One of the great things about our business is the people we get to know and work with. For instance, the other day, I was having a conversation with Francis Friedman of Time & Place Strategies, Inc. on the subjects of turnarounds and focus groups–two things he knows well. Thought I’d share part of our conversation with you.
SS: With shows that are in decline and need assistance, what would you say is the most important thing they need to do?
FF: Accept the fact that they don’t know their audience (exhibitors and visitors), because the decline in participation indicates their audience believes that organizer does not know "who they are" and produces an exhibition/conference not specifically built for them. In a transition economy like the one we're in now –we, as show organizers need to fully know and understand our audience so we can be truly relevant to them with our events.
In a transitional economy, core values and issues change. What our audience wanted two years ago is not what they are looking for now and in the immediate future.
We have to not only "know" our audience but also know what our audience is willing to pay for. Research is imperative to acquire this "knowing" so that an organizer can create the right mix of expo floor/education/networking, etc.
SS: When facilitating a focus group at a show, what is the biggest mistake most organizers make?
FF: There is a real fear in most focus group moderators to dig deeper than usual into some of the underlying emotional issues facing the industry, potentially upsetting the group. For example, what does “business is really bad” mean for that group? What does “bad” mean? Digging deeper into this issue requires a skilled moderator who can get at these deeper emotions and open up more understanding for the organizer on what her audience is thinking and may require at her event.
The moderator must be able to lead the group on discovery, not “crying and moaning” about a tough economy or how bad things are. Skilled use of probing questions are going to yield answers that are emotional in nature – i.e.: how are they feeling? Like deer in headlights? Frustrated? Inspired? This is where the organizer gains deeper insights into what her audience is willing to do (and pay for) to change their circumstances.
With these focus group insights in hand, organizers can then craft a very specific set of responses to help their collective audience succeed.
Our shows in today’s world must have meaning to exhibitors and visitors now and in the future. If your show is built on "value" people are willing to pay for, they will come.
What’s one significant insight you’ve received through focus groups that changed the course of an event?
Stephanie S. Selesnick, CEM, is President of International Trade Information, Inc.,and a longtime global exhibition industry specialists helping U.S. show organizers increase international participation in their exhibitions and clone shows overseas. You can follow her on Twitter at @stephselesnick.