In the future, I see the integration of offline and online in exhibition marketing

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  • 04/06/2020

  • Ivan Nikolsky

  • Expert opinion

  • 20 minutes 18 seconds


The exhibition business is going through hard times, as is the entire event business. But the temporary absence of offline events is not a reason to forget about their importance for B2B marketing and B2B communications. To find out what effective exhibition marketing is today and what kind of exhibition activity will be after the lockdown, we asked a few questions to Ivan Nikolsky, managing partner of the exhibition marketing agency Exponic.

Ksenia Alekseeva, Managing Partner of Fresh Russian Communications

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— What distinguishes the clients of your company? How to attract the attention and gain the trust of customers in B2B?

I.N.: How would I like to answer that it is price and quality. But this is, perhaps, only 50% of success, and maybe even less. The remaining half is the experience of fulfilling similar contracts, the presence of own production, the staff of engineers, installers, electricians, certificates, reviews, commendations, diplomas, awards and other qualification requirements. But in my opinion, the most important factor is personal. I can name about 10-15 companies in the exhibition industry along with ours that offer high quality, competitive price, and meet other quality characteristics. The main difference is in marketing. We do not just build stands for clients, but help clients earn money from their participation in exhibitions. We are convinced that the exhibition is primarily a marketing tool, it is an investment that should pay off and bring profit. And our practice shows that with the right approach and competent planning, it is possible to achieve positive financial indicators within 3 months after the end of the exhibition. There are clients for whom the exhibition is exclusively an image component, in other words, it is a PR tool. In this case, we develop a design project, a concept to attract the attention of visitors and build an exclusive stand that will be remembered for a long time by visitors and participants of the event, as well as arouse the interest of the media.

Our clients can be divided into two categories. The first, as a rule, are small and medium-sized businesses that work directly with us. They hold tenders, or they contact us with an order themselves. The second are advertising and communication agencies, Russian and international, which do not directly provide exhibition services. In addition to specialized services, they either offer their client to take part in the exhibition, or the client himself asked. In any case, the agency turns to us. In this case, we act as a subcontractor for the client's agency.

— How did you manage to attract such large customers as MITSUBISHI ELECTRIC, VIASAT, CHANEL, HENNESSY, etc.?

I.N.: We have been on the market for a very long time, since 1991. Around the same time, the exhibition industry was being formed. For many clients, having an impressive expertise is a key factor in making a decision. These companies became our clients at a time when the concept of Internet marketing, sales scripts and so on simply did not exist. Only word of mouth worked. There is no formula here, it's just that at that moment Exponic employees managed to correctly present effective solutions for customers. An important role was also played by the fact that key managers and designers have thousands of completed projects behind them, as well as diplomas of the MARCHI with honors. They are real professionals in their field. That's how it all worked out. If I am not mistaken, VIASAT held tenders for the construction, and we always offered a project that best corresponded to the technical task. Others simply turned to us on the recommendation and set a task. Now the market is changing rapidly, and each client announces a tender for the construction of a stand. Sometimes up to 20 companies participate in the purchase, and even each offers 2 design projects, a total of 40 pictures. I don't envy the client, it's not easy to choose one project out of 40. With such a saturated market, the winning percentage naturally decreases. All factors must converge in order for the client to choose your project.

— What projects can you highlight?

I.N.: At the St. Petersburg International Gas Forum in 2019, we made an exhibition for the Zagorsk Pipe Plant and developed a concept to attract attention to the stand. The stand was included in several TV stories, and it was also discussed by many guests of the forum. Perhaps it was the most unusual stand at the exhibition. In addition, for the first time, the technology of a frame dome with a stretch fabric with a diagonal of 9 meters was used, on which video content was projected using 4 projectors and 3D-mapping technology.

We are very proud of our 13-year cooperation with the United Aircraft Corporation. The UAC expositions developed with each new exhibition. In 2007, the total building area of all related enterprises of the corporation amounted to more than 4,000 square meters at the International Aerospace Salon in Zhukovsky. I will also mention the stand for the BF "System" at the Open Innovations forum in Skolkovo, where an LED screen in three sections (floor, wall, ceiling) was used, as well as interactive content for the touch kiosk was developed.

— What, in your opinion, is the specifics of working with Russian and foreign companies?

I.N.: There is no fundamental difference in working approaches. The price, of course, is very different. A square meter of exclusive exhibition buildings in Europe costs about 1000 euros, in Russia it is 300 euros at best. Therefore, it is very effective to build up European clients at Russian exhibitions and it is less profitable to provide exhibition services for Russian companies abroad. Also, the European exhibition market is more "educated". Clients clearly understand the goals and objectives, begin to prepare for the exhibition much in advance, 4-6 months before the start, launch marketing programs to stimulate the audience and, in principle, approach the process more professionally. There are not many really mature clients in Russia who approach the exhibition project professionally. Although the market has been maturing lately. Oddly enough, it is most convenient to work with such clients if they have the desire and awareness that they want to maximize the benefits of the exhibition. If they remembered about the exhibition not too late, but contacted us in advance, then they have every chance to loudly declare themselves and not repeat mistakes in the future.

— Which exhibition marketing tools are most effective for B2B companies?

I.N.: The client needs to decide on the goals of participation himself or together with us first. In total, there are 6 business tasks that the exhibition can solve: sales, production, marketing, advertising, image, communication. Often, participation in an exhibition can solve several tasks at the same time. Globally, companies take part in exhibitions for two main reasons: the search for new customers to conclude deals - in other words, sales, and to support the image, increase reputation, support audience loyalty – PR. Depending on what the client needs, the appropriate tools are selected. In the first case, it is necessary to choose an exhibition and evaluate its commercial potential, hold a seminar on effective participation in the exhibition, after which jointly develop a marketing strategy, develop a plan to announce participation in the exhibition and invite the audience to the stand, conduct training on working with visitors for the exhibition team of the project. Develop an information policy, attract the media, offer promotions and presentations within the framework of the exhibition. It is also worth using the opportunities offered by the organizer: sponsorship, participation in a business program, joint promotions, cross-marketing, etc. Simply put, preparing for an exhibition is akin to preparing for the release of a new product/service to the market.

If the client needs PR, the exposure itself comes to the fore. Development of a design layout of an exhibition stand with comfortable meeting areas, upholstered furniture, catering services. It is possible to erect a second floor to organize a closed space for VIP. The use of multimedia non-standard surfaces also creates a holistic perception of the exposure. As a rule, with such a task, the maximum emphasis is placed on the stand itself, which reflects the stability, style, solidity and success of the client with the use of expensive materials in the decoration. Examples of such stands can be seen at all the congress and exhibition events held by Roscongress (SPIEF, RIF, WEF, etc.).

— What formats of exhibition marketing are most popular with customers now?

I.N.: With all the desire and evidence to combine sales and PR tasks into one, it turns out extremely rarely. The reasons may be related to the fact that not all customers, and the market as a whole, are aware of this service, and are trying to close this "gap" on their own. The exhibition marketing service, at least the pronounced emphasis of this service with expertise, is offered by only two companies in the sector, including ours. And 90% of all customers still order a "design project and construction of an exhibition stand". However, in recent years, customers have begun to include in the terms of reference, in addition to manufacturing the stand, additional services that were previously performed by themselves or at the expense of other contractors. Increasingly, the TK prescribes services for printing, video content development, visa support, cleaning, catering, provision of promotional staff, translators, business events, and so on. It is extremely rare to find an exhibition marketing task in the brief, as a rule, everything is limited to the construction of the stand.

— How do you measure the effectiveness of exhibition marketing?

I.N.: As in general marketing practice, the criterion for quantitative evaluation is the ROI indicator - return on investment from participation in the exhibition, and for qualitative evaluation, ROO is used – an indicator of achieving the goals and objectives that you set for the exhibition.

According to the formula, ROI is the ratio of the net profit that you received after the exhibition from new customers to the costs of participating in the exhibition, expressed as a percentage. Any positive ROI indicates the success of the exhibition company. If the ROI is equal to or exceeds 20%, this is a good result. For the most adequate assessment, the results should be summed up no earlier than three months after the end of the exhibition, sometimes longer, depending on the sales cycle.

To calculate the ROO indicator, an indicator of not material, but business tasks, depending on the goals set, the evaluation criteria can be: the ratio of the planned and actual number of contacts with target visitors; the quality of contacts; the ratio of the number of contacts with new and regular customers; the percentage of attracted visitors; the percentage of contacts that led to the sale, etc.

The clearer the tasks are defined, the easier it is to monitor the progress of their implementation and the degree of achievement. Practice shows that companies that set specific tasks and follow them before, during and after the exhibition achieve maximum results.

— What do you think is missing for Russian exhibition marketing specialists in B2B?

I.N.: Their absence. There are only a few specialists on the entire Russian expo market, who can be counted on the fingers of one hand. There are also no training programs for "exhibition project managers" in educational institutions, there is no special standard, and in principle, the federal law "on congress, exhibition and fair activities" in Russia has been discussed for a long time, but has not yet been adopted. All these factors have led to the fact that those experts who are on the market are self–taught. Only at the Faculty of Economics of M.V. Moscow State University. Lomonosov has a professional development program "Exhibition Marketing". They don't teach exhibition marketing anywhere else.

— What anti-crisis measures are you taking in the current conditions?

I.N.: Associations and unions, including the Union of Exhibition Developers (which includes Exponic) sent a letter to the Prime Minister in mid-March with specific proposals for support measures, but so far it is far from targeted assistance. Many exhibition events were postponed from spring to summer and autumn, but this was before the President announced non-working days until the end of April-May. No one knows whether the deadline will be extended and whether the planned events will take place in the summer. There is little hope.

The most important thing now, due to the lack of sources of income, is to freeze mandatory monthly payments. Almost every small and medium-sized business has loans. We must pay tribute to the banks that go to freeze payments both on the main body of the loan and on interest. The second important point is rent. Business rents commercial real estate, and the Government Decree on rental holidays does not apply to us, because it refers to vacation rentals of state and municipal property. Difficulties with the payment of salaries to employees. There are no exhibitions, customers do not participate in them, there is no revenue, respectively, than to pay a salary, it is not clear. All measures of state support have not yet reached the SMEs. This is also due to the fact that the state classifies the affected industries according to the main OKVED code, which most companies do not have. This has happened historically. In addition, there should be no tax arrears, including VAT. Since there are no sources of income, companies have "climbed" into VAT and spent these funds to support their organizations, and now they cannot count on subsidies.

There are several new financial instruments of assistance developed by the Government of the Russian Federation together with banks and the real sector. These are measures to support the affected industries, not the first iteration, but updated ones that are more loyal to SMEs and take into account many of the recommendations of the event industry. We will definitely use them, I hope we will go through all the bureaucracy calmly. This will help to survive the summer, keep the staff, production facilities and restart the exhibition business in the fall.

— Share your vision of 2-3 trends in B2B communications for the coming years.

I.N.: The transition of the entire event industry to online is very fashionable now. Nevertheless, online will not replace offline, as tactile contact, the opportunity to "feel" the goods, hold a presentation and arrange negotiations in a comfortable area will remain in demand. In addition, during self-isolation, people missed live networking. In the future, I see the integration of offline and online.

The development of Internet marketing and any communication on the Internet will only develop, new VR and AR technologies will be used more massively, and the cost of these services will decrease with increased demand, which will make them more accessible.

His Majesty's content will also be in demand, as always, only it will shift more in the digital sphere, it will be used in multimedia interactive technologies of interaction with visitors.

A personal brand, the so-called social selling, will receive more development when the head of the company actively conducts his social networks. This type of communication will gradually replace the classic SMM. More and more customers make a decision to purchase a product or service when he or she is associated with a "living" person, a representative of the company. This inspires confidence in the person and is projected onto the brand of the organization.

And finally, PR and communications will be increasingly integrated with marketing. Especially in SMEs, whose managers will demand a return on investment from any "promotion" tool. Even the public relations departments will not be required to provide qualitative indicators, such as citation, rating of the Media Catalog and the number of publications, but the financial result that this activity will bring.



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