Mapping new customer touchpoints

The Exhibition Think Tank (ETT) Club recently published the findings from its research into discovering key tradeshow customer touchpoints. EW looks at the genesis of that project.


Following the October 2020 Exhibition Think Tank (ETT) looking into the question of new tradeshow customer touchpoints, the ETT Club, an industry innovation platform, organised a panel discussion to present some of the group’s findings.

This project was suggested by the ETT group ‘Exhibitions in Training’, who posited that, if our industry is changing, and the format of events we offer changes too, there will be new touchpoints between customers, and also between us and customers.

The Think Tank events included two sprints, making a total of three online sessions and two group work phases in between. Of the eleven ETT groups who joined the October Think Tank (more than 100 participants), four also took part in the panel discussion in December to present their findings: Event Boyz, VaPor, Eventgers and Strong Girlz + 1.

The following group leaders presented their respective team’s work: Stephanie Selesnick, president, International Trade Information Inc. (Strong Girlz + 1); Mark Parsons, MD and founder, Events Intelligence (VaPor); Nicole Peck, VP of marketing, events, IDG Communications, Inc. (Eventgers) and Mike Frost, co-founder, Expocast (Eventgers) and Berislav Čižmek, founder and CEO, CBBS (Event Boyz).

The December session started with a summary of the results of two surveys organised for the October Think Tank. The first was about visitors and how their behaviour might change after the Covid-19 crisis. The results indicated that visitors will become more discerning in future and will demand more content and more reasons to attend. They will also want to join more digital formats.

The second survey covered exhibitors and how exhibitor behaviour will change after the Covid-19 crisis. The results showed that exhibitors will dedicate more resources to upskilling themselves. If marketing budgets don’t increase, money will be shifted from exhibitions and towards creating digital products.

The ETT group leaders then presented their work. Event Boyz Group, led by Berislav Čižmek, focused on mapping the live and digital visitor journey. By creating ‘personas’ and looking at the different stages of the journey, his group found an increasing number of touchpoints that will not be easy for organisers to fulfil. They also noted that post-show communication remains key. The group concluded that the event industry should be open to adapting, depending on feedback received after a show. They believe show content will become even more relevant, event quality will be a key factor, and everybody should be encouraged to find ways to monetise the digital model.

“Organisers have to find out how to offer digital options and how to monetise them, otherwise the money will go to other companies.” Čižmek said.

Mark Parsons’ VaPor group re-thought the concept of what a ‘touchpoint’ was exactly, and proposed that we should review and use them in a different way. After discussing 14 different ways to communicate with customers, they realised that the mix of communication channels has changed significantly during lockdown.

So, where do we focus our attention?

There are new ways of doing things, new objectives and a total of 41 new touchpoints were identified. Chatroulette (an online chat website for webcam-based conversations) for B2B, for example, makes it possible to break down the fourth wall between exhibitors and attendees, and to create a one-to-one meeting format. Digital concierge/online butler services make it possible to contact attendees prior to an event, to understand their challenges and to introduce them to exhibitors. Hosted buyer programmes and vertical communities, meanwhile, enable you to focus on a niche using digital. And with the right digital assets, you can undertake data tracking and community segmentation. The conclusion was that there are no boundaries when it comes to using digital.

Parsons also gave a warning of the consequences if the crisis drags on: “If a country hasn’t had a show for two years, things will change, and it will become a material issue, especially in Europe.”

For the Eventgers group, led by Nicole Peck and Mike Frost, touchpoints were very much taken literally as communication touchpoints and as another opportunity to talk to customers. The group presented two concepts: a ‘code of conduct’ and an ‘expectations of ALL participants’ document. The code of conduct is a mutual commitment with mutual benefits for the organisers, sponsors and attendees, to make people feel at ease and comfortable. The importance of no failure of compliance and consistency are key.

The aim of the ‘expectations of ALL participants’ document is to maintain high quality throughout events for customers. This acts as an additional touchpoint for organisers, which clearly outlines the benefits for all stakeholders and the commitment required in terms of time, content and community. The code of conduct is limited to health and safety regulations, yet there is far more scope for tailoring and customisation with the ‘expectations of ALL participants’ document. The two resources can interweave with each other.

Nicole Peck noted that, although we are in the business of connecting buyers and sellers, the surveys highlighted how poor many of our strategies are around data and data use. “Time is our most treasured commodity and should be mutually respected,” she added.

Mike Frost said that in the future venues will likely be at reduced capacities: “We have to make sure that a high proportion of attendees to our events are high-quality attendees to ensure that we have that customer satisfaction at the end,” he said.

Stephanie Selesnick’s Strong Girlz + 1 group showed a video of a ‘safe’ visitor journey for attendance at a conference in Las Vegas, starting with packing for the trip, and moving on to contactless check-in facilities at the hotel, car rental and the registration process using a Citizen Care pod with thermo-scan to check temperatures. There was also the use of enter-only/exit-only signs and a room setting based on social-distancing rules. The speakers even had to wear masks, which was challenging for sound reasons.

At lunch, there was a maximum of three people per table, and at the end of the conference, each attendee was given a Covid-19 test.

Having attended the event, one conclusion drawn by participants was that the ability to communicate with the registration partner is imperative, as many people are not good at registering in advance. With effective rules and guidelines in place, it is still important to remember that what people do pre- and post-event is out of organiser control.

“Late registration will be a lot harder with the new legislation.” Stephanie Selesnick said, emphasising: “What people do pre- and post-event we can’t control; what we can do is keep people as safe as we can.”

The ETT Club session participants concluded that the industry is somewhat divided, with some viewing the pandemic as a chance to work on new touchpoints and improve performance, while others are waiting for things to return to as they were before Covid-19.

Despite those differences, Parsons probably spoke for all participants when he praised the value of the ETT Club format for thrashing out issues and finding solutions: “A think tank is also about disagreeing within a team, in order to see things a different way and generate new ideas,” he said.