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Exhibitions and Trade Shows – A Thing of the Past?

Guest blog

Posted by garethcase ⋅ August 30, 2011 ⋅ 5 Comments

It’s a subject that comes up every year. There is always an Account Manager who wants to do an exhibition because it’s closely aligned to their vertical market, but is there still real value in these events?

The internet’s exponential growth over the last decade has meant that we have access to pretty much any information we want, no matter where we are or what device we are viewing it on. Research in general, for that latest gadget, your next holiday or even which e-marketing platform you are going to deploy is at our finger tips 24 hours a day.

Before these technological advances, research was the reason I used to attend trade shows, but over the last 10 years, I have noticed a dramatic decline in both the size of events and the number of attendees.

There are many reasons company’s choose to exhibit at trade shows. For example, it’s a good forum to launch your brand into a new market or geography. It’s also good to have brand presence at an event well subscribed to by your customers. The other main driver is lead generation. How many of you can honestly hold your hands up and say you have had a really good ROI from events and exhibitions overall? I hope I hear about some great successes but in my experience the ROI does not stack up. Yes there have been shows where we have converted some great opportunities, bit If I compare it £ to £ against over marketing activities it probably comes out bottom of the list. When working out the ROI, don’t forget to include the investment of time from your employees, a trade show with 4 of your sales team not only means you’re paying them to be there, but also missing out on them selling elsewhere during that time.

If you are going to do trade shows and exhibitions then my advice is to pick niche events aligned to specific vertical markets you want to attack, rather that generic shows that cover your solution/product set. The key is to develop a proposition that really helps your target market overcome a ‘common challenge’. This way you will quickly gain engagement and been seen as a value add rather than a box shifter.

Surely it’s better to be the only company at an event that offers your products and solutions than being one of 150 all offering something similar?

My Response:

Gareth – I, too, have sat on both sides of this fence, organizing some of the largest industrial events in the country (US) and attending and exhibiting in hundreds of shows for a variety of clients. I, too, have seen reductions in attendance and square feet sold, likely a factor of a combination of better information sources (the internet and elsewhere) and the current economy. However, if applied to the marketing plan in a focused strategic way, there is still a huge value in live trade events. NOTHING can replace the face-to-face interaction, the energy, the insight gathered at a live event. True, hard data research can be gained electronically, but the “Who” portion of the show is just as important as the “What” that you get electronically – seeing your competitors approach, viewing new entrants into the market for possible partnership, gauging the health and direction of an industry at large, are invaluable to the well-rounded executive.

True, lead generation is one of the principal reasons to exhibit, and many shows don’t support this activity aggressively enough, though they should. But on the corporate side, 8 out of 10 viable leads are NEVER followed up with – after spending all that time, money and energy to exhibit, craft a display, man the exhibit with top, expensive sales staff, the leads lie fallow, reducing the ROI by a huge percentage. Shame on the sales manager who lets this practice continue . . .

There are indeed numerous branding tactics associated with a tradeshow outside your individual exhibit, but some of the guerrilla tactics mentioned here in other poster’s comments would do more than “irritate the organizers” – they can get them thrown out of the venue, ostracized within the industry, their brand destroyed or reduced to a cartoonish bottom-feeding lout. If you work closely with the organizer, such tactics can be negotiated and usually an accommodation made so that these activities are viable and above-board, and a win for everyone.

The branding aspect cannot be overstated – you’re given an opportunity to put your best foot forward in the most prominent arena your company has – a room full of customers and potential customers! Can’t ask for more than that in ANY business. When all this is factored in to the ROI equation, a well-selected show that gives you a forum to launch a new product, do primary customer research, show off a rebranding, put on a good face for the industry, and eyeball all your competitors in one room is an unbeatable opportunity. The rumors of the tradeshow’s death are greatly exaggerated and superbly premature . . .

About David Poulos

Speaker, Consultant and Author David Poulos is known as the Marketing Doctor because of his proven ability to accurately diagnose and prescribe the most effective solutions for successful business growth with absolute surgical precision.

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