The 2012 Summer Outdoor Retailer Show concluded on Sunday, but the decisions about where to go next remain. Show managers are using an online platform called The Collective Voice to take the pulse of the outdoor community about where to move the show (it has outgrown Salt Lake City) and how to grow the show, or not.
The Collective Voice is an online forum that exists as part of the Outdoor Retailer website although it’s accessible by invitation only. To avoid influence from regional interests or the media, show organizers invited 20,000 attendees, exhibitors, non-profit advocacy groups, outdoor athletes and other stakeholders to talk freely about the show they love.
The issues that Outdoor Retailer is looking for input on, besides where to move the show include whether they should grow the show and, most importantly, “what does ‘outdoor’ really mean? “If we include fishing, stand-up paddle boarding, yoga and travel [for example], that changes the conversation about how we should grow. If we don’t want them, maybe we can fit in Salt Lake City,” says Kenji Haroutunian, VP of Nielsen Exposition’s Outdoor Group.
Outdoor Retailer has surveyed the community on these issues before, but Haroutunian says that surveys aren’t enough. “What [The Collective Voice] will do is fill in the gaps—the reasoning behind why people will check a box on the survey. The success in Salt Lake City is because of the culture and intangibles that you can’t get from a survey.”
So far, The Collective Voice has logged several thousand registrants and about 300 or so comment threads. “We already have people happy, ecstatic and upset,” Haroutunian says. The majority of comments suggest that stakeholders would like to stay in Salt Lake City and make it work. Haroutunian notes that companies with great locations on the show floor and those with 40+ shows under their belts are in the “stay” crowd. They are asking whether the show really needs to go. It’s the exhibitors crammed into tents and in meeting rooms that are feeling the need to move on.
From the beginning, The Collective Voice wasn’t designed as a forum. It is a variation of the GoExpo tradeshow management and matchmaking platform that already exists for the show. The majority of users access the Collective Voice forum using the same login information they use as attendees and exhibitors. “We wanted it to be efficient and to encourage people to use the same tool they are already familiar with,” Haroutunian explains.
Show organizers spent a lot of time providing the community with information to make informed decisions on the platform. They have listed the other destinations that could handle Outdoor Retailer complete with the housing and city service requirements. The site contains a comparison chart with metrics on how each destination stacks up to one another. The issues around the future vision of Outdoor Retailer are addressed at length in the FAQ section.
The Collective Voice platform is a departure from the traditional way that trade show organizers make decisions and Haroutunian wanted it that way. Most organizations fall back on a leadership group or volunteer strategic planning committee. “Coming into this industry, I was a bit surprised at the secretive decision making. I thought it was something that needed to be changed. One of my roles here is to change that model so that the trade show is not seen as necessary evil,” he says.
The open commenting period may be coming to an end soon now that Outdoor Retailer 2012 has concluded. The summer show—Outdoor Retailer has both summer and winter installments in Salt Lake City—is causing the most pain. “By fall,” Haroutunian says, “we should have a really good idea from the initial survey, the post-show survey and The Collective Voice platform about where to go from here.” Depending on the decisions, the final reveal could be dramatic.
The Collective Voice is only the beginning for Nielsen. “You will see more of this coming out of Outdoor Retailer especially for tapping into the collective intelligence and diversity of thought to create products and events. Our evolution is at stake. We want to use these tools to crack open the secretive approach to running the show. The broader the reach, the better the show,” Haroutunian explains.
Tapping into the voice of the community isn’t particularly new. Surveys have been around forever. Many organizations use calls for presentations to tap into the collective knowledge of their members come annual meeting time. But, the genuine desire to meet the needs of customers (especially for a for-profit company like Nielsen) by digging deep into the culture and psyche of a community is a sign of things to come—a sign that the community matters most of all. The Collective Voice platform just made it easier.