The trade show industry is a major driver in business-to-business sales for companies across the nation. According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), each year, more than $24 billion is spent by U.S. exhibitors on trade show displays. In fact, CEIR reported that four key exhibition industry metrics rose in 2018, with real revenues leading at 3.6% above 2017 levels. Attendance and net square feet (NSF) rose 1.7%, while exhibiting companies grew by 0.5%, this steady growth was expected to continue through 2021.Then, 2020 came and with it a global pandemic that has made large-scale gatherings like trade shows unsafe and unwise for the foreseeable future.
Trade shows are a major industry for a reason - they work. Face-to-face marketing in a physical setting is powerful, and effective. As marketers around the world consider how best to reallocate their 2020 trade show budgets in a way that proves as powerful and effective, here are a few tips and topics for consideration:
Think Small: Although trade shows are mass gatherings, the true value is in the one-on-one interactions and sales leads that happen through personal conversations, demonstrations and Q&As during those gatherings. While COVID-19 prevents us from meeting in large groups, you can and should consider ways to safely replicate these experiences. Can you leverage your trade booth displays in your office setting? Can you encourage one-on-one, socially distanced meetings to explore your booth and engage in conversation with your top targets?
Nail the Digital Experience: Not everyone will be able to meet with you in person. So you should definitely consider ways to engage your top targets digitally. An interactive webpage or app with dynamic video and visuals and AR and VR demonstrations or tours can go a long way in replicating the trade show experience, and can also help you throughout the year as you roll out new products, answer questions for prospective customers and / or guide existing customers through trainings.
Partner Up: Another key aspect of the trade show experience is being able to visit and learn about multiple vendors / service providers all in one spot. Are there other service providers in the industry that supplement (but don’t compete) with the work you do? Consider partnering to create a trade show-like webinar experience that provides various industry resources all in one place.
There will always be value in in-person, face-to-face communication. For that reason, we do not think trade shows are going away. But, while they are paused and the timing of their return is somewhat uncertain, it is wise for marketing professionals to consider how best to leverage their resources and expertise to make the most of the digital experience to cultivate business leads and drive sales.