Don’t look for exhibits by Eastman Kodak Co. at Print 13 in Chicago this year, at IPEX 14 in the U.K next year, or at most other graphic communications trade shows after that. In a statement published last Friday, the company announced it would significantly reduce its participation in conventional trade shows and turn to other means of engaging with its customers.
drupa 16 may remain in Kodak’s plans, according to Chris Payne, the company’s vice president of marketing, commercial business. But trade shows in general are no longer seen as effective ways of achieving the kinds of interaction Kodak wants to achieve with its customers, he said.
Payne is the current chairman of NPES, the vendors’ trade association that co-owns Print and Graph Expo, the Graphic Arts Show Company (GASC) events. He said that Kodak was in discussion with GASC about having a presence at Print 13 in a way that wouldn’t involve booth space and equipment.
Kodak, now striving to emerge from bankruptcy, said in its statement that it had “altered the marketing mix to include a higher number of customer engagement activities to help them make decisions.” These will include expanding the programs of the Graphic Users Association (GUA), the Kodak user group; presentations and meetings at the company’s network of technology demo centers; and “thought leadership forums” co-hosted with resellers and customers.
Kodak also has online resources and an e-newsletter for customer outreach. According to the statement, “print will play an ongoing and important role in the marketing mix” as direct mail.
Payne said that the decision to rely on these channels instead of trade shows must be seen in the perspective of what has happened in recent years both to the expos and to the markets they serve.
Payne, who said he has attended every IPEX and drupa since the late 1980s, acknowledged that in those days, trade shows were “fundamentally important” to exhibitors like Kodak. But now, he said, the marketing landscape in which the shows take place is “very different.”
Today, he said, “customers have other ways of doing due diligence” for capital investment. To some extent, iPads and other electronic media have replaced the kinds of product research that take place in trade show aisles.
According to Payne, equipment buyers now want vendors to engage with them in 1:1 dialogs that address specific problems. A trade show typically doesn’t provide an appropriate setting for these in-depth conversations, he said. And, since most attendees at shows like Print and Graph Expo already are customers of Kodak, the opportunities for developing new business at them are limited.
For these reasons, said Payne, “we don’t see a big need” for the kind of investment that a conventional presence at a trade show requires. He acknowledged that some vendors still depend on trade shows for marketing exposure and that it remains desirable for the industry to have meeting-places.
But, said Payne, “the forums need to change.” What Kodak thinks the industry needs now, he said, are not “shows in the classic sense,” but deliberative events where 1:1 engagement can take place.
Kodak tries to accomplish this at meetings of the GUA, which, said Payne, attract hundreds of Kodak users. The next one, a three-day workshop on performance improvement, is scheduled for April 22-26 in Atlanta.
This year, according to the statement made on Friday, Kodak plans to add a GUA Executive Conference Program to increase overall attendance and value for attendees.