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Demographics at Trade Shows - Obvious and Hidden

Authored by E. Jane Lorimer CME

It's a common assumption that all visitors to a given B2B tradeshow will be the target audience for the exhibiting company. After all, most B2B shows are already segmented by specific industries; however, there are actually “targets within targets.” For that reason, it's important to “sort” the demographics at shows. For strategic planning purposes, I tend to sort them into three categories: obvious, less obvious and hidden demographics.

Obvious Demographics
Breakdowns provided by the show organizer appear in the show prospectus. At minimum, organizers will include the number of attendees and the number of exhibiting companies. A good prospectus will include further breakdowns relative to types of businesses, professional titles, and prior year product category interests. A better prospectus will separate press and exhibitor personnel numbers from professional visitor numbers so you can calculate the net audience. The “net audience” is the total number of reported attendance minus exhibitor personnel, press and other non-related buying visitor groups.

You can use net audience numbers to plan booth size and staffing numbers. Other demographics can be used for tighter planning. For example, if you know the audience includes a high number of technical types, you would want to ensure that your staff includes enough technical personnel to be able to talk the same language as the visitors.

Less Obvious Demographics
Exhibit Surveys, an industry research group, says that 77% of all show visitors have product interest. This is the percentage of the audience that has an interest in the product or service that you are offering. They also say that about half of that group intends to stop at your exhibit to acquire information.

I like to start with the net audience calculation and then apply the visitor interest factors shown above to help determine a more likely number of visitors who would stop at my booth.

Target numbers are also useful when planning booth activities, number of media kits needed, giveaways and so on.

Hidden Demographics
One of the things exhibiting companies often overlook unless it's glaringly obvious is to look at the impact of gender and age on how we communicate with visitors at trade shows. A key reason this is overlooked is because most show producers do not include these demographics into the prospectus information.

Why is this important? There have been countless writings and talk shows about the differences in how men and women communicate and receive messages. Knowing the gender ratio at shows is essential when planning how messages will be imparted, how the booth will be staffed and what types of promotional items will be given to visitors.

Age is another consideration that is nearly always ignored at trade shows. An attendee in their 20's communicates differently than does a 50-something attendee. Things that attract the various people to an exhibit are highly influenced by their relative age groups.

As an example: Supercomm used to be a large annual show in the telecom and connectivity arena. We observed this show was attended by a broad span of age groups. The older crowd was traditionally comprised of White males who were drawn to one-to-one workstations. The younger attendees were drawn to virtual reality and other similarly fast-paced high tech experiences. As the visitor ages came down, there was a greater ratio of female to male visitors and as ages lowered even more, there was a higher ratio of ethnic mix as well as gender mix.

The challenge is how you communicate across the board to so many different age groups. Our company has found that the business theater format (or speaker theater format) is “age and gender neutral,” that is, this format appeals to all ages and all genders. Of course, it is still important to consider the professional mix when making live presentations because you wouldn't want to do an overly 'cutesy' presentation to engineers or C-level visitors. You will need to consider the gender mix as well when considering the delivery and content of live presentations.

Tradeshows are a big investment in terms of money, time and staff resources. You can maximize the return on your tradeshow investments by paying attention to demographic details.

About the author
E. Jane Lorimer is managing director for Lorimer Consulting Group, a Denver-based consulting firm that focuses on measurement-driven trade show performance. LCG is also a strategic partner with Marketech. For more information, please contact Jane at 303/388-9224 or go to website:

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