In the second of a new series of blogs for Exhibition News, the NEC's Marketing Director Martin Clarke, asks...how can something have value if it’s free? Although most UK trade shows do not “sell tickets” in the way consumer shows do, trade show organisers have been gradually stealing ideas from consumer shows, recognising that trade show visitors value a good experience as much as any consumer.
Although most UK trade shows do not “sell tickets” in the way consumer shows do, trade show organisers have been gradually stealing ideas from consumer shows, recognising that trade show visitors value a good experience as much as any consumer, and that additional content and consumer-styled service levels helps motivate them to attend.
In many ways, having a non-paying audience - as exhibition/conference organisers know - can make it even more difficult to get them to attend, and the percentage of pre-registered no-shows stands testament to the enduring problem. How can something have value if it’s free?
I wrote in my last column how difficult it is to make assumptions on actual turnout versus those who have signed up to a free-to-attend event. But what if there was a ticketing process in place, or at least a process that mimics a ticketing process? That perceived value could have a positive impact on attendance.
Over the years it’s become increasingly clear to me that we don’t just sell tickets for events, instead, we sell an experience, where the ticket sale is just the start of your relationship with your customers. The same is true of inviting people to free-to-attend events (like trade shows), so why should the process differ?
As venue teams - similar to organisers - we measure our success by the audience we deliver, number of tickets we sell, the speed at which they are sold, and through the ticketing systems we use, but the reality is…tickets are not what we sell. Not as a standalone product anyway.
That sought after ticket is simply a pass, a piece of paper that’s used as a way of saving a seat or a portion of floor space. A ticket is really a promise of something better, and just one piece of the giant jigsaw that makes up a great - or maybe not so great - event experience.
Ultimately, we sell promises and dreams, but how do we ensure that we also sell smiles, laughs, intrigue and excitement, rather than pain and frustration?
Experience has told us that adopting a joined up approach with a familiar provider is far more important than jumping into bed with a stranger.
A venue-linked agency with extensive experience across a range of events will quickly be able to understand what options work best for you, your exhibitors and visitors. They are an integral part of the venue team and as such can see the big picture, get the detail, and fully understand your longer term ambitions.
Critically, the experience we sell, the experience that the customer pays for, starts before the day of the event. It starts before the day of purchase. The experience we sell starts the minute the customer considers attending an event, so we must trust in our ticket provider and we must get it right.
In short, buying into a ‘full service’ offer at venues can help you deliver what you need - without introducing an unknown quantity into the equation.
At the NEC we benefit from having an in-house ticketing provider, The Ticket Factory, who share our experience and passion for your events, and work with us as part of a team, to understand your requirements and event profiles.
With a diverse portfolio of clients, such as the Royal Horticultural Society, River Street Events and Haymarket Media, The Ticket Factory are able to bring creative ideas, data insight and external learning to the table, adding value to an integrated activity plan, enabling you to target new audiences, and helping exceed customer expectations across a full range of shows.
Their work with the Royal Horticultural Society to facilitate off-site scanning as a ‘first’ at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is just one example of incorporating external learning to benefit a client; the process enabled the client to improve security and reduce the threat from ticket touts, whilst maintaining the scale and speed of customer access to the event. This service has since been implemented across a number of events run by the Royal Horticultural Society.
As event organisers, we’re all responsible for the way our customers feel before, during and after an event, because we crafted that expectation and experience. The customer service journey was in our hands from the moment the tickets went on sale.
That’s a lot of responsibility, so it pays to have a supportive team who know your audience and how you work. Selling tickets is a key part of the journey - and undoubtedly trade show organisers can learn a thing or two from their consumer show counterparts - but the overall customer experience is much more than a slip of paper; it’s a long term relationship rather than a one night stand.
Martin Clarke, NEC Marketing Director