Love them or loathe them, trade exhibitions have been serving the wide-format digital print sector since its inception. But are they the best way forward for visitors - and for exhibitors? Berni Raeside-Bell, a pr and marketing professional and also a digital print textile designer, raises the question.
Well, most of us would agree that trade shows such as Fespa, Sign and Digital UK, The Print Show, Viscomm, Drupa and others definitely have their merits - they are a place to meet with industry peers, check out the competition, research the latest products and who knows, perhaps find stimulate thoughts on how to increasing profit or expand the business. To work well, shows - and the individual stands therein - need to fulfil a number of roles beyond the chance to buy, including education, innovation and interaction. They need to provide that ‘something’ that makes us feel part of a community/market/industry - and that in turn that sector cares about us being a part of it. Without these elements, trade shows are simply a marketplace for exhibitors to showcase their products alongside their competitors and offer little more to the visitor than that which the internet can provide without subjecting visitors’ - and exhibitors’ - feet to pounding concrete floors for hours.
But, you’ve also got to accept that to a large extent - for visitors and exhibitors alike - shows are what you make of them. If your attitude for attending or exhibiting is primarily that you think you have to be seen to be there, then you’re going for the wrong reasons - a trade show’s main remit is to bring in new customers for all their exhibitors, even the ones that exhibit every year, and they in turn should be showing visitors something new to keep them engaged. Surely shows and exhibitors have a responsibility to keep things fresh, move with the times - even to try and be ahead of the times.
One company that has taken the decision not to exhibit at trade shows this year and instead invest in other areas of marketing is Innotech Digital. And the reasons behind this decision are interesting. Marketing manager Kieran Dallow explained that the team found that the people it was meeting at trade shows in general were its existing customers - or at last it knew them, or knew of them. The decision was therefore that shows were not enabling the company to deliver best value to its customers, and brainstorming led to the realisation that a different marketing approach could better improve its reach with its service offerings.
“We wanted to add better value to our customers within our marketing spend and another show this year just wouldn’t deliver on this objective because they are not doing anything different and we wouldn’t be doing anything different. By directly investing in a variety of marketing projects including the expansion of our online customer portal, CRM systems and by taking on specialist marketing staff we could offer marketing services to our customers and give them tools and collateral that will actually help them grow their businesses.
“As a result, we invested in a Konica Minolta Accurio Press with a SD513 booklet maker for production of catalogues which can be own-branded for our customers. Our in-house design team are creating marketing tools for our PSP customers to send to their databases like emails, postcard mailers and branded swatch books.”
Other big brand names - such as Durst - have announced this year that they would not be exhibiting at what are generally considered ‘must-attend’ trade shows in Europe. The thinking is that open days at their own sites and investment in their showroom for demonstrations with targeted customers makes more strategic sense. It all builds on that idea of making potential customers feel special - to properly engage.
So should trade show oraganisers be doing more to make them more attractive? Well, some are working hard to do just that. Sign and Digital UK pulled something of a coup in getting ‘Queen of Shops’ Mary Portas on stage to discuss her ideas and opportunities for sign and digital print companies. Her mantra is about engaging creatives and creating retail ‘spaces’ for people to interact, exchange and socialise - perhaps exhibition organisers should take note and create more collaborative spaces to attract visitors. Put interactive and creative areas at the heart of the shows.
By creating a knowledge hub with a network of passionate, creative people from all walks including PSP’s and manufacturers - but also designers, creatives and inventors - maybe trade shows will be able to contribute more to the industry to help build a stronger community.