Not long ago, Nintendo was losing the battle for market share in the competitive video gaming industry against Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox. But rather than get beat up by the competition, Nintendo decided to take a new tack. Instead of creating more options for the traditional target audience—male teenagers and young adults—it created a gaming system aimed at an entirely different audience—women, adults, and families. The new platform, Wii, was low on graphics, but high on interactivity, hitting just the right notes for people who didn’t ordinarily play video games.
Nintendo, explained Roch Parayre, keynoter at the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum in June, became the market leader, thanks to its ability to find “blue ocean”—that is, it came up with an idea so unique that it rendered the competition irrelevant and created an uncontested marketplace.
Blue Ocean Strategy was first introduced by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne in their 2005 book by the same name, and Parayre, senior partner at Decision Strategies International, Conshohocken, Pa., brought the concept to the ECEF audience in Washington, D.C., with this issue in mind: How can event organizers find new blue ocean, uncontested markets?
Organizations, he said, generally find blue ocean by doing two things—lowering costs by rethinking processes and providing value to customers in some new way. One way to find new value is by looking to “adjacent seas,” he said, and he shared these observations on what exhibition executives could learn from three parallel industries:
Television. “Produce once, distribute forever.” Can exhibitions be filmed or recorded and distributed in other formats—such as DVDs, on-demand via television, or online? Think Hulu.com or Netflix. Can you use television to license content or promote products? One association executive at ECEF said his organization runs what are essentially exhibitors’ television ads on the monitors throughout the convention center as a way to promote their booths. Another broadcasts a panel discussion live from thefloor to an online audience. That organization also has recorded sessions to be sent out to companies in their industry to play at their stores.
Concierge. “Connect in the right way.” How can you help better connect buyers to sellers, facilitate access, make them feel important? Hosted-buyer programs might be one way to do this. The Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International recently introduced a program called One-to-One Meeting Concierge, which allowed attendees and exhibitors to schedule private meetings during show hours. An ECEF attendee said her association did something similar and had a 50 percent participation rate—more than 17,000 one-on-one meetings.
Retail. “Present well and encourage impulse purchases.” What can exhibitors learn from retailers about displaying products? What’s the best way to lay out a booth to promote traffic? How do you make the floor fresh and inviting? How do you make things easy to find? Can you use promotions and sales? At last year’s ECEF, Mike Cooke, chief executive officer, DMG World Media, Braintree, Mass., talked about how organizers can use retail strategies to increase traffic, dwell time (the amount of time customers dwell in the booth), engagement, and ultimately, return on investment.
Innovations to the exhibition model are inevitable, Parayre said. The question is, he asked, will they come from inside the industry or from elsewhere? “The rules of the game tend to get changed by outsiders,” he said. “We need to do it ourselves or someone else will.”