Welcome to the New Era of Trade Shows

Welcome to the New Era of Trade Shows

No doubt we all wish we had a crystal ball to see what the future of trade shows might look like.

Or do we really need one?

If there’s one thing that’s become painfully obvious after the past two years, it’s how unlikely our industry is willing to readily accept change.

Anyone who believed that massive innovations would come out of such a seismic shift (like I did) is beginning to realize that far too many event organizers and exhibitors are slipping right back into the same-old, same-old.

I’ve heard this across numerous conversations recently.

People are so excited to be meeting face-to-face again (and rightly so) that they picked up right where they left off.

Although there may be fewer attendees (and exhibitors) at some shows, who says that’s a bad thing? Personally, as an exhibitor, I’d rather not have all the tire-kickers and freebie-seekers wasting my time. And one thing I’ve heard repeatedly … exhibitors are seeing higher quality, better engaged attendees, and often making more sales than in previous years.

But the lack of professionalism among some exhibitors is even worse than it was before. Bad behavior has been magnified by two years of rusty forgetfulness among booth staffers. Instead of sending their very best people to the show, some exhibiting companies appear to have assigned staff who are robotically punching a clock, not looking like they want to be there at all. (Or else they’re focused only on the social side of events, rather than the business aspect.)

Even among those who are showing up ready to do business, they still may be reverting back to doing things the way they used to:

  • Defaulting back to cliché tchotchkes instead of giveaways that have maximum impact.
  • Treating all attendees the same instead of creating personalized, curated experiences.
  • Shouting at attendees in their marketing (not necessarily literally … but maybe) instead of telling a story and putting attendees at the center of it.

It doesn’t have to be this way! Instead, here’s what the New Era of trade shows could look like:

  • Design intentional, omni-channel marketing experiences that begin long before the show opens, and continue long after it has closed. Trade shows should be the centerpiece of an ongoing conversation in an industry, offering a way for buyers and sellers to connect throughout the year.
  • Reward those who do make the commitment to attend. Make the in-person event so full of memorable experiences that it’s worth the current economic and logistical hassles to be a part of it.
  • Yet don’t completely ignore those who are unable to attend in person, for whatever reason. Offer ways for people to participate remotely – yes, this can be done well. (This is where that ongoing conversation comes into play!)
  • Be responsible citizens of the planet. Find ways to eliminate waste and reduce energy consumption. And yes, that might even include scaling back a mega-show so it doesn’t encourage everybody and their brother to hop on a plane and fly across the country. (Gasp!!) We may see more targeted regional shows catering to a smaller, more connected audience instead.
  • Build those relationships! Whether it be show organizers to exhibitors, service providers to exhibitors, or exhibitors to attendees – create an ecosystem where everyone is invested in the success of the overall event and each other. It’s time to stop the us vs. them mindset!
  • Create a culture of innovation – or you may be left in the dust by new shows that are! Already we’ve seen some long-time shows vanish (or at least struggle to survive), while newer, more experimental shows are gaining ground. Especially if you want to attract a GenZ audience, you can’t continue doing events like it’s 2019. (If you want some specific examples, contact me.)

Finally, remember why we all want to return to meeting in person. Whether it’s a B2C or B2B show, we’re all in the business of connecting people to opportunities and resources. Always look for the most meaningful – and memorable – ways to do that.

© 2022 Marlys K. Arnold  (As shared in the May 2022 TradeShowTips Online. To receive tips like this in your inbox every month, please take a moment to fill out this request.)

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