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What B2B Can Learn from B2C

B2B and B2C
Brittani Mathis and Lindsay Hubley share strategies they apply to their consumer events – SXSW and Overland Expo, respectively – to create experiences that captivate attendees and keep their shows on the cutting edge year over year.

Business-to-business (B2B) exhibitions and events continue to grow and thrive as they continue their post-pandemic recovery. Emerging technologies are ushering in a new era of how exhibitions and events are engineered, but not all innovations are coming from tech advances. B2B show organizers are also looking to business-to-consumer (B2C) shows for inspiration on how to reimagine their events.

IAEE’s recent webinar presented by the IAEE Consumer Events Council, Behind the Scenes: SXSW and Overland Expo, featured how these two renowned events exemplify the nuances between B2C and B2B shows. IAEE Consumer Events Council Chairperson Michelle Metter of Fast Forward Events interviewed Brittani Mathis, Director of Global Sales Operations for SXSW LLC and Lindsay Hubley, Senior Vice President of Consumer Events for Emerald X to learn how they consistently deliver experiences that keep their audiences coming back for more.

Read on for highlights of the webinar and gain valuable insights into the future of B2B exhibitions and events as they adapt strategies from the B2C realm.

SXSW: The Convergence of Creativity and Innovation

SXSW is an annual event held in Austin, Texas, that celebrates the convergence of film, interactive media, music, education and culture. ​It originated in 1987 with the vision of helping creatives achieve their goals and has grown in scope and size every year. ​The event features three main “arms” that include a festival focused on film/TV, music and comedy; a conference with education tracks that covers breakthroughs across various industries; and exhibitions such as SXSW Expo that showcase cutting-edge technology, design, social good, entertainment and more, attracting exhibitors from around the world. ​The show combines elements of both B2C and B2B strategies to create a unique and forward-focused experience.

“We serve the creatives and the innovators, and that’s really who our audience is,” said Mathis. “We are also a combination of B2B and B2C, with B2C elements.”

Overland Expo: Adventure Travel and Off-the-Grid Experiences

Overland Expo is a premier event series for adventure travel enthusiasts, focusing on passion, travel and overlanding. ​Overlanding refers to vehicle-based adventure travel to off-the-grid destinations, creating a unique and immersive experience. ​The show offers a wide range of activities, including classes, inspirational programs, film festivals, roundtable discussions and demonstrations. ​It attracts vendors selling adventure travel equipment, camping gear, bikes, vehicles and services for the community. Overland Expo operates in outdoor festival environments, providing on-site camping and a vibrant community atmosphere.

“Our expo is built in a ‘Burning Man’ type of environment but it’s all about outdoor recreation,” said Hubley. “We are the world’s premier event series for the do-it-yourself adventure travel enthusiast.”

Where B2B and B2C Shows are Similar

Regardless of the target audience, face-to-face marketplaces bring buyers and sellers together in ways no other business channel does. As such, B2B and B2C shows share these aspects:

  • Networking opportunities: Both B2C and B2B exhibitions provide platforms for building relationships, exchanging information and identifying potential partners or clients.
  • Brand awareness: Exhibitions in both types of shows aim to enhance brand visibility and awareness by showcasing products or services to a targeted audience. ​
  • Product demonstrations: Live demonstrations allow attendees to see products in action, ask questions and understand their value propositions. ​
  • Lead generation: Generating leads is a crucial goal for both B2C and B2B exhibitions, with companies collecting contact information for follow-up marketing efforts. ​
  • Marketing material distribution: Exhibitors in both types of shows distribute brochures, flyers, samples, and other marketing materials to inform and attract attendees. ​

Where B2B and B2C Shows Differ

The differences between B2B and B2C shows are notable in the following:

  • Target audience: B2C exhibitions target individual consumers, while B2B exhibitions target businesses and professionals. ​
  • Exhibition goals: B2C exhibitions aim to drive immediate sales and create direct consumer engagement, while B2B exhibitions focus on building long-term business relationships and partnerships. ​
  • Sales cycle: B2C exhibitions tend to have shorter sales cycles, while B2B exhibitions have longer sales cycles due to more extensive evaluation processes. ​
  • Event scale and scope: B2C exhibitions are generally larger in scale, attracting a broad audience and incorporating entertainment elements, while B2B exhibitions are more focused and specialized.
  • Types of products and services: B2C exhibitions feature consumer products and services, while B2B exhibitions showcase industrial products, professional services, and business-related offerings.
  • Follow-up and relationship management: B2C exhibitions often involve email marketing and social media engagement, while B2B exhibitions require personalized follow-up discussions, meetings and negotiations. ​

Lessons Learned

Curating education and content for the communities served is crucial for both B2B and B2C events. Creating unique experiences and hands-on opportunities for attendees enhances the event’s impact, which includes building relationships with brand partners and incorporating their products or services into the event to create engaging and immersive activations. ​Listening to feedback from attendees and adapting to meet their evolving needs is also essential for long-term success.

Creative activations are a must-have, and show organizers are charged with incorporating experiences that are fresh and appealing to attendees. For example, the culinary experience at Overland Expo allowed attendees to participate in campfire cooking with renowned chefs. This activity not only created memorable moments but also generated invaluable video content that adds to the life cycle of the event.

At SXSW, ​collaborations with art collectives and temporary exhibits attract a diverse audience. For example, art installations showcasing top gig poster artists and innovative mixed reality film projects deliver dynamic and immersive experiences for attendees.

Building new components or layers for shows requires a balance between content and sales capacity. ​Sales enablement materials, including documents, pitch decks and short-form videos, can educate potential customers about new products or experiences. ​Personalized support and discussions with potential clients help tailor offerings to their specific needs and requirements.

Given the size and variety of activities offered at each show, the question of logistical challenges is top of mind. When it comes to staffing and security, the organizers work with local staffing agencies to provide detailed onboarding resources and collaborate with experienced security directors. Diversifying suppliers allows for flexibility and the ability to request proposals when needed. Strategically placed interactive elements and exhibits can optimize traffic flow and allow attendees to fully engage with exhibitors.

Where do we go from here?

As B2B shows continue to evolve, organizers who apply the lessons from successful B2C shows like SXSW and Overland Expo to their own events will stay ahead of the exhibition industry’s performance curve. By curating engaging experiences, building relationships with brand partners, and adapting to the evolving needs of attendees, SXSW and Overland Expo deliver attendee journeys that speak to today’s expectations.

The future of exhibitions lies in aligning the purpose and elements of shows with the passions, preferences and interests of attendees, while also incorporating experiential and personalized activations. ​ Blending B2C and B2B elements can create communities within shows, and by continuously innovating, event organizers can create successful and impactful exhibitions for their audiences.

Get more takeaways from these highly successful consumer shows by watching the full webinar here, available for free to IAEE members and costs $49 USD for non-members. Sign up for upcoming IAEE webinars here.

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