Exhibition Objectives & The Paradox of Choice

Exhibition Objectives & The Paradox of Choice

By Jim Curry

In a study for one organizer, I listed 57 broad business objectives that exhibitions could deliver for their exhibitor clients.


I used it as an example of the wonderful wealth of opportunities that exist for exhibitors looking to max out their performance in the exhibition hall.

It’s the sort of thing we get giddy about as an industry when we try to explain just how frigging awesome exhibitions can be.

The thing is, our strongest selling point can also be our biggest drawback.

I am talking about the paradox of choice, which is a belief that lots of choice stresses people out.

It’s something I can associate with. On a personal level, if you give me a load of choice I can get a bit stressed; it doesn’t create undue anxiety levels, but it does make me switch out.

Mobile phones packages, car insurance and mortgages are just some examples of choices which make me go blind.

Essentially choice demotivates me, and that’s backed up by a fairly hefty science report a few years ago which proved that choice can not only demotivate but can also negatively affect purchasing behavior.

In one example from the report, Wilkin and Sons (they provide jams to the HRH The Queen) did a tasting-stand experiment and played around with the selection of choice, providing 6 jam flavors one day and 24 the next.

They found that the stand with the extensive range caught the punters’ eye, with more than 60% stopping at the stand (versus 40% stopping at the stand with the limited range).

However, and this is the point I will hang my hat on, when it came to affecting purchasing behavior, 30% of people who stopped at the limited display stand went on to buy a jar of jam, in comparison to a measly 3% at the other stand.

To put it in real terms, for every hundred visitors, 12 people purchased from the limited-range stand, in comparison to 1.8 for the extensive-range stand.

This example alone is a great lesson for companies that are exhibiting, especially if you are looking to influence buyer behavior.

In my head, good exhibitors have less jam on display; they target prime visitors; and they focus more on buyer behavior than stand traffic.

Bad exhibitors clog their stands with jam; boast big stand numbers; and don’t convert their tasters.

But does the paradox of choice apply to exhibiting objectives as well?

CEIR pushed out some great research recently called the Changing Environment of Exhibitions Study. It highlighted how much exhibitors value exhibitions in delivering their most urgent sales and marketing objectives.

In summary, and without doing the study a disservice, it was a report which contained a lot of tall bars and high lines that mean great news for the exhibition industry.

The top sales objective which exhibitions was assigned to resolve for exhibiting businesses was relationship engagement with prospective clients (87%); the lowest was supporting independent representatives (61%).

On the marketing side, the top objective was getting target audiences to interact with the products and services (91%); the lowest was targeting geographic regions (66%). The last one surprised me a little, as I know a lot of tradeshows successfully geo-clone based on a community of exhibitors; but maybe it’s just not a top priority objective.

However, the thing that got me dizzy was the plethora of other sales and marketing objectives spanning awareness, sampling and education that an exhibitor has to choose from.

I think that as an industry we should be saying “less is more.”

So should exhibitors target 57 objectives? Or 24? Or 6? Or 4? Or 3?

As a starter, I would maybe look to a pure play on just two objectives when exhibiting, one sales and one marketing.

It would clear the stand, focus the staff and simplify the value proposition.

Yes, the more I think about it, two clear objectives per exhibiting presence is probably the optimal number to determine whether an exhibiting investment has been returned to a satisfactory level.

However, convincing the exhibiting purse holders that both jams are equally tasty is another matter entirely.

PS: By the way, the disservice line wasn’t a throwaway–we need more specialists like CEIR to provide robust research into the industry.  We are seriously lacking in industry-wide research–especially in the UK.

Jim Curry is Owner of Exhibitor Smarts. Opinions are his own. He can be reached through his website at www.exhibitorsmarts.com.

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