the environment and the increasingly fragile world that we inhabit.
So, are traditional exhibitions a dying ember or a phoenix rising from the ashes of a challenging time in human history? Well, the answer is probably somewhere between the two and a balanced mix of both digital and physical events, is the sweet spot. We know that the use of digital platforms is growing exponentially, they’re cost effective, measurable and convenient. However, the traditional forms for communication, the meetings and conferences allow a different type of communication. You can read body-language more effectively, you can relax more over a coffee and conversation flows better, but you can still have great interactions in an online setting. Of course eventually, digital may rule the marketing space but until that time, physical events will continue to have a strong impact on customer relationships and marketing.
Whether we prioritise digital or traditional marketing moving forward, here at Croda one thing that will always take precedent overall, is that we continue to have meaningful interactions with people, either online or face-to-face.