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The Psychological Causes for Why You Keep Attending Exhibitions

July 24, 2015 | Clare Farthing

These Are The Fascinating Psychological Reasons Why You Keep Attending Exhibitions.

It’s undeniable that both exhibitors and attendees highly value, appreciate and enjoy exhibition/trade show based interaction. The CEIR’s “The Role and Value of Face-to-Face Interaction ” research took a survey of 9,215 attendees and 885 exhibitors and found that out of ten communication options, exhibitions came out on top. 48% of attendees cited them as providing the most valuable interactions. For exhibitors, exhibitions were the second most valuable interaction, beaten out by in person sales calls by a mere one per cent.

For exhibitors, exhibitions are among the most effective uses of marketing spend, providing a tremendously high ROI even though the outlay is much greater than most other marketing methods. According to a report from the MPI, an impressive 40% of prospects moved to becoming new customers as a result of face-to-face meetings, and a staggering 28% of current business would be lost if face to face meetings were not utilised. This goes a long way in explaining why exhibitions, as reported by the CIER, accounted for 39.2% of B2B marketing budgets in 2011, a figure that has remained fairly constant since. And as “99% of marketers said they found unique value from trade shows they did not get from other marketing mediums “, we don’t see the budget going down by much in the future.

“40% of prospects moved to becoming new customers as a result of face-to-face meetings, and a staggering 28% of current business would be lost if face to face meetings were not utilised “. – MPI, “Meeting Deliver ” Report.

But what precisely is it about exhibitions that make them so effective for exhibitors, especially in an age where there are innumerable other ways to communicate? Why do “78% of trade show attendees travel more than 400 miles to attend an exhibition “? Why is this type of interaction so deeply valued that these decision makers are willing to expend vast amounts of their precious time, money and effort to partake in it? These are the fascinating questions that this article seeks to answer by looking at a number of different theories, starting with the theory of “The Evolutionary Binding Effect of Emotion “.

Trade show attendees travel great lengths to attend trade shows/exhibitions, but why?
[Okay …so maybe the image is ever so slightly exaggerated, but you get the idea.]

The Evolutionary Binding Effect of Emotion

Jonah, H, Turner theorises that “it is the capacity to use emotional languages that bind humans together ” and that “humans willingness to take cognizance of, and develop attachments to other people …would not be possible without emotions “, and thus “one of the most critical forces driving face to face interaction and its embedded-ness is the arousal and use of emotions “. It’s this emotional language that’s conveyed through body language and facial expression which cannot be achieved accurately through any other means but face to face interaction. And one of the principle ways of gaining meaningful face to face interaction, in this day and age, is through conferences and trade shows. But why do we value the emotional language that occurs during face to face communication so much?

On explaining Dr. Thomas Lewis’s research, Headrushes’s Kathy Sierra addresses this question brilliantly by explaining that “we never had to learn to process body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. We evolved this capability “, conversely we “had to spend years learning to read and write “, thus the “brain needs and expects these other–more significant–channels of information, and when they don’t come, the brain suffers “.

Still Face Effect

Further evidence of how deeply this need for emotional language is embedded is provided by the “still face effect ” experiment conducted by the University Of Pittsburgh. They found that “babies become immediately distressed when their mother maintains a “still face” that does not show any response/feedback to what the baby is doing “. And although when we become adults our ability to manage a lack of emotional feedback somewhat improves, our basic neurochemistry doesn’t change and thus “no matter how much we practice communicating through text, the brain still finds it stressful “.

Collectively the above provides a great insight into why face to face communication at exhibitions is so emotionally rewarding and thus why attendees go to great lengths to attend, and why exhibitors see great results from it, time and time again.

Still face effect

Still face effect

“Waa, give me a reaction, now! “- Clearly the baby can’t speak, but if she could, we suspect she may say something along those lines, as it suffers the “still face ” effect.

Theory of Belonging

It has long been established that humans have an innate desire to belong to, and be an integral part of something greater than themselves. Fiske argues that if the feeling of belonging is absent then the human being can’t clearly identify themselves, which leads often to them having problems communicating with, and relating to, their surroundings. The feeling of belonging is so integral to a person’s wellbeing that it even has a spot on Maslow’s famed Hierarchy Of Needs, which is a pyramid of what he proposes to be a human beings most fundamental needs.

In case you missed it, it’s right here:

Hierarchy of needs

Hierarchy of needs

But what constitutes belonging? Well, Baumeister and Leary in their 1995 Journal “The Need To Belong ” proposed that even if there is a strong feeling of commitment and intimacy between two people or groups, a true feeling of belongingness will not be felt unless there is regular contact between the peoples or groups. Thus, they propose two criteria for the achievement of true belonging within a group. 1) “people need constant, positive, personal interactions with the other people ” and 2) “people need to know that the bond is stable, there is mutual concern for one another, and that there will be a continuation of that attachment into the future “.

If taking stock of the above it becomes clearer why conferences and exhibitions are so popular. As they go a long way in fulfilling a person’s innate need to belong. Conferences and exhibitions are one of the only methods of modern marketing that provide both of Baumeister and Leary’s proposed criteria for true belongingness. As they are held regularly, to achieve positive aims, and provide true personal interaction with the presence of a mutual concern (all attendees want to better their businesses).

Interestingly, Baumeister and Leary also propose that “belonging motivations are so strong that they are able to overcome competitive feelings towards opponents “. Which goes a long way in explaining why there is often such a feeling of togetherness at exhibitions/conferences among both exhibitors and attendees. In non-exhibition/trade show settings exhibitors are fiercely competing with other exhibitors and attendees are fiercely competing with other attendees.

Away From Pain, Towards Pleasure

It is a well-documented fact that “when individuals are accepted, welcomed, or included it leads those individuals to feel positive emotions such as happiness, elation, calm, and satisfaction “. And to maximise the chances of acceptance, and thus belongingness people actively seek out those that are already similar to them. With the “social belonging factors ” being characterised as “social feedback, validation, and shared experiences “.


Penguins Source

“Hey guys, I noticed we all have cool jackets and I overheard you say you like fish, I love fish ….wanna hang out? “

Further, the feeling of belongingness (and its resultant positive emotions) is more successfully achieved if the person adheres to the principle of conformity, which is “the act of changing ones actions, attitudes and behaviours to match the norms of others ” in the group. The pressure to conform comes as a result of “direct and indirect pressures occurring ” in the group. Attending and re-attending seminars/exhibitions can be considered a key example of an “approved activity ” that falls within the principle of conformity.

Conversely when people are “rejected or excluded, they feel strong negative emotions such as anxiety, jealousy and depression ” social exclusion is one of the most common causes of anxiety, a “natural consequence of being separated from others “. Further, it has been argued that the “psychological pain caused by social rejection ” is so strong that “it involves the same brain regions involved in the experience of physical pain “.

And this doesn’t just refer specifically to active social rejection, as, is argued by Baumeister and Leary, that even just a lack of constant, positive relationships, and relatedly a lack belongingness has been linked to a range of behavioural problems, and in the most extreme cases even criminality and suicide. Additionally, they state that “people feel anxious, depressed, guilty or lonely when they lose important relationships “.

A Unified Theory

At the very core of things, people innately avoid things that will cause them pain and seek to gain more of what will bring them pleasure. I know this sounds blindingly obvious, but it’s an important tenant to keep in mind when reading the below unified theory;

People are drawn to conferences/exhibitions as they are aware this is where they will most likely gain the emotional language via authentic face to face communication, which they innately crave, which provides a pleasurable experience (and the positive emotions tied to this).

Their initial attendance sets off a positive reinforcing feedback loop that keeps conferences/exhibitions happening year after year. As once these initial social bonds have been formed then people naturally work hard to preserve them, protesting the ending of the formed social relationship. As Hazan and Shaver state in the Psychological Inquiry, the “group may have fulfilled their purpose, but the participants want to cling on to the relationships and social bonds that have been formed with one another “. Thus, they make promises to stay in touch and meet again, and there is a social norm to uphold such promises, so they, possibly unwittingly, mutually enter into the principle of conformity.

And so as the conferences/exhibitions continue, the relationships deepen, the feeling of belongingness deepens with it (as Baumeister and Leary’s two criteria for belongingness are being fulfilled), and as the thought of “breaking off an attachment causes pain that is deeply rooted in this need to belong ” a pain that humans are hardwired to avoid, the cycle of conference/exhibition attendance repeats, again and again, getting stronger each time.

This is why conferences/exhibitions happen and will continue to happen. Conference/exhibitions are among the most effective ways of achieving belongingness and thus partaking in them fully being one of the most effective ways of avoiding all the negatives that occur from a lack of belongingness.

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