I recently had a chat with a company that had suffered a bad exhibition experience. They'd taken a chance on an exhibition that wasn't aimed directly at their target market but. they felt, would attract an audience with sufficient interest in their products to make it worthwhile.
I can understand why they tok the chance. Lining up with direct competitors at an exhibition you know will contain decent numbers of attendees from your existing target market (because it's aimed squarely at that market) often results in a 'stand size' or 'wacky promotional gift' arms race with other exhibitors competing exactly for the dollar/pound/euro that you are competing for.
Attending an exhibition that isn't going to be filled with your direct competitors but which might attract an audience interested in your goods or services as well as those that are the main focus of the exhibition is a nice bit of lateral thinking. It's exciting and you can tell yourself that you've spotted a route to market missed by your competitors, it might even be true.
If your offering at the exhibition is sufficiently different from other exhibitors, attendees might kid themselves into buying, even if they've exceeded their spend for the day, by convincing themselves that what they spend on your products is coming out of a different budget. There is no end to the tricks we play on ourselves to get hold of something we want but weren't intending to buy today, or ever.
As it turned out, this particular exhibition didn't attract an audience at all, for anyone. A shame as it was a worthwhile experiment and having some data on which to base future decisions would have been useful.
If you're considering taking a chance on an exhibition that isn't directly connected to your market, how do you tell if it's a worthwhile gamble? One important factor is the reaction of the exhibition organisers to your request for a stand.
A quality organiser should ask you to justify your stand application and should be able to share with you the criteria they use for judging a potential exhibitors suitability.
There is of course a danger that this approach will come off as arrogant but a professional exhibition organiser should be able to package this in a way that demonstrates a commitment to an exhibition's success.
Remember that , no matter how much their marketing material might boast of their ability to promote the show to the right audience, they know that the difference between an adequate audience and a good one is often the sum of the customers and prospects that the exhibitors bring with them. If the exhibitor brings the wrong audience or no audience at all, then the organiser's credibility and their ability to pitch the exhibitors to book stands for next years show (which they will start doing on the last day of the show) takes a big knock.
In this case, the only questions the organisers asked were what stand size was required and where they should send the invoice. A very bad sign that should have rung all sorts of warning bells.
It didn't and the company I talked to wasted money on a stand, wasted time manning it and suffered a serious knock to their confidence in attending future, non-core, exhibitions.