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CONSUMER EVENTS
I've managed exhibits for business-to-business events, but due to a recent job change, I'll now be in charge of consumer events as well. So how do B2B and business-to-consumer shows differ?
To the casual observer, all trade shows are pretty much the same. No matter if they're B2B or B2C, they're filled with various-sized exhibits clamoring for attention. In this often-frenetic environment, exhibitors enlist numerous marketing tactics and promotions to lure attendees into their spaces and ultimately convince them to purchase products and services.

But if you look beneath that surface and reveal the underlying exhibit-marketing strategies, you'll notice several key differences between B2B and B2C – including everything from exhibitor positioning to attendee objectives. Thus, understanding these variables can mean the difference between success and failure. Here are four key areas of distinction to keep in mind as you plan your programs.


Purchase Drivers
The factors that propel people to make a purchase are called "purchase drivers." At B2B shows, purchase drivers are typically rational and business oriented. Attendees ultimately choose whether to make a purchase based on factual details, such as costs, benefits, projected return on investment, efficiencies, etc. If the proposed purchase doesn't make financial sense, it's almost never finalized.

Consumers, however, often have emotional purchase drivers. Sure, they'll consider costs, benefits, and proposed savings in time or money. But since they'll be directly impacted by this product, emotions are almost always involved in the purchasing decision. For example, a man buying a car has a far greater emotional connection to that purchase than a man buying a printing press for his company. Even if that car doesn't make financial sense, he is likely to go through with the purchase if the emotional driver is strong enough.

Exhibitors, then, need to provide different experiences to meet the purchase drivers of each audience. The B2B audience is looking for facts and stats to prove the value of the purchase to back-office bean counters, so graphics, images, staff interactions, product demos, etc. need to provide a data-based rationale for the purchase. Meanwhile, the consumer needs images, experiences, interactions, etc. that generate an emotional reaction, perhaps in the form of a personal connection, a feeling of excitement, or a desire to belong.


Complexity and Time
B2B attendees are rarely the sole decision makers. They must seek out product comparisons and relay their findings to large decision-making teams, often comprising executives, procurement departments, and perhaps even board members. As such, the amount of information required is substantial, and the purchasing timeline is lengthy.

On the other hand, consumers rarely have to seek purchasing permission. While they still gather data before they make a purchase, the decision-making process is less complex and much shorter. In fact, given consumers' emotional drivers, they often make fast, on-the-spot, or even rash purchasing decisions.

These factors mean that B2B exhibitors have to provide complex product/service information, and then they often have to wait months or years to see any ROI. Business-to-consumer exhibitors, however, can play off attendees' emotions and urge them toward a quick purchase with special at-show pricing, notification of future sales, immediate post-show communication, etc.


Relationships Versus Products
Given the lengthy purchase process, and the sizeable investments involved in sales, B2B exhibitors are often focused on building relationships for the long term, and establishing themselves as experienced partners, industry experts, and thought leaders. They also hope, then, that this positioning and relationship building will result in multiple purchases over time, not a once-and-done exchange.

Consumers usually don't want a long-term relationship or business partner; they want a specific product. Granted, some brands (e.g., Apple, Honda, Samsung, John Deere, etc.) have developed enough brand affinity with consumers to prompt multiple purchases over long periods of time. But the vast majority of consumers base decisions on product comparisons or even current market trends, not relationships. B2B exhibitors, therefore, must follow up with leads almost indefinitely to support and strengthen the relationship. Conversely, exhibitors targeting consumers should follow up after the show, but there's no need to establish a long-term communication system. If your current product didn't meet the consumer's needs, he or she probably made a purchase elsewhere. But your chance will come again with your newest products, or the next show full of new consumers.


Social-Media Success
As a general rule, B2B attendees pay far less attention to mainstream social media (at least for business purposes) than consumers do. True, you'll have some success with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, but B2B marketers find that LinkedIn and email are more successful mediums.

That said, mainstream social-media tactics can generate significant attention with consumers. Given their emotional drivers, consumers are eager to engage with others to see what products they're buying and to stay on trend. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram present a ton of potential for consumer markets, assuming you know how to effectively tap into these audiences.

While all trade shows may be similar, there are distinct differences between consumer and B2B events. But by considering these four key differences as you plan your strategies, you'll no doubt create a successful presence for either audience.


— Paige Freeborn, director of brand and marketing communications, Taylor Manufacturing Industries Inc. (The Taylor Group), Toronto



Help Wanted
Send your tough questions about exhibiting to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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