MARIETTA, Ga. — During a recent webinar presented by the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO) Marketing SIG, Ken Holsinger, Senior Vice President, Data Solutions, Freeman, told it like it is: Connection is the driving force in attendees’ readiness to return to live trade shows. “Attendees have different priorities now. Trade show floors are more densely packed per capita and people are ready to make buying decisions. Even at professional training events, were seeing more people in the networking areas than the sessions.” When he recently spoke at Meeting Professionals International’s annual meeting, he said there were more people mingling in the lobby than in his session. “And I was happy about that.”
Holsinger has been tracking attendee sentiment since the start of COVID-19, and has had 3 million attendees respond to his surveys. This just-released iteration from June, with 7,778 attendee and 1,220 respondents, found that 85% of responding attendees expect to return to B2B events this Winter (December 2021-February 2022) and 94% by next Spring. For the first time in 8 waves of research, “Ready” is now the leading sentiment replacing “Cautious,” and overall positive survey sentiment about returning to events increased from 45% to 57%.
On the exhibitor side, Holisinger said companies need to share data about how the demographics of the average B2B trade show attendee (viewed in terms of age, education, income), when tracked alongside data about who is getting vaccinated, can be used to predict that around 89% of attendees will be vaccinated. Exclude the manufacturing segment and that number rises to 92%.
Holsinger acknowledged that the Delta variant was “the elephant in the room,” but had encouraging news regarding where the U.S. might be in terms of this most recent threat.
“We have tracked 2-3 weeks before the U.K. for months and they are now starting to come out of this, and it’s not just an uptick in vaccinations that is responsible for that. Some of the relief they’re seeing might be related to that, but the majority is about the fact that the most vulnerable populations have been vaccinated. That does slow things down. It’s easy to get lost in the headlines, but we need to let the data talk.”
Exhibitors need to re-think the way they view the ROI when it comes to trade shows, he said. “The model we looked at pre-COVID, where we always talked about quantity, such as number of exhibitors and attendees, was an exercise in futility. We need to look at quality. We need to think more like a hosted buyer community and match audiences with their business needs, rather than, ‘If you build it, they will come.’”