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ANALYSIS: Time for a change in commercial vehicle marketing?

  The once thriving CVSAs an industry, commercial motoring has relied on the trade event more than most in recent decades, so when the Commercial Vehicle Show (CVS) was cancelled just three months before it was due to open its doors, the shock waves reverberated widely.

“Even with the economy in this condition, I was stunned when they cancelled it,” says Julie Clare, managing director of Clear Communications, a firm with several clients in the sector. “I think it could be a big blow for the industry – many companies consider this show to be the most important of the year. The 2010 event will be a crucial one in terms of gauging its role in the future.”

Twelve months ago the story was very different: The 2008 event was the largest ever, with over 600 exhibitors showcasing the newest vehicles and equipment from the top names in commercial motoring, filling 11 halls at Birmingham's NEC, and attracting 30,000 industry visitors.

B2B marketing in the commercial vehicle sector has always been very traditional, and has been served well by the CVS. The event was easily the best way of advertising its product – for obvious reasons – and as many in the sector were not desk-based, digital marketing has been slow to develop.

However, following the motor industry's worst quarter in post-war history, the CVS was cancelled in January. Its absence will leave an ominous space – the three day event usually provides the annual centrepiece of many brand's marketing strategies, and an opportunity for the industry to network.

In a statement released by the show's committee – comprising the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT), the Road Haulage Association (RHA), the Society of Operations Engineers (SOE) and CV Show delegates from the commercial vehicle and component sector – a 'difficult environment for vehicle manufacturers' was cited.

In March the SMMT acknowledged that conditions within the industry had become 'unprecedented' after axing the 2010 British International Motor Show. What will this mean for the future of the show and CV marketing? Will it go down a different road?

A change of direction

According to organisers, the very cheapest spot for the CVS cost just less than one thousand pounds, with the most others costing several times that amount. During a recession this is substantial sum of money for any firm, so where will the funds – which would usually have been spent without much deliberation – be directed now?

Bob Sockl, chief executive of Crystal Communications, says the cancellation has effectively given companies two choices: “They can either put the money back in their pockets, or they can invest it in a marketing exercise they couldn't previously afford or had not considered as an option.”

According to Sockl, smaller firms are more likely to try something 'slightly different' in a year where the show is on hiatus. However he admitted that he expects less than half of the 290 exhibitors that received a refund to be innovative when revising their strategies. He also spoke of how many exhibitors would be 'extremely relieved' to plough the cash back into their bottom-line.

Yet Sockl is one of several communication firm bosses who say it's time they started thinking digital: “I'm a great believer in emedia and direct marketing. At this stage we may only see a small percentage look to the Internet with real seriousness, but we are expecting that area to grow quickly and significantly.”

This cancellation may stimulate a period of marketing integration in the sector, with even the show's biggest advocates urging B2B marketers to use this break as a chance to develop other avenues, and evaluate their marketing approach by outlining a set of measurables.

“To do nothing should never be an option,” warns Sockl, who has no doubt that confidence in the trade event will return, and that companies that proactively seek out alternative marketing avenues will return from the slump with a stronger and more balanced approach.

The direct approach

In previous years, motoring trade shows have represented the bustling confidence of an industry on the up, now however, they have become a symbol for its recent decline.

Declan Gane, executive director of the International Exhibition of Logistic Associates, believes the cancellation reflects the depth of the crisis within the motor industry: “When it comes to trade shows, confidence in the market really is everything – essentially they are selling a few square metres of concrete, this just shows how serious the slump is.”

The future of the mass trade show was thrown further into doubt in April when organisers of the Royal Show for Agricultural Vehicles announced that its summer exhibition would be the last. For many it is notable that the smaller vertical trade shows have survived the downturn with greater success than the larger ones covering a wider spectrum.

Clare believes the segmentation of the market is a process that could be hastened by the economic turbulence rather than delayed, and that the motor industry has been over reliant on these events for too long: “They became an easy option for marketers, as they have obviously proved very successful in the past – but during that time many have been slow to strengthen their other marketing arms.”

However, “companies have now been very quick to recognise the need for adaptation,” adds Clare. “We have noticed a definite increase in clients coming to us and asking for more creative B2B campaigns and there has been a sharp rise in automotive forums on the social media networks such as LinkedIn – it seems people are talking to their customer base more than ever.”

Clare is not alone in making this observation, as many experts predict a movement away from display advertising and towards more specific direct and digital marketing approaches with a key objective being maintaining contact with buyers all year round, rather once a year in April.

In a time when measurability is everything, there are some questions surrounding the manner of the CVS's return, with many expecting it to be supported by a foundation of carefully prepared direct marketing. But for Sockl, talk of its demise is hyperbole: “People do business with people, not companies.”

“No amount of emails can replace meeting someone face-to-face to discuss the product.”


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