Research File: Profiting from perfect profiles

Mike Fletcher sees how in-depth visitor research has helped improve the performance of trade and consumer shows

The power of research should never be underestimated. Trade and consumer fairs strive to relate to their market dynamic and few sectors stand still. For organisers, the importance of research is even greater as most events take place only once a year at best. Get it wrong at one show and it can take years to repair the damage.

"Working with a wide variety of organisers we find a number of interesting views on research," says Vivid Interface managing director Geoffrey Dixon.

"For some, research is essential. They know that to market intelligently they need to understand their visitors and non-visitors, or in the case of trade shows, visitors, non-visitors and pre-registered non-attendees (PRNAs).

"Put simply, how do you know where to advertise and what to say unless you know who comes to your show - never mind how you develop the exhibition to attract new audiences?"

The case studies opposite show how two established events use visitor profiling to stay one step ahead of the needs of exhibitors and the expectations of visitors.

Vivid Interface Indexes are available for members to view on the AEO website The AEO's research arm is sponsored by Event and exhibition centre Excel.


Hotelympia, organised by Fresh RM, focuses on the food service and hospitality industry. The biennial show had been held at Earls Court in west London since 1994 but this year it re-located to the other side of the capital and attracted more than 40,000 visitors when it ran from 23-27 February at Docklands venue Excel.

As a result of research conducted by Vivid Interface, show director Claire Finch created a series of marketing messages that were specific to each section of the show's audience rather than relying on a single message.

This approach is supported by the latest visitor analysis in Vivid Interface's quarterly Index report for the Association of Exhibition Organisers. It states that, on average, 42% of visitors to a trade show have never been before and of the 58% who have been before, only half of those came last year. The figures underline the importance of persuading visitors to return and to target new visitors with individual needs.

Finch commissioned Vivid to research Hotelympia visitors and the previous show's PRNAs. The research looked at each audience to find out which of their business issues and problems could be solved by a visit to the show.

"The research removed the guesswork," says Finch. "As a result, I knew what the key triggers were for each main market sector and what solutions potential visitors were looking for. The research became the marketing brief and we created different marketing messages for the main visitor profiles. Restaurant owners got messages that struck a chord with restaurant owners and hotel owners likewise. It was an essential component in developing the show proposition."


British Marine Federation (BMF) marketing manager Mike Enser believes there is no single profile that covers water sports enthusiasts. "There are people who are new to sailing and there are sailors with years of experience who can sail anywhere. Then there are different profiles for windsurfers, motor boaters, canal boat users, canoeists, divers, fishermen and so on," he states.

This diverse visitor profile makes research integral to planning the marketing programmes for the London Schroders International Boat Show and the Southampton Boat Show.

"We need to know about the relationship between our show visitors and the core elements of the show and we need to understand the relationships between the different water-related pastimes," Enser continues.

"Research has told us that a high proportion of boaters are also interested in fishing. But we now know precisely which ones, how old they are, the types of boat they own, what magazines they read and where they live.

With this information we know to what degree fishing could be an element in the show to satisfy our current visitors. Without the research we would be guessing."

The updated Vivid Interface Consumer Show Index states that 60% of show visitors decide to attend in the final four-week run-up to the show. Enser is using this statistic to plan next year's Southampton and London shows, which are organised with National Boat Shows. "Research has told us who decides and when they decide. This means we can target media by type of visitor and also design our communications programme to reflect how water enthusiasts think."

Vivid's Dixon goes one step further. "The marketing has to continue right up to the show's opening and beyond as 25% of visitors have still not made a decision to attend even after the doors are opened on the first day of the event."

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