Our marketing manager went along to TFM&A 2015 to investigate this year's hot topic of audience engagement.

This year’s TFM&A event in London’s Kensington Olympia was definitely a mixed bag. It was apparent “audience engagement” was the theme, and whilst visitors were definitely highly engaged (with queues for seminars and keynote speakers building up way before their allocated start times), it was a little disappointing to see exhibitors less so. For their bosses, that should be a hard pill to swallow.

Marketing, in all its preconceptions and evolutions comes down to a simple concept: people buy people. First impressions are indeed the most important, especially at events like this. We at Crown advocate the high-value of face-to-face meetings and trade exhibitions are no exception. Spending money to showcase your company, its products and services, and having your team be your brand ambassadors at the show is an enormous investment. And although these companies may speak to far more junior people than decision-makers, building a good relationship with anyone creates one more favourable opinion of your brand. As for all, these juniors will in due course become the next decision-makers. My most interesting conversations were with suppliers I actively approached. Challenging them to give me their elevator pitch, it was a good sparring exercise that turned into a collaborative discussion on opportunities not based on purchasing, but relaying back to the whole theme of the event – engaging your audience. The biggest surprise at TFM&A was the lax attitude of the big name suppliers. They may have had the biggest exhibitor space and more visually impressive stands armed with iPads, but they were also the emptiest. I literally stood at one of said stands reading their blurb, anticipating being approached by someone, but alas, it never happened. What is my impression of these companies? Not a good one. Their people were more interested in their phones and laptops than starting a conversation with someone who could have potentially become a lucrative customer. It is rather telling when such opportunities are wasted. Inferring these people are disengaged with the company, they are the worst brand ambassadors to have at the event. The investment lost here is two-fold: one on a disinterested employee, and one on a bad customer experience. Marketers know that word of mouth is the most trusted form of recommendation above all other types of advertising, so to have a team that is not passionate about your company is high risk and highly detrimental to the brand.

So what are my takeaways from TFM&A? Audience engagement has overridden the old adage of generating leads and converting prospects into customers. Yes, it is an objective to acquire more customers, but having a person engaged with your brand is just as valuable. They will be the ones who will advocate your brand and make the recommendations of your products and services to friends and colleagues. In contrast, marketing has become somewhat stagnant. Whilst audience engagement was the theme, it definitely isn’t a forward-thinking trend and presents the marketing discipline as lagging behind the curve, readily making observations rather than suggestions. Technology has its part to play and the solutions it provides needs to take a lead role in facilitating emerging trends rather than be a supporting cast member.

Or perhaps I’m just a cynic based on a bad experience ;-)