The War of Trade Fairs – Worthy or Not?
Trade fairs, conferences, business events, economic forums and exhibitions are a sophisticated platform for conducting business on a national and international scale. It is more than just a marketing tool as the entire marketplace is at your fingertips.
As a source of market information, they fulfil your needs in a centralised way and provide an excellent opportunity to assess opinions from clients and determine market potential, conduct research and evaluate competition, develop commercial structures by identifying new agents and distributors, and initiating joint ventures and project partnerships. As a unique networking platform to both Indian and foreign participants, trade fairs help in promotion, marketing and publicity efforts of participating companies and are being globally recognised as the apt medium for doing business today
By: Neelam Jhangiani
If you have a business or operating a company and are going to conduct a trade show exhibit for the first time, you need to consider various pointers to make your exhibit successful. Exhibiting at a trade show can be a great way to advertise to a target market and create brand awareness. Trade shows are generally targeted at an industry and people involved or interested in that industry. This provides you with a platform to promote your product or service to a broader group that may have little or no knowledge of your products and services.
Depending on your type of business, product and market testing can be carried out at trade shows and exhibitions to gain industry or general opinion about your offering. Being involved in a trade show or exhibition can provide you with opportunities to branch out to business-to-business trading and create a customer database from the visitors to your display booth. "Healthcare events offer a platform to meet the end-users, that's a targeted audience to whom we get to showcase our solutions, we get to see new technologies/new innovations, there is an opportunity to meet trade partners as well, and lastly an opportunity to uncover unmet needs," says Sanket Gala, Sales Manager, Freudenberg Gala Household. However, success is not guaranteed and there are a number of costs involved. There are a variety of the possible pros and cons of a trade show that can be frustrating and a little bit scary. To find the right ideas in developing your sales and marketing plans is to select the right media to send out y our message.
Remember, a trade show is the major part in establishing everything about your company to make your business successful. "When we go to such events we meet distributors, dealers, find new customers and gain knowledge about products," says Priyanka Gupta, Country Head, Medikop Life Sciences. With a mix of trade people coming in, such fairs are a hub for visibility in the market.
Sharing his perspective, Sanjay Agarwal, Director, Magnatek, says, "Businesswise the problem we face in our country is that exhibitions here are not really focused as exhibitions."
The concept abroad is completely different with one major annual show for exhibition that attracts large number of exhibitors and crowd alike, such as Medica in Germany, Arab Health in Dubai, and such. These are all focused annual shows he adds, where he gets lot of mileage but unfortunately in India I think exhibition people are more profit driven rather than result oriented. "Year on year, the cost goes up and we spend a huge amount of money expecting a good number of people are going to come but unfortunately that is not happening," further adds Mr. Agarwal.
He is of the view that most trade shows are now losing the charm. Some other exhibitors share similar opinion, especially where business generation is concerned. "We are not really excited with the exhibitions in our country," says C Bernard, Managing Director, Ibhar Technologies Pvt. Ltd. and he is of the view that overseas exhibitions are slightly better. However, people do agree that such exhibitions, though do not transform much into business, they do give brand visibility and it definitely helps being there.
One of the major advantages of participating in exhibitions is it creates brand awareness in the market. Many brands prefer to launch their products at exhibitions because it instantly makes the brand popular in the community and even among the audience. It helps your brand to achieve credibility in the market and subsequently increases brand loyalty. "One is it helps in building the brand and making your presence especially as an Indian medical equipment company," says S Kalyanaraman, General Manager, Cura Healthcare Pvt. Ltd.
He also adds that one does get leads and comes to know about new technology players with whom one can join hands and work together. "Trade shows help in introduction to new customers, products and most important is, new products when introduced in exhibitions, create long lasting impression in the minds of customers," says Martin Sundararajan, Managing Director, VM Meditech Pvt. Ltd.
Business trade shows or other exhibiting opportunities present a wealth of opportunities to promote businesses, your brand, and your products and services. They are also a great way to interact and engage face-to-face with current and potential customers
Choose the right trade fair
One of the main objectives of any trade show is to showcase various business, goods, and services to attendees and other interested parties. For a show that is meticulously designed in a way that it is inherently attractive with eye-catching booths and bunch of other attractions such as giveaways and promotional items, it becomes fairly simple to leave a lasting impression on the potential customer for a long time to come.
Finding the right trade fair is extremely important for any business if they were to highlight their product and enhance brand visibility. Sometimes, if the area of interest it covers is too specialised or too broad, it is unlikely to attract visitors who want to buy what you have to sell or exhibitors offering the products and services you are looking to source. Not all events will attract large numbers of delegates, so do your research and find out how popular an exhibition has been in previous years before you go all out to set the wheel in motion. Exhibitors such as Medikop choose medical fairs over pharma ones as their product is used in ICUs and homecare. While pharma fairs are restricted to medicines, medical ones have varied participants right from doctors to distributors and dealers as well. Being manufacturers, medical fairs give an opportunity to interact with dealers, says Ms. Priyanka.
Magnatek on the other hand is a part of five to six overseas tradeshows for the export market annually. As a medical directory, AIMS is a part of all the major exhibitions on the domestic front. "However, too many trade fairs have really lost their charm because manufacturers have this big problem of "where to go"," says Geeta Jathar, Co-Founder and Director-Sales, Ad-Weight Media (publishers of AIMS directory).
Organisations learn from past experience and choose events that have helped them earlier for enhancing their product visibility in addition to selecting tradeshows with brand value. "Exhibitions like Medicall, IRA National being a known brand are high on our list and the people attending events are more important than the organisers; that's how we choose the events," says Mr. Kalyanaraman.
Ibhar being a company that provides Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) and Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solutions, enterprise software, mobile apps and execution methodologies to enable organisations translate their business plans into achievements is focused on patient safety and quality driven events and hence shortlists events based on these respective fields. "Quality is of utmost importance at Ibhar and therefore, quality monitoring, quality management and all issues related to quality and patient safety will be useful to us," says Mr. Bernard.
While some prefer generic shows, there are also organisations that prefer to participate in specialty wise exhibitions in addition to generic ones as it gives them a chance to reach out to a targeted audience. Medikop is one of the top five manufacturers of NIV full face mask and participates in tradeshows such as Medicall, Medexpo in addition to exhibiting at doctor conferences like SleepCON. "Events where clinicians participate are very good for us because our product is used in the ICU, when doctors approve our product it is highlighted and even dealers demand for doctor approval products," says Ms. Priyanka. Same is the case for Magnatek Enterprises, which prefers a mix of both i.e. general exhibitions and specialised exhibitions where surgeons participate, because it's important for doctors to also know the latest innovations and products in the market, plus the companies they can source these from.
Mr. Kalyanaraman of Cura feels that exhibitions should be restricted, perhaps even just 4 or 5 in a year. "One can be focused on only the end-users because there you talk about the technology they are able to understand. Another important factor for any market or industry today is the cost-effective reach to every nook and corner of the country. So definitely the channel partners play a vital role here; but people also look for good companies, therefore if there are one or two industry-based conferences or exhibitions then that will help."
Freudenberg specifically looks at the demography of visitors, the targeted audience as a key decision-making factor. Also, they give weightage to the city, the specific venue, etc. to choose an event. VM Meditech is a South India based company with presence in southern region only and Medicall Chennai is the biggest event for them. The company has multiple products and therefore attends events which are faculty oriented such as anaesthesia conferences, orthopaedics and dental conferences as well. "Trade shows are more useful because majority of the medical fraternity visits. As we have a mix of products catering from critical care, imaging, to dental, hence we look for a show which caters to all types of doctors," says Mr. Sundarajan.
Return on investment
While planning for a trade show, exhibitors should take the time to set up a proper framework to gauge and maximise the results of their trade show program. To make sure your trade show return on investment contributes to the success of your overall marketing program, align your trade show goals and objectives with your organisation's wider sales and marketing goals such as generating sales, building brand awareness and nurturing key partner relationships.
While industry experts are of the view that it is very difficult to lay a finger on the amount of business they are able to convert due to such events, it certainly helps to be there. "Exhibitions are also a way of promoting the brand, so we don't look at conversion rates specifically. Even if we manage to connect with one key account per day during the event, I am happy," says Mr. Gala.
In the current scenario, return on investment is maximum 10%, says Mr. Sundarajan, however, it was around 20-25 percent around six years back. Moreover, one can expect to receive customer queries even long after the event is over. So, the utility of such events cannot be completely denied in today's scenario. Surgical or floor selling items that can be sold on the spot do make good business, especially the biomedical engineering products like cables, wires, use and throw kind of instruments, etc. One cannot expect to sell large equipment on the spot, however, they do get good leads and at least 10% of the leads may get converted to some business. Mr. Kalyanaraman agrees that they do get some new customers and unexplored areas where they can reach out. "At least 20-30% boost in sales we receive, which otherwise we would not have got because human expense is the highest in any organisation, and you cannot have so many people to do sales," he adds
Business trade shows or other exhibiting opportunities present a wealth of opportunities to promote businesses, your brand, and your products and services. They are also a great way to interact and engage face-to-face with current and potential customers. Attendees of trade shows have a genuine interest in the products and services on display. Why else would they attend such an event? To get the best out of such trade shows, industry has a whole list of suggestions for the organisers and it would certainly be meaningful to go that extra mile to get the best out of such events for organisers and participants alike.
Mr. Bernard of Ibhar feels that some of these events are more knowledge driven and people already have enough knowledge. So, if these events can focus on an outcome, some success stories, case studies and understand the pulse of the business, they can add more value to the business of healthcare. Some of the events like the one by Apollo on patient safety are trying to do something different where they are asking questions on how do you do it. Second is when you do an event today, they fill it up with all kinds of people like owners, nursing staff, students, etc. as they want a return on investment. If you have an event focused on a particular group of people say hospital owners or heads of clinical departments so people who are sitting there and discussing are similar kinds. Finally, you have to make money out of an event so a full house is needed to break even. If we have an event which focuses on a certain kind of people then there is some take away from the event and people attending the event c an learn something from the event and implement. If you have an event say where you can learn and implement the learning straightaway, it becomes much more useful, than when you only gain knowledge. "Workshops for the end-users, which will attract them to the exhibitions are a good idea," Mr. Gala says.
Medikop on the other hand expects to have a list of exhibitors and crowd expectations from the organisers so as to better understand their customers. "We want that co-ordination and the list i.e. the past, future and your present because participating in an event is like taking a risk, as you are investing high amount in it," said Ms. Priyanka.
Some other exhibitors feel that the organisers need to understand the concept of having one major exhibition in a year rather than doing too many small exhibitions throughout the year. "These kinds of exhibitions abroad are a huge success," Mr. Agarwal says. Ad-Weight Co-Founder, Ms. Geeta is relatively satisfied with events like Medicall as they are promoting lot of other topics and already doing many things right now. She further says, "All the exhibitions have their own charm and lot of exhibitions are coming up in small cities also, so they are focusing on that thing too."
Marketing is one aspect that needs to be addressed heads on by the organisers to attract quality customers, rest all seems to be fine to Mr. Kalyanaraman. To reach out to different parts of the country, he suggests having exhibitions alternatively in metro and non-metro cities. Nowadays, conferences are coupled with exhibitions, the topics presented can be made simpler and readier to implement in real situations, and also, with more speakers it will be useful to ground level entrepreneurs. Exhibitors may also be invited to talk, which will further add more meaning to the exhibition apart from product display.
With all the pros and cons, "Are trade shows worth it?" is a common question. Yes! The trade show market is very much alive and well. The shows offer value for money far beyond the bottom line as exhibiting at trade events provides benefits that are not as easily quantifiable as expenditures and profits. Bear this in mind, because it cannot be overstated: the value in face-to-face interaction is massive! Determine what you really need to get out of a show to make it worth your time. Think in terms of sales leads, press coverage, new customers, partnerships, etc. Set solid goals, and constantly evaluate so that every event is a building block for your business.