Are Trade Shows Still Relevant?

Ghost Town


If you believe our industry statisticians you would believe trade show attendance and exhibiting is on the rise. It seems the story line is, everything is getting back to normal and face-to-face is as important as ever to marketers. But is it that simple?


Sure marketers will tell you that face-to-face is very important. CEOs and Sales Execs will tell you the same thing. But does that translate to trade shows are very important? Trade shows are a face-to-face medium but not all face-to-face mediums are trade shows. If trade shows were in fact such an important medium in the eyes of B2B marketers and the C-suite why…

  • is it one of the first departments to get cut when scaling back?
  • is it not given more than a couple hours attention in marketing degree programs?
  • is there often no significant attempt to measure ROI?

I love trade shows and I believe they have much value…just not the way we are still doing them.

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There are a few exceptions but what I’m seeing at association shows are fewer and fewer people going on the show floor. Attendees are more interested in education and CEU credits than in walking the show floor. Many of the attendees sent to the show don’t have buying power…they are the influencers and the users…but don’t have final say in purchase decisions. They are there to learn, not necessarily to shop.

In the case of many shows I’ve been to this past year, everything taking place on the show floor can, for the most part, be found online. If I need to invest in a new piece of equipment I can search for vendors online, compare what they have to offer and reach out to my community for advice. What I do not need to do is spend thousands of dollars to travel across the country for three days to get the same information.

When attendees say they value the face-to-face interaction does that mean they value the show floor? Or do they value the interaction they have with their peers during conference sessions and in the hallways. Hell, they may even value the interaction they have with their vendors but do we need a show floor filled with booths to facilitate that interaction?

Better yet, exhibitor, do you really need a 40 x 60 foot island booth to facilitate that interaction? Couldn’t you do just as well with a 10 x 10 or 10 x 20?

We have this belief that attendees want to touch and see our product lines? But is this a myth or a truth? With less and less attendees packing the exhibit halls does this theory have merit? Enough for companies to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an exhibit program? Even tens of thousands?

Again, I’m not saying do away with trade shows, I’m saying, if your show floor traffic is clearly absent, you need to re-invent your show floor. What do you think?

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