Time travel back to 1976 – Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak can be witnessed setting up Apple booths at numerous trade shows to promote their latest creation – the Apple 1 computer. Fast-forward to the present and we recall that, in 2009, Apple announced that Jobs would no longer be participating in the MacWorld Conference & Expo (a trade show dedicated to the Apple Macintosh platform). Is this a sign of things to come – a harbinger of the end for the dinosaurs that trade shows once were? What significance do trade shows hold in the era of FaceBook and Twitter?
Trade shows form an integral part of the marketing mix for companies involved in B2B marketing; they account for the second-largest expenditure in the business marketing communication’s wallet, second only to advertising. This raises an important question – where is the trade show industry today – is it evolving with the changing economy or is it dying with invasion of new technology such as social media and virtual trade shows?
Then and Now
Trade shows have witnessed a glorious past – often serving as the primary platform for marketing products and services to potential B2B and individual consumers.
Trade shows today:
- Trade show attendance dropped in excess of 25% in 2008. (Source: 2008 Tradeshow Week Management Survey)
- Engineers and technical professionals are increasingly using the Internet for information and purchase of products and services – what they would have otherwise done at a trade show. (Source: 2009 GlobalSpec Economic Outlook Survey)
- In contrast, trade shows featured as one of the top three sources of leads for industrial marketers in the 2009 GlobalSpec Economic Outlook Survey.
We talked to the technical trade press to hear their thoughts on trade shows:
- Trade shows provide a live platform to cover a lot of potential customers at the same time.
- A trade show scopes beyond an array of booths, encompassing conferences that provide a great learning opportunity and source for new ideas.
- Smaller trade shows are more effective; attracting a more focused audience while large ones can take the feel of a circus.
- The declining attendance over the past year can, in part, be attributed to budget cuts for attending businesses, and is not necessarily attributed to competing platforms such as social media.
According to Chris Bombarger, Global Events Manager at National Instruments, trade shows are not going away just yet. “Trade shows will continue to be important for introducing a company and its products to individuals. The economy has effected trade show attendance; companies are reducing the number and mix of staff they send to a show, with fewer more senior staff attending.”
Chris also indicated that the lower attendance is allowing exhibitors to better focus on attendees. He predicts that “smaller regional shows and vendor shows at customer sites” will be a key future trend in the trade show industry. Regarding current marketing trends, he thinks that while some trade shows have successfully integrated social media in marketing the show, social media alone cannot enable a trade show’s success.
This leaves us with several thoughts – clearly, trade shows are still an important element in an organization’s marketing mix as they provide a direct and effective platform for face-to-face interaction with prospective buyers. But what changes are required for continued success with this traditional marketing platform? Should marketers blend trade shows with current marketing trends such as social media – and more importantly, do marketers NEED to? Should virtual trade shows be viewed as threats or as opportunities by organizers and exhibitors?
Visit TREW Marketing Spotlight for Part 2 of this blog.