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Market research is one of the most valuable selling tools a show organizer has. Up to the minute, accurate market data arms you with the type of valuable information you need to ‘sell’ your show to potential exhibitors, including who is attending your show, how well your exhibitors did at last year’s show, and what type of sales numbers resulted from participating in the event. Savvy exhibitors — those that can contribute meaningfully to the success of your show — will want to know this type of information.

Any information you provide to potential exhibitors must be both timely and accurately. Unfortunately, hiring a market research team, especially on an annual basis, can be an expensive proposition. Doing the market research yourself can be time consuming and frustrating. What if there was a way to streamline the process, making it effortless and efficient for both you and your customers?

Enter the internet. Trade show organizers have been woefully behind the curve when it comes to exploiting the internet’s potential for market research. As the Online Expo becomes more and more of an industry presence, it is imperative that show organizers incorporate web-based elements into traditional shows to accommodate exhibitor needs, especially as they pertain to market research. The transition to a more virtual society has creating an expectation of instantaneous, accurate information — an expectation that we need to meet if we are going to survive.

Here are five techniques you can use to meet this expectation:

Constantly Gather Information: Market research is not a once-a-year phenemeon. The dynamic nature of the marketplace means that new exhibitors are constantly setting up shop, while other companies that have exhibited with you for years may run into financial difficulty. Use Google or other new-alert programs to e-mail you when any of your exhibitors make news — their prosperity (or lack thereof!) may affect your show. At the same time, monitor news related to your show’s location, the demographics related to likely attendees, and other items of interest.

Make a commitment to reach out to your exhibitors at least quarterly via your website or targeted e-mails. Invite recipients to participate in a poll, answer a survey, or give feedback. Many will, especially if the poll, survey, or feedback form is quick and easy to navigate. This gives you a steady stream of data throughout the year.

Invite Open Communication: Exhibitors and potential exhibitors should always know how to reach you. An easily navigable website is a must for all businesses, but imperative for show organizers. Consider having direct links to frequently asked questions, easily found contact options, and even ‘live help’ via e-mail chat for the crunch time just before the show.

Create Discussion Forums: Discussion forums, whether they’re constructed as a bulletin board or group format, offer a great opportunity to invite feedback, ask your exhibitors questions, and brainstorm new show features. Any group should be constructed with an RSS and XML feed so that it can be easily picked up by news aggregators, ensuring the widest possible audience is invited to participate in the discussion. You’ll need an employee to monitor the group on a regular basis, which includes filtering out spam and inappropriate messages, but the data gathered will be well worth the result.

Explore Other Communities: You’re in the exhibiting business, but your customer’s aren’t. Take the time to visit their internet hangouts — industry specific bulliten boards, discussion groups, and e-mail lists. You can either actively participate or simply passively read what’s going on — this is known as ‘lurking’, and is frowned upon in some communities, accepted in others. Either way, you’ll be presented with a front row seat of what’s going on in your customer’s industry, and gain a deeper understanding of their needs. Occassionally the talk will turn to industry conventions and shows, and that can be a very valuable learning experience.

Provide Content Rich Incentives: Attendees will only visit your website or participate in polls if you offer them something of value in exchange for their time. This could be educational — content rich articles outlining some of the how-to’s of effective exhibiting, for example — or social. The new generation of exhibitors fully expects there to be a social element to their web interactions, be it a busy discussion list or a forum always filled with heated debate. It will cost you little, if anything, to provide these items, yet will help you keep exhibitors engaged with and committed to your show.

Of course, these techniques work best when they augment traditional market research methods. Nothing can replace actually getting out on the show floor and talking face to face with your exhibitors. People may divulge a great deal of information over the net, but often don’t feel like they know someone until they meet them IRL – In Real Life.

This Marketing article was written by Susan Friedman on 5/3/2006

Written by Susan A. Friedmann,CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, author: “Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies,” working with companies to improve their meeting and event success through coaching, consulting and training. For a free copy of “10 Common Mistakes Exhibitors Make”, e-mail:; website: