hat if I told you there was a number more important than total-show attendance figures, booth-space rates, budget line items, or even lead counts? It's called the Audience Interest Factor, and it's the most important data point a show organizer can provide its exhibitors.
Usually derived from a third-party audit, AIF is the percent of the show's attendees that have an interest in your company's specific product category. Exhibitors who know each show's AIF can more accurately predict their exhibit-marketing results at the show, eliminating much of the guesswork associated with exhibit-planning decisions (i.e. What should our lead goal be? How many staff should we take? How many visitors should we expect?).
But guesswork as a substitute for target-market insight is not limited to exhibit planning. Up until the mid-l970s, fishing in any of the 10,000 Minnesota lakes was, for most people, a matter of guesswork. Some days you caught fish, some days you didn't, but nobody could explain with any authority the reason for either outcome. And the collective angling wisdom of the time didn't help much. Writers in popular outdoor magazines presented fishing lore in an unfiltered mix of old wives' tales and campfire mythology.
Then one day in l975, all that changed. Al and Ron Lindner began a magazine called In-Fisherman in a Quonset hut in northern Minnesota. They filled their magazine with information that readers had never seen, including everything from cross-section drawings of water tables to simplified, easy-to-understand topographic maps correlating lake structure to fish location.
Gradually, readers began to catch more fish - and for the first time, they understood why. At the heart of that understanding was the In-Fisherman 15-Percent Rule of Thumb, which states that - on average - only 15 percent of a lake holds any fish. Suddenly the guesswork went out the window, replaced instead by more educated decisions. Now you had to know things if you expected to catch fish.
At the same time In-Fisherman was showing people how to fish smarter, a curious bow-tie-clad chemical engineer named Richard (Dick) Swandby was starting a trade show research company called Exhibit Surveys Inc. He and the Lindners had one vision in common: the belief that education generally and measurement specifically were critical to performance improvement. Over time, he provided metrics that took much of the mystery out of show audiences and buyer behavior. Most important, he discovered a key demographic he named the Audience Interest Factor, which provided - for the first time - a statistically accurate measure of the size of the potential market for a given product category at a given show.
Swandby also determined that the average AIF Rule of Thumb across all shows is 16 percent, meaning 160 out of every 1,000 show attendees has an interest in your product. Obviously that varies from show to show, but the importance of the data is remarkably similar in significance to In-Fisherman's 15-Percent Rule: No lake is full of fish, and no show is full of your buyers.
For exhibitors who want to know - not guess - the actual market potential of a show before it opens, the AIF is the uncomplicated answer. But how do you obtain this need-to-know number? You ask show organizers for a verified, third-party audit. If they say no, you ask again. If they continue to say no, consider putting your foot - or the collective boot of you and your exhibiting colleagues - down on their necks and lifting it only when they relent in bulletproof writing to cough up the data you need.
Or, practice catch and release. If you explain the importance of the AIF and show organizers still don't "catch" your drift, consider "releasing" those shows from your annual calendar and taking your money to an organizer more committed to helping you and your company succeed. e