Suminh Tham, Clarion’s head of content for DSEI, on how content can do wonders in the world of B2B trade exhibitions.
Is content really king? Yes it is and I’m not being biased!
The purpose of content is threefold – it gets people to your event; it then gets people to stay at your event; and it provides an educational and experiential element that cannot necessarily be achieved by having a show of exhibition stands only, which in turn can contribute very positively to your show’s NPS score. If done properly it can take your exhibition to another level. Think of content as the icing on a cake where exhibition stands are the sponge – the icing just makes it so much better.
As a B2B event, content at DSEI consists primarily of multiple conferences both on and off the exhibition floor. Producing several conferences sounds fairly straightforward, but to make content king it must always be aligned with the show’s strategy and tailored towards your audience. That applies to B2C Events too. With over 35,000 visitors at DSEI, tailoring content can be quite tricky as the audience is segmented into multiple subject-matter communities each wanting to see different things.
I approach content with three core aspects in mind:
1. Conference framework – by starting with a robust framework that is driven by show objectives and backed by your key stakeholders, the rest of the programme falls into place like a jigsaw puzzle.
2. Marketing – you can have the best content but if nobody knows about it then you’ve more or less wasted your time producing it.
3. Operational delivery – this is all about creating a great experience for your visitors and speakers. I’ve been to so many exhibitions with little or no signage to the conferences, terrible AV delivery because the technician got the PowerPoint slides mixed up, and chairmen who are clueless about how to chair. A brilliant conference programme can be inadvertently shot down by poor onsite delivery.
Get all 3 of these core aspects right then you’re onto a winner.
However, first and absolutely foremost you must understand the sector that your audience operates in and the market conditions that are driving their priorities at your show. You could say that’s true of sales, marketing etc and not just content, but content is what visitors will freely spend their time engaging with onsite and it exposes your sector expertise and credibility.
What’s the commercial benefit? Exhibition conferences can undoubtedly generate additional revenue by charging delegates a bit extra to attend. As well as paying to attend conferences at DSEI, the industry pays for speaking slots because the opportunity to present to the high-level VIPs that it attracts is so valuable. DSEI 2017’s conference revenue was up 370 per cent YOY, conference delegates were up 72 per cent YOY and exhibition revisits were up eight per cent YOY due to quality content.
However, the indirect benefits are multifaceted. For example, tactically placing your conference theatres in areas of the exhibition which have the least footfall drives visitor traffic around the show resulting in more stand visits and happier exhibitors; scheduling your keynotes and most popular speakers at points of the day when you expect to see a drop in visitors will keep people there; incorporating content into sponsorship gives the sales team stuff with which to up-sell; running a high-level conference the day before the exhibition begins followed by a networking drinks reception (any excuse!) attracts more VIPs; creating expert steering groups, made up of key stakeholders, for each of your communities will generate relevant themes, top speakers and other exhibition content, such as demos.
I cannot stress how important the last point is – by inserting stakeholders into the planning of your content not only can you create great programmes, you are building a network of communities that are the backbone of your show. By leveraging their sector expertise and relationships with other stakeholders, you are guaranteed to see quality visitors that will return again and again, each time bringing at least one more colleague than the last time. Equally as important is the ability to then drive a content-led, segmented marketing campaign that generates meaty sales leads. DSEI 2017’s best performing vis-prom email got 24,351 opens (16 per cent) and 1,782 clicks (seven per cent), both above industry average; and ex-prom segmentation delivered 1,066 qualified stand enquiries compared to 587 in 2015.
This of course is no mean feat. In fact it’s a long but very rewarding game. DSEI didn’t have conferences until 2013 and back then they were pretty average with little commercial value – content definitely wasn’t king! However, introducing content to a format that had been the same for over a decade was always going to be a challenge.
Since then, DSEI’s content has been fine-tuned to now be considered a leading platform of conferences within the defence sector. I spend a great deal of time at networking events and competitor shows building those stakeholder relationships, chairing multiple steering committees and attending meetings with the Ministry of Defence. Additionally, I run DSEI-branded conferences in the intervening year (as it’s a biennial event), which keeps communities, engaged over the two-year cycle. All that work helps to build the aforementioned robust conference framework and it gets you into the best possible starting position for the jigsaw puzzle to then seamlessly fall into place.
So yes, content is indeed king, but as with any ascent to an event throne you have to do quite a bit to get there.