It was the first week in February, and Belinda Adkisson was doing a media tour to promote the launch of Portland, Ore.-based Imark Communications' newestconcept, the NEXT Tech Tour. It was the same week that Key3Media Group, producers of COMDEX, filed for bankruptcy. “Our timing is interesting,” said Adkisson, vice president, marketing for NEXT. “There has been a shrinking of the industry. Many big shows have closed. So, in order to survive, you've got to change your model.”
If large manufacturers had cut back on trade show expenditures, and national shows had lost their appeal, NEXT Tech execs asked, how would the high-tech manufacturer meet its customers?
The NEXT Tech tour is a nine-week road show to 14 small to midsize cities that is bringing major technology vendors, such as Oracle, Symantec Corp., and Verizon Wireless, to the small and midsize business market, companies with 1,000 people or fewer. The show, which began its run in Rochester, N.Y., in late April and will finish in Dayton, Ohio, in June, is produced and owned by Imark Communications, which ran the Information Technology Exposition and Conference (known as ITEC) events. Imark also owns First Contact, its event services division, which specializes in road shows for large technology companies.
While a national road show is a great way to communicate with known customers, the folks at Imark decided there had to be a better way to find new customers. “We took the model of the consumer car show, in which the consumer has multiple and comparative shopping choices. A lot of national tech shows go to NYC, but we don't. We go to second-tier or underserved cities. … Even in their heyday, the big shows did not attract the SMB.”
Another smart thing the Imark folks did was to research the demands of the SMB market and narrow the IT markets to what they needed most: security, storage, and mobility/wireless. “Our research showed these smaller customers are not likely to go to national shows, can't afford to be away for a week, and don't have huge travel budgets.”
Imark also researched how the SMB customer wanted information delivered. “They want a conference format, and they tend to be practical. They don't like the fanfare that the megashow offers, and they want info in a deep, rich, nonsalesy way. So our trade show floor has no booths, but each vendor is provided with a turnkey kiosk. It is done on the pavilion model, with mobility vendor clusters, security clusters, and the like,” said Adkisson. There are hands-on learning labs and vendor theaters, and conferences, which attendees pay for separately.
The average cost for a kiosk is $5,000, so a 14-city tour costs $70,000. But that compares well with the traditional road show model, which would cost a company closer to $350,000. “The old model was to reach 2,000 to 3,000 customers per venue,” said Adkisson, “but we're aiming for 500 very qualified buyers per venue.”