In our business, as in most industries, the customers who contact us represent a wide demographic base. However, we’ve noticed some distinct differences in the way certain generations communicate. Even internally, we’ve observed that our staff Baby Boomers prefer face-to-face communications; our younger staff members prefer email.
But there are some interesting lessons we can all learn and apply from this observation, particularly when it comes to maximizing communication with Millennial customers at trade shows. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research recently completed a study, “The Role and Value of Face-to-Face Interaction” which affirms the necessity of face-to-face marketing: It’s something that all generations still want and need. But the route to it has changed with Millennials or those currently age 18-27.
Neither is wrong. Rather, both are generational preferences.
First, it’s important to understand their role as a tradeshow attendee. According to the CEIR study, while purchasing influence is high (89%) among Millennials, only about 40 percent of Millennial trade show attendees have final purchasing power. Instead, due to their natural position in the workforce, they are more apt to play the role of an information gatherer or purchase influencer.
“This is a trend we’re definitely recognizing among our clients,” says Dennis Majewski, vice president of business development at Exhibit Systems. “Often, our first point of contact with someone seeking a display is with a Millennial – and they frequently ask a lot of email questions and want to communicate via email rather than over the phone or in a face-to-face meeting.”
Remember, without the authority to make a final purchasing decision, many Millennials are essentially “hunter-gatherers.” They are seekers of information, and their demographic communication preferences really tie into this role: Email and other forms of digital communication provide an easy way to forward information to a manager. Because this generation lives online, it’s an extremely efficient way to communicate for them.
Ironically, that may seem like the least efficient means for older generations who are used to more traditional means. But perseverance can pay off.
“The imperative and strength of a trade show, and of face-to-face marketing, is that it provides the opportunity to communicate and interact more completely in real time, which you simply can’t do via email or a text or even a voice mail,” says Majewski. “Trade shows and events are still a critical part of a solid sales and marketing strategy. It does produce ROI.”
According to the CEIR study, Millennials’ top reasons for attending trade shows varies little from their other demographic cohorts in most areas. But the way to reach them does.
Here are three solid ways to reach out and improve communication with Millennial attendees:
• Use online activity to encourage Millennials’ show attendance. Additional CEIR research shows that nearly one in three Millennials say that online interaction increases their participation in exhibitions and conventions. This is in stark difference to the Boomer generation: Only 15 percent report that online activities increase their interest in face-to-face tradeshow interaction.
• Use trade shows as experiential opportunities. No amount of words sent in an email can explain the nuances of your product or service as well as seeing it in person. Stress what Millennials can expect – and what added value there is – in visiting your exhibit. Additionally, the CEIR study uncovered that one of the primary reasons nearly half of Millennials attend exhibitions is for “inspiration and motivation.” Unlike their older cohorts, Millennials are less interested in education through conference programs and sessions, and more interested in the experience of the trade show. Promote this to your Millennial customers, and you’ll see them in your booth.
• Understand that a purchase is often not the objective for this group. Just by job function, only four in every 10 Millennials have purchasing authority at a trade show. So why do they attend? According to the CEIR study, 77 percent are looking for new products/vendors; 66 percent want to gain insights on industry conditions/trends; 62 percent want to talk to current vendors/suppliers; and 34 percent also use trade shows as an opportunity to discuss problems with vendors.
Adjust your approach accordingly, and you’ll find that you’ll build loyalty with customers in this age group. And while they may not have purchasing authority in their current position, they certainly will as they move through their careers.