Gareth Case, Uncategorized

Exhibitions and Trade Shows – A Thing of the Past?

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?

I look forward to hearing your comments on this and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for all my latest thoughts…

About garethcase

Gareth Case has more than 12 years experience of marketing in the B2B technology space and has held senior marketing roles at Intermec Technologies, Arc Solutions, Viglen, Athona and now ONI and has experience of working throughout EMEA, North America and APAC. His broad understanding of the full marketing mix combined with a diverse skill set has contributed to the success and growth of his previous employers. Gareth has proven, successful experience in the following marketing disciplines: Offline: Marketing Strategy, Team Leadership, Direct Mail, Campaign Management, Telemarketing, Print Production, Public Relations, Copywriting, Budget Management, Graphic Design, Collateral Design, Presenting. Online: Website Design, Content Management, iPad Toolkits, Social Media, PPC, SEO, Analytics, CRM, E-Marketing, Video. Gareth has experience of working across many vertical markets including Healthcare, Local Government, Education, Finance, Insurance, Manufacturing, Logistics, Retail, Media, Not for Profit and Legal. He has started this blog ‘Inside a Marketing Mind’ to share his experiences and promote debate around the latest marketing innovations. Follow Gareth on Twitter here – http://twitter.com/gareth_case and subscribe to the blog for all the latest updates. For a more detailed synopsis of Gareth’s skills and experience, please visit his blog or LinkedIn page


17 thoughts on “Exhibitions and Trade Shows – A Thing of the Past?

  1. Gareth, thanks for the post and I agree with your central theme – focus on clearly defined outcomes – in this case event marketing.

    The objective for an event doesn’t have to be sales (unless you’re box-shifting a ‘show offer’), it’s usually meeting and engaging face to face, data capture, market intelligence gathering and should have defined objectives and be quantified and part of a structured engagement plan.

    Eyeballing the competition to see their approach with people is important as the website and other online activities doesn’t always reveal this, and seeing the interpersonal approach of your customers and potential customers adds more value than desk research.

    I’ve worked both sides of the fence – as organiser of events and as exhibitor/attendee – and whilst exhibitions deliver big value to some, for sure they don’t work for everyone. But they are a powerful opportunity and when used in a structured way provide an important part of the marketing mix for many businesses.

    You’re being provocative to make the point, and it’s a healthy debate, but online doesn’t replace human interaction. They’re complementary not competitive.

    BTW – good luck with the two events I see from your LinkedIn profile that you’re attending in September, I’m sure you’ve sorted your objectives for them already!!

    Great blog, and I’m about to follow you on Twitter..

    Posted by Al Clarke | August 30, 2011, 10:19 am
  2. Hi Gareth

    It is also worth considering the value for attendees in visiting such events. Will there be anything new to see? Will company principals be on the stand? Is there any real knowledge to be gained from visiting that can’t be obtained elsewhere? Can the time out of the office be justified?

    Many exhibition organisers are failing to recognise the needs of exhibitors and attendees – hence lower visitor numbers.

    Al’s point about human interaction is valid but only if there are real benefits. Simply chatting away and ‘pressing the flesh’ does not always equal a good use of time, which is the most precious commodity of all for a lot of business people.

    Posted by Rob Shepherd | August 30, 2011, 11:35 am
  3. Hi guys,

    As a practitioner, I agree to a great extent with both of you. It’s not one or the other, as trade shows, events and electronic marketing are complementary. But often companies are face with a budget and skills dilemma. Marketing budgets do not increase just because we now have good ‘online’ opportunities (on the contrary). So, we have to redirect some of the existing budget to online marketing. That means reducing the number of exhibitions or their size.

    Then there is the skills gap. We now need not only good event organisers, but also social media specialists, bloggers and networkers in the team. This poses a challenge, not only to coordinate the efforts, but also has a direct impact on cost.

    Any magic formula would be appreciated.

    Posted by David Massumi | August 30, 2011, 11:58 am
  4. Good article. As many “guerrilla” marketers know, there are endless ways to gain a great deal of exposure at a trade show without exhibiting. Here are a couple ideas:

    *Have 5-10 sales people attend the show. Give them flyers, iPads with demos, literature or whatever information you want to get out and have them serve as “brand ambassadors.” Station them around the show and have them approach attendees. Same coverage, no booth cost.

    *Work out a deal with the coffee shop or lounge at the host hotel (somewhere people would go anyway) to offer a free coffee or cocktail to anyone that comes in with your flyer. Make them turn in a flyer along with a business card to track leads. Offer to provide coffee cup sleeves, bar napkins or coasters with your company’s logo or just station someone at the coffee shop/bar and hand them out.

    The key is to work with the host hotel or facility (works best with smaller events) rather than the trade show. Working with the event coordinators means they will charge you a sponsorship fee for just about anything.

    As with all guerrilla marketing, there is some risk of irritating the show organizers or host venue, but I have found that by the time anyone even figures out what you’re doing, the show is over.

    Happy marketing!

    Posted by JB | August 30, 2011, 2:10 pm
    • This is a good way to get banned not just from the tradeshow but from the organizing body and if it is a key industry association of yours, or especially of your clients’, this is not a good idea. It also sends a message to your prospects that you are not above doing things “below the table” which will make them wary of trusting you.

      Posted by Deborah | September 12, 2011, 7:53 pm
    • This is a great idea if you want to be kicked out of your clients’ industry associations and don’t mind your prospects being wary of how willing to cut corners you are with them, too!

      You can gain value from events which you attend, but this much effort to work around the tradeshow itself would be put to better use actually doing the show AND doing it correctly.

      Posted by D_Elms (@D_Elms) | September 12, 2011, 7:56 pm
  5. This is always a great topic and as you mentioned is brought up annually at budget meetings.
    One of our companies manufactures buildings and has sales facilities throughout US, sold by Dealers.
    These dealers usually erect 2-3 building to show their Local market quality and options……
    And we have a strong Internet presence through the dealers and HO.
    the select national shows we attend, erect completed building and have the best of local sales forces in attendance still pays handsomely.
    Attendance has diminished over past few years but QUALITY of prospect has Increased.
    Increasing the ROI

    Posted by Chuck Bartok | August 30, 2011, 7:40 pm
  6. 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 . . .

    Posted by David Poulos | August 30, 2011, 8:09 pm
  7. Interesting debate. I’ve done my share of standing on exhibition stands smiling at the passers-by as well as worn out shoes walking around them trying to sell products to people who have paid for the privilege. The networking element is key, and shows like MAPIC and MIPIM allow an international audience to come together. A good stand becomes a focus point for an event, if it is designed properly it ought to yield return on investment in my opinion as long as the people working it are proactive and keen. Nothing worse than going to a show and seeing miserable looking folk slouching about looking bothered. The proper use of social media incorporated into a good show and the pre and post marketing has given the exhibition industry a much needed boost in the arm I think and the winners will be those who ensure their clients get best use of these new channels as well as exhibition stands which are interactive, green and imaginative.

    Posted by Owen Morgan, Partner at Icebreaker Business Development | August 30, 2011, 8:59 pm
  8. The ROI has always been a bit sketchy for most trade shows. The overall expense rarely matches the distribution costs of the products/services sold on the days of the show. However their are a huge number of less tangible benefits, Market intelligence, Industry politics, recruitment and general market research are far easier to achieve and are usually of better quality than any virtual methods. Us humans are gregarious animals and we need to meet face to face.

    Posted by Garry Heath | August 31, 2011, 10:09 am
  9. Certainly the function of events has changed in today’s communication mix. Finding quality leads or business opportuntities from an exhibition seems to be a utopian dream. If someone has a need today, the search will start instantly. Depending on the lenght of that search an exhibition could be of part of it.

    I agree with Al that there might be other objectives to participate in a trade show. Besides lead potential I (a BtB niche marketeer) would look at potential value in terms of tracing new contacts (optin for future e-campaigns), need for additional branding in the niche, relevant meet & greet potential with existing contacts and available specific market insight. If you force yourself to set measurable targets, the ROI discussion will be clearer.

    In my experience tradeshows where your potential customers participate as exhibitors are very effective. With the right preparation you can use a tradeshow to get in touch with a lot of prospects and maintain and build relations. It’s also a great way to get past the purchase department and talk to specialists.

    We have, like many other companies, reduced our event budgets dramatically in favour of e-campaining. In my view trade show organisers need to enter the digital world to survive as serious information brokers. I wonder if they will leave it to other parties to develop digital platforms like virtual exhibitions and lose their position …..

    Posted by Ben Hamers | August 31, 2011, 11:25 am
  10. If we agree that trade-shows are not efficient enough then the question we need to think about is what is the alternative that has proven to be more successful ? And I’m sure it’s not the easiest one. Don’t hesitate to share

    Posted by maryse | September 1, 2011, 7:58 pm
  11. As someone who has been on all sides of the tradeshow floor, and who now helps businesses and organizations create booths, displays and integrated marketing which will lead to “Exhibiting Success” – I can only say, it’s all too easy to *prove* that trade shows don’t work.

    To prove tradeshows don’t work? All you have to do is show up, expect people to flock to your booth and ring your phone off the hook, without your choosing an achievable goal, gearing everything towards implementing tactics to reach that goal, and following through.

    To prove that tradeshows do work takes effort, time and focus. And the companies that get it right don’t sit around moaning about how the tradeshow didn’t meet their expectations.

    Posted by D_Elms (@D_Elms) | September 12, 2011, 8:01 pm
  12. Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.
    booth design

    Posted by priti | September 22, 2011, 6:38 am
  13. Interesting read, keep up the good work guys

    Posted by stand design | April 22, 2012, 10:41 am
  14. Pretty very good article. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I have truly liked reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you article again soon. Yours trully, Margaret.

    Posted by sunroom furniture | June 25, 2012, 9:29 am


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