As an occasional visitor to a trade show and big advocate of all things digital (and paper free) I attend a trade show with a big challenge. To leave it better connected/inspired ….but with no ‘bits’. The ‘no bits’ is the challenging part in MICEland as I found out last week at The Meetings Show. In my relatively new capacity as part event planner / part MICE marketeer, I attended mostly as a buyer to seek out all things new and inspirational for my new business plans.

As with most trade events, I came away a little perplexed with some endeavours to engage and connect with buyers. This industry does still have a very traditional approach to giveaways and marketing teasers. For a digital age, and a marketplace still driven by heavy justification on costs/ROI, I’m intrigued by the expenditure on ‘bits’. Bits being branded rubbers, pens, pencils, USB sticks, fluffy toys, sweets etc etc. These colourful giveaways are supplemented by occasional brochures (!) and every business card, from every member of the stand, regardless of my interest level. Some promotional items have no bearing on brand values or aspirations of the giver.

I’m often left speechless on occasions, as exhibitors bestow their offerings, after instantly ‘zapping’ me with their visitor scanner! I’ve feigned delight as I’ve taken receipt of branded fluorescent plastic sunglasses along with endless  colourful ‘executive toys’ ….. destined for the office ‘Secret Santa’ draw. Whilst I sound like an unappreciative buyer, I am actually a concerned marketeer. I did get very excited by an encounter with Hard Rock Hotels and their tiny ‘video in a box’ business card sized giveaway. But as I reached for my Mr Magoo glasses, someone was quick to remark it was a ‘done’ idea. Damn!

PowerPoint bulging USB sticks are yielded as essential takeaway and a declaration of an IT savvy brand firing up the buyer with event inspiration. I wonder how many joyful sticks make it to port – or simply fall into the desk tidy abyss. Despite my best endeavours, I failed miserably at The Meetings Show. I aimed to be expo-lite with a fast exit from the appointment before the shower of ‘bits’. I left laden … but at least it was product for which I had a genuine interest. So I remain positive!

From this buyer perspective, I enjoyed the show. Compact, easy to navigate and sufficient new/old faces to provide an engaging day of discovery, networking and the odd bit of inspiration. A smaller show that I expected but where it lost on scale and diversity, it won on general organisation and the show captured some key product and faces to fulfil a good visit.

I think my view on MICE industry shows was a tad jaded by my early corporate career within in exhibitions in the IT sector. As a young events manager we had to enforce strict guidelines on conduct and stand duties. No drinking, eating, smoking (age giveaway!), slouching. Be attentive at all times, no soliciting in the aisles, discourage serial freebie collectors etc etc.

FoodAs we operate in an ‘hospitality industry’ it seems we have a more relaxed attitude to these standards and the casual approach is a sign of the times. Undoubtedly we are a professional industry but with an international gathering and varying body clocks, I’m tickled that wine o’clock now kicks off on the strike of noon! Quicker than I can say Pret a Manger, out come the canapés, and like bees around honey, you can clearly see brand pulling power based on their level of nibbles, dips, champers etc. Forget any chance of being a casual visitor intent on some serious talk and attention – its wine o’clock in MICEland!

Another thought as I head home after the show. Getting back to bits! Business cards. What do you do with them? With every networking forum, trade show and supplier appointments, comes a whole fresh batch. File, scan, pin or archive … they have a very limited life in MICEland. With industry faces moving around faster than a Trump brushover in a hurricane, I still cling on to these essential receipts of real ‘connection’.

I tend to sift through key ones and instantly connect on LinkedIn, in the hope that I can track my preferred connections as they move around the industry rather than rely on dusty old cards with a limited shelf life. Okay, on LinkedIn, not everyone is great is keeping their profile up-to-date or most will display their personal email addresses, to kindly help the head hunters. But hey, its still a great tool.

The Meetings Show also gave me a chance to check-in on one of my personal consultancy projects participating at the event. For an online planners tool, micebook is currently undergoing a a big re-transformation. To keep the brand active during development and share some small insights into plans ahead, eveleogy supported micebook in developing a teaser video and a ‘building’ theme to give presence at The Meeting Show and tap into the eventprofs.

In between hosted buyer appointments, I checked-in on micebook to discover a strong, steady flow of eventprofs intrigued and supportive of the new developing plans and eager to discover more. In the earliest stages of micebook redevelopment, I managed to have access to fascinating market research into buyer views on resourcing and supplier management. Trade shows continue to a valued part of the promotional marketing mix but undoubtedly, millennial buyers, who are the target of most brands, are looking for quick, easy access to both data, resources and inspiration through dynamic methods.

So I will continue my quest to be ‘bit free’ visitor but remain excited about the micebook tool in development which will be focused on best connections, inspiration, networking without so much as business card, USB stick … or fluffy toy.

PS. But I am really okay with wine o’clock and canapés whenever suits!

Paul Evans, Founder of Eveology, is a leading incentive travel & events specialist and MICE marketing consultant. For more information, visit www.eveology.com

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