Trade show and conference organizers—associations, especially—are very good at delivering information to their attendees and members. It’s a practice that drives business and membership. But, what about creating content for the thousands who have never and will never attend? There are compelling reasons to deliver consistent, unbiased and useful information to non-customers besides getting them to attend the live event.
Educating the community: Knowledge—research, news, case studies, and how-to videos—helps keep a market sector and its community vibrant. No event organizer is interested in building an event around an industry that is depleted, obsolete or shrinking. When organizations charge themselves with the task of keeping a group energized, they are the first to know when the market is on a downward slide.
Thought leadership: It’s critical for event organizers to help shape the conversation rather than just chronicle it. Some attempt to set the tone of the discussion through their blogs and social media outreach, but few really succeed. Instead they use their “bully pulpits” as advertising channels and shy away from controversy that could, in reality, help them stand out from the crowd.
Revenue: More content equals more opportunities for revenue, especially if the pool of advertisers extends beyond the exhibitors and sponsors of the show. Advertisers eager to reach the entirety of the audience in a market would naturally be interested in every blog, newsletter, white paper, e-book, video, slideshare deck, infographic and cartoon.
Dialogue: It’s easy to survey past and current attendees. But existing customers have already drunk the Kool-Aid. By talking to people that have never and will never attend, event organizers can understand how they compete with other marketing mediums, why they aren’t attractive to a particular segment and what’s working better for non-customers than trade shows and conferences.
Word of Mouth: Just because one person is unable or uninterested in attending an event doesn’t mean they won’t tell others about it. In today’s social world, one tweet can land a customer and the full reach of free, frequent and great content passed along social channels is nearly incalculable.
Talking to the empty chairs is a long-tail approach. It doesn’t yield quick results and requires a consistent effort. And, because there is so much good information provided by bloggers, suppliers (that invest in useful, non-commercial content), consultants, independent trade press and marketing agencies, most show organizers—even the ones affiliated with trade publications—have to put out really good content in order to be effective.
The Takeaway: In a world where intermediaries like trade show and conference organizers compete with digital content producers, alternative channels for buying and selling and the economy, it makes sense to speak with and to the whole community or risk finding every chair empty when the music finally stops.
Dennis Shiao says
Michelle: well said. I’d suggest a slightly tweaked analogy, however, which is that the chairs are not empty. Instead, they’re completely filled with interested people (their ears are wide open). It’s just that you can’t see them!
Bob James says
The flock of organizers of association-owned shows will embrace virtual events only after a few leading ones announce that their onsite attendance increased as a result of their online events. How sad. Associations are leaving so much money on the table!
Nice title — it’s an effective image. Having a digital presence (and strategy) does seem to play a big role in reaching those “empty chairs”. If you’re listening to those conversations on social media well before the event begins, you can have a better idea of what to share and how to generate interest in your event.