What Do The 2017 Construction Media Index Findings Mean For Exhibitions And Conferences?

The Construction Media Index is impartial research into traditional and digital communication channels used by UK construction industry decision makers.

The 2017 findings have recently been published and here, Catherine Caplis (Joint MD at CIB) explores what implications these findings could have for exhibitions and conferences in our sector.

Spurred by the digital revolution, we’ve seen a momentous rise in ‘content’ development that has impacted on every marketing channel.  Technological advancements have made the creation, hosting and delivery of content more accessible.  This, in turn, has also instilled a confidence and ambition in marketers to target their audience directly, rather than solely relying on an established infrastructure.

For exhibitions and conferences, it’s possible to draw parallels with the media landscape.  Traditionally, both have offered a set framework to house content, with an outlet delivering a defined audience and a company developing content to fit a mould. 

The internet has broken that model; and with the most popular sources of product information and ideas being manufacturers’ websites (88%) and online searches (75%) it’s not hard to see why there may have been a time where many were concluding that the internet heralded the death knell for exhibitions.  In addition, in the same way as self-publishing has opened up the media landscape, more companies are extending this approach into events - and curating their own.

Yet, exhibitions and conferences still have a place.  Indeed 56% of respondents attended at least one event in the last 12 months.  However, with ‘learning about new products and services’ and ‘being updated on current thinking’ almost on par when it came to reasons for attending, there has certainly been a shift as to the role these events have to play – with added value content now crucial to their success. 

With information at the very tips of people’s fingers one could depressingly conclude that there is now no reason to physically seek it out  – but if you look towards studies on activities such as gaming, there is evidence that those absorbed in a virtual world are increasingly craving more face to face social interactions.  This, backed by research showing that Millennials value ‘experiences’ above anything else, means the future looks positive, if organisers can get it right.

For the exhibitors and conference sponsors themselves, the event itself is no longer the end point.  We’ve witnessed a huge shift away from ‘statement’ exhibition stands and instead a much more considered approach to achieving ROI longer term.   An exhibition becomes a platform for content generation, with the aim of achieving reach far wider than the visitors to the show.  Camera crews are becoming a common sight as exhibitors use the opportunity to capture speaker slots, product overviews, demos and vox pops that can be used for months to come. 

In terms of conference sponsorship, few companies now see a value in pure brand awareness.  Gone are the days where sponsors are happy to just see their logo on the event collateral.  Now, sponsors want the scope to harvest the event content and use it within their own marketing.

For exhibition and conference organisers, this hunger for new content of course poses a conundrum.  On the one hand you have marketers who want to justify the investment by extending its reach beyond the event itself.  Conversely, the organiser needs to keep its content ‘behind closed doors’ to encourage people to attend.   However, with a definite trend for companies to organise their own events, achieving the right balance is something that organisers will have to master.

Whereas it might seem the digital revolution has resulted in us all being glued to our screens, there is undoubtedly still a desire for ‘live’ experiences – and this, coupled with an understanding of the value exhibitions and conferences can contribute to a wider content strategy, has the potential to deliver an exciting new era. 

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