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The primary reason attendees visit a B2B exhibition is still to find new products and vendors, as it has been for decades now, says the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) in a new report [download page]. 80% of attendees surveyed said that was a reason for attending, including 53% who cited it as a top-2 reason. Just as important: a far lesser proportion said they attend exhibitions to look for specific products and vendors (57% naming it a reason; 12% a top-2). That means that exhibitors not only have a willing audience, but one that is open to suggestion.

Still, the sales cycle is by no means immediate. Just 22% of respondents said that a reason for attending was to make a purchase, and only 5% cited that as a top-2 reason. That not only reflects the longer B2B sales cycle, but also the finding that attendees are not necessarily driven to attend by specific vendors and products in which they already have an interest.

Industry Insights Also Key to Attendance

Further details from CEIR’s “Trends in Use of Exhibitions” indicates that attendees are also there to gain insights on industry conditions and trends (65%), see and talk to current vendors and suppliers (61%), and network with vendors or colleagues (59%). This indicates that exhibitions are not only where attendees discover new products and vendors, but also where they can keep up with the latest industry buzz.

This suggests that exhibitors will have success in creating new relationships if they can respond to attendees’ desire for the latest insights, and in doing so demonstrate their expertise and thought leadership. That in turn points to exhibitions as a potentially fruitful content marketing tool. In fact, according to studies from the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and Optify, B2B marketers rate in-person events at or near the top of the list of most effective content marketing tactics.

Other Findings:

  • The CEIR report finds that the majority of attendees visit more than 1 exhibition each year.
  • Attendees are more likely to say they expect to visit more exhibitions in the next 2 years than less. For those who plan to reduce their attendance of exhibitions, budget issues are to blame, rather than a perception that the exhibitions are not worthwhile.

About the Data: The CEIR respondents include domestic and international participants from a sampling of the top 250 business-to-business exhibitions in the United States, which includes a sampling of attendees and exhibitors from 27 of the top 250 exhibitions as well as a sampling of exhibitors from Exhibitrac’s top 250 exhibitions database. Online surveys were fielded in April 2012 generating samples of 9,215 attendee surveys and 885 exhibitor surveys. Each sample achieved a 3% response rate.

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