You can blame attendees and organizers all you want, but it's not going to increase your lead count.
A few years ago, as the restaurant scene was burgeoning near EXHIBITOR's office in Rochester, MN, there was a string of establishments serving international cuisine, adding some variety to our local culinary options. One by one, almost without fail, they closed up shop within a year or two and blamed unadventurous eaters for not supporting their businesses. The general sentiment was that if you're not willing to patronize places serving global cuisine, then you can't complain that there's not a diverse range of dining options.
So what does Thai food have to do with trade shows? The proprietors of the aforementioned establishments blamed their failure on consumers, rather than their inability to attract them. And while attending Vision Expo West earlier this year, I heard more than a few exhibitors doing the exact same thing. After bemoaning unremarkable booth traffic, marketers attributed their woes to everything from the siren song of the Las Vegas Strip to show organizers' scheduling of educational sessions during show-floor hours. Others criticized Vision Expo West attendees themselves for not supporting the exhibiting companies that underwrite the infrastructural expenses that make the event possible.
Yes, those factors likely attribute to low show-floor traffic, but the flaw in these exhibitors' (and the aforementioned restauranteurs') logic is that they both place the blame on an uncontrollable factor. Neither can wave a magic wand and make their target audience flock to their locations simply because they're there. In other words, if you build it, they won't necessarily come. And expecting them to do so is an arrogant oversimplification of trade show marketing in general and attendee behavior in particular.
So rather than blaming attendees' apathy or show organizers' schedules (which, for the record, were likely available when exhibitors signed their booth-space agreements), face-to-face marketers would be better served by focusing on elements they can control. Robust pre-show marketing is almost as elusive as respectful politicians these days. And sending a single email to a list of existing customers doesn't exactly check the box. Reaching out to prospective clients and arranging in-booth meetings is a simple, but surprisingly rare, tactic. And far too few exhibitors are utilizing tried-and-true traffic-building strategies, ranging from prize drawings and giveaways to at-show specials and in-booth activities. Bottom line: You can blame attendees and organizers all you want, but it's not going to increase your lead count. If, however, you take responsibility for an underwhelming performance and reevaluate your strategy, you might be able to uncover an undeniable reason for clients and prospects to visit your exhibit.
Having said that, I'll concede that apathetic attendees are a thorn in my side, and I empathize with marketers exhibiting at shows where a large percentage of buyers never set foot on the trade show floor. I wish that something could be done to convey the quintessential role exhibiting companies play in the expo and event ecosystem. But exhibit managers can't blame attendees for a lackluster showing, just as attendees who don't shop the show floor can't bellyache when the viability of the events they attend is jeopardized by sponsors and exhibiting companies who question the value of their investments.
In the end, exhibitors, attendees, and show organizers need to form better partnerships to optimize the others' outcomes in mutually beneficial ways. But that kind of evolution takes time – and active involvement on exhibits advisory committees.
So while you start the ball rolling down that path, figure out what you can add to your exhibit-marketing menu that will be sure to attract attendees and keep them coming back for more. E