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We all attend in droves but in 2012 is there still a need for the big generalist digital marketing shows?

Is the industry ready to say goodbye to these shows that helped put digital on the map and usher in a new wave of more niche and focused shows that embrace the latest developments within digital marketing?

Ask any digital marketer and they will no doubt tell you that over the last few years some of the biggest trends in digital have been the rise of mobile and social and the resurgence of display but I would add another to this list.  

In the last five years another noticeable trend has been that digital marketing shows are getting worse and worse.

It’s not that each individual show is badly put together, or there are no good exhibitors but it seems that in the current digital landscape these shows are just too generic and irrelevant to the majority of attendees apart from perhaps those that have just entered the industry.

Most of the shows have tried to address this by sectioning off their shows into digital sub-categories, so you find a “mobile area” or a “social area” which are usually demarcated with a migraine-inducing carpet, but these all feel a bit tokenistic, more of a way to hijack some buzz words rather than to give attendees something different.  

I think the industry is now at the stage where these broad-brush shows should be put to rest. The different strands of digital marketing are now so specialised and often technical that the audience for something for example like content marketing and mobile marketing is not the same.

And even if some attendees are interested in more than one area, these shows don’t go deep enough into the individual disciplines to offer any real value. 

As is so often the case with all things digital, the US is leading the way and there are a few niche shows starting to appear that are not only shaking up the big established players but also adding something fresh into the often tired conference circuit. 

Earlier in the year, I was fortunate enough to attend LeadsCon in Las Vegas, which is the world’s biggest (and possibly only) online lead generation show.

Apart from the obvious fact that Las Vegas has more to offer the average conference attendee than most UK venues, the conference itself was a perfect example of how to put on a relevant and interesting show. 

Online lead generation as an industry is definitely on the up in the UK. More big brands are getting involved and budgets are on the increase.

Now we might not quite be at the stage where a UK online lead generation show could pull in 3,000 attendees as LeadsCon does in Vegas but judging by the number of English accents I heard, there is certainly some untapped demand in the UK market.   

To test this theory, I conducted a rather unscientific study using the poll functionality on LinkedIn asking whether there was a need for an online lead generation specific show in the UK and 69% of respondents said there definitely was and 19% said there might be.

If you also include all the positive comments and emails I have received subsequently maybe the time is right for the UK’s first online lead generation show?

Over the next few years while the big shows might not disappear entirely expect to see a whole host of new specialist digital marketing shows popping up all over the UK.

Justin Rees

Published 2 May, 2012 by Justin Rees

Justin Rees is founder of Talking Customers and Cofounder of Currently.

15 more posts from this author

Comments (20)

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Peter Bell

Peter Bell, Managing Director at Fuse Lead Marketing

I couldn't agree more Justin. The format needs updating and freshening up. For instance, such a huge amount of innovation happening in digital are with start-ups who wouldn't dream of exhibiting in the current format but definitely have something exciting to offer digital marketers. There's is no doubt we all need to learn more, act faster and make better more informed decision to keep up in the digital rat race. A well crafted show would answer that need.

Let's bring a bit of 'Vegas' to London.

over 4 years ago

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Andy Barden

Having been in the industry for just under a year, I have attended 2 of these shows. Did I get as much out them as I thought? No, not really. I learn more from articles I read in my own time online and I network with a lot more people on Linkedin than I ever would at a show. Its not that I'm anti social, I spent 10 years as a Retail Manager dealing with the public so I like to think I can communicate well with people face to face. I just feel the current format is geared up to showcase the big fish that people already know about. There is always room for a gathering of professionals, it can't all be about Linkedin however the way the current events are put together is a costly exercise that doesn't really see a huge return anymore.

over 4 years ago

Justin Rees

Justin Rees, Cofounder at Talking Customers

I think that most people only visit the shows because other people are visiting which at least gives them a chance to do some networking and catching up.

over 4 years ago

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Jim Banks

In the past few years I have been to a lot of shows. Both as an exhibitor and an attendee.

I've done a few Leadscon shows and whilst I accept the audience is receptive, the show in New York was put on straight after Affiliate Summit by which time I was all networked out.

Although the organisers can influence things, Lobbycon is usually the best show, in places like New York, the Hilton won't serve drinks in one of the bars until 6pm (not even coffee), so people disperse to meet in bars/restaurants. That is not usually reflected in the floor of the show.

As an industry we NEED to meet people face to face, it doesn't always have to be for new business, it can be rekindling friendships with competitors, wining and dining publishers who send you leads or traffic.

But getting dressed up and going out to the real world is important and if I can't do my own industry shows, then I'll continue to go to other industry shows, as I do now. Zigging, while others are zagging so to speak.

over 4 years ago

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writingbee

Very nice grea tsonice!

over 4 years ago

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Rebecca Charlton

Yes I agree Justin, I have attended numerous digital events and some are useful like the TFM&A's and Ad:tech's but other than that I don't think there is much else to offer in the rest. For instance Internet World... you would think that would be one of the biggest show but I found it one of the most useless ones I have ever been too. If it wasn't for my affiliate meetings I would have been rather bored at the 3 day event. Plus you can see everything in a ten minute walk around .

over 4 years ago

Adam Candlish

Adam Candlish, Commercial Director at DataIQ

Interesting post Justin and one we have always discussed here at Econsultancy, being an event organiser ourselves.

The way I look at the "events spectrum" is having exhibitions/trade shows at one end which are all about volume of visitors. There is little or no qualification of who attends, and no cost to attend either. The topic of the event will be broad, as that is how to get more people through the doors.

At the other end you have conferences; a smaller but far more targeted audience where the themes of the day are more focussed on particular niches. Usually one day events, with more qualification of who attends, and very much content led. As an event organiser, there is a decision to be made about which way to go.

I think for companies who are focussed targeting bigger brands and more senior people, perhaps because they sell a very high end solution, a conference would be more suitable. In our experience, senior marketers/ecommerce people, are more inclined to follow strong content.

A company that was was focussed on targeting the SME market, maybe as they sell a lower cost solution, would arguably be better off at and expo as volume is the key for them.

I think the difficulty comes when events try and do both, as you will inevitably fall short on one side or the other.

Overall, I agree with your point about exhibitions, and that more focussed events will take the lead. However, I do still believe that, if pitched correctly and to the right people (both sponsorship, and delegate wise) there is still a place for them.

over 4 years ago

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Jo Burns, Head of Ecommerce at Guardian News & Media

I think it depends what stage your business is at, how long you have been online. A lot of the seminars were pitched at a fairly basic level which was perfect for lots of the attendees, but not if you have been digitally active for a while. From a personal perspective some of the keynotes were interesting, but I was looking for partners to work with commercially offering new B2C products and services (We already have web hosts, email providers etc etc and so not really interested in s ales pitch on why service A is better than B)

over 4 years ago

Adam Candlish

Adam Candlish, Commercial Director at DataIQ

@Christian - that raises another key point which is that often people assume the only way to "categorise" an audience is by topic/niche/discipline when actually, seniority and experience are just as important.

We experience this heavily at our Digital Cream event with so many "heads of" and "directors of" digital and e-commerce teams, very often they are not after the nitty-gritty details. These people run teams that perform various digital marketing and e-commerce tasks, but they are managing this team, not executing work themselves.

More pertinent topics for people at this level are areas like how they secure board level investment in digital channels, and how should they structure their teams as well as what suppliers they should use.

over 4 years ago

Justin Rees

Justin Rees, Cofounder at Talking Customers

@Adam - I agree with you on the "seniority level" point.

One thing I would add is that not enough shows consider why attendees are actually there in the first place. Many of the big digital shows seem to just assume that if people work in digital then they should be interested in their show.

I think shows that are more open about what value attendees will derive are more successful. Using LeadsCon in Vegas again as an example, it is very clear that the show exists to bring together the industry to share best practice, case studies and networking opportunities.

over 4 years ago

Adam Candlish

Adam Candlish, Commercial Director at DataIQ

@Justin - you are right that the message should be clear, but any event which requires sponsorship will have to have a separate story to tell sponsorship prospects.

Yes - bringing together members of a community to share ideas and best practice is great from a delegate perspective, but a Marketing Director will not commit $10k and upwards for a get together. There has to be a story around how sponsors will get the value out of the day. Who will be there? How do I engage them? etc.

These are very different stories, but there has to be some kind of coherence between the two. It is no good having a room full of delegates who are there to learn and share ideas, and having 50 sponsors who have been told that everyone of them is there short-list vendors and to buy - I have actually heard exhibition sales people say this.

You then end up with delegates being harassed and sponsors being aggrieved by the lack of response.

It's a difficult balancing act....

over 4 years ago

Robert Easson

Robert Easson, PRODUCT MANAGER at Phaidon Press Ltd

The format of these shows has been around for 10 years plus. They rarely change. New names and conference streams trot out the same agenda and rarely add any real education or development value. (that's if you can get into them of course which is increasingly a problem)

I think of all the main ones I have gone to, seminar rooms have been far too small, and you spend most of the day queuing to get in. Why invite 10,000 people along if you can only fit 100?)Standing in a queue for 60 minutes to see a 20 minute advert from a consultant does not contribute to the bottom line.

So its deffo time for a rethink.

Where it works best is in making the focus of the event about delegates. (like the E Cons Cream events where delegates attend roundtables from various sectors)

This usually leads to interesting debate and discussion that makes you want to shape up your own practice as well as illustrating what is going on in the real world.

But as for the larger shows, they really need to do something different to provide professional value to delegates. Otherwise in this climate, it's unlikely any senior management professional could justify time out of the office.

over 4 years ago

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adibranch

I've been in the industry for nearly eight years now, and have NEVER been to a show. Why? Because the seminars in these things are full of personal opinion and educated guesses, and little fact.

over 4 years ago

Heledd Jones

Heledd Jones, Head of Search Marketing at Confused.com

I've been to a mix of paid and free expo's and shows over the last few years.... SES is a good example of an useful event if you work in Search - but it is expensive. (and a bit US-biased, and a bit junior in level at times)

I find the seminars in the free events are often sales-y; no suprise when you have to pay to speak at them so it tends to be agencies speaking, who need to recup that investment!

I'm not just saying this because I'm on eConsultancy - but the 'Digital Cream' event was brilliant - more of these events would be useful. re: the 'seniority' issue perhaps Digital Cream could be split into different streams of some sort?

over 4 years ago

Adam Candlish

Adam Candlish, Commercial Director at DataIQ

@adibranch - what would make you come to an event in our industry? More case study focussed content or research based presentations?

Interesting that you see personal opinion as a negative. I think personal opinion can add a great deal to an event, especially if it is disruptive and different from the norm. This blog, for example, is full of personal opinion from various authors. Obviously there are many posts here which are focused around statistics, research and facts but personal opinion certainly plays a part.

we send feedback surveys to attendees after almost all of our events to see what they thought and what they would change. Perhaps there is a need for a wider survey asking marketers what they would want from an event?

over 4 years ago

Justin Rees

Justin Rees, Cofounder at Talking Customers

@Heledd - I think you have raised an interesting point in that the shows that are more niche and you have to pay to go are usually ridiculously expensive! There don't seem to be any paid shows or conferences where it doesn't cost a fortune to attend.

over 4 years ago

Adam Candlish

Adam Candlish, Commercial Director at DataIQ

@Justin - whole new can of worms....;)

I think for starters a paid event instantly changes perceptions; some times for good and sometimes for bad.

Some people will be instantly turned off by the fact they have to pay, without giving the content of the day a second glance. The other side of this is a perception of value, and people will have to weigh up whether they feel the speakers/content provide enough value to justify the cost.

We run a free to attend roundtable event in March and a paid for event in June (the ticket prices is £495) and we have for the past two years filled both events (around 340 at each).

I think most people can accept and understand that running events costs money, and more so if you are running quality events with top class speakers. Looking at the cost alone is not the right way to look at these events - it's about value. You would probably pay £500 for a one day training course so why not pay the same for a one day conference with quality content as they may well offer similar levels of insights?

Compared to other industries (legal, financial services, professional services etc) the cost of tickets to conferences in digital are still fairly modest.

over 4 years ago

Justin Rees

Justin Rees, Cofounder at Talking Customers

@Adam - Not that I am bias because Econsultancy are kind enough to let me blog for them but I exclude you guys from any negative criticism that may have come across in my post or comments. I have been to a few events over the years by Econsultancy and they have always been very good! I think this is because the whole Econsultancy brand screams out "we understand digital" which means that attendees know that they will get value for money.

I think the problem is with the shows that are run by pure-play events companies where you feel as an attendee they are just trying to make money out of you. I went to a recent show where it seemed that even the sponsors had sponsors (oh and it was £4.50 for a smoked salmon bagel which didn't help).

Of course all shows are commercial events but as you suggested in an earlier comment many shows don't find the balance between making money from the show and providing value!

over 4 years ago

Adam Candlish

Adam Candlish, Commercial Director at DataIQ

I completely agree and don't worry about criticising us - we can take it! ;)

over 4 years ago

Paris Stylianides

Paris Stylianides, Managing Director at Innovatico Ltd

I completely agree with this, I was planning to write an article myself. My last conference was at Internet World UK about a week ago and it was a complete waste of time. Over the years they have lost their purpose and even with even fewer companies attending & exhibiting.

over 4 years ago

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