Trade shows used to be simple. They were seen by exhibitors as vital to their businesses and by visitors as enormous shop windows where they could browse an entire industry’s worth of gear in one location. That meant that most shows were replete with both sellers and buyers and a kind of equilibrium was maintained. That balance started to change when, 10ish years ago, some forward-thinking exhibitors started to look at alternatives and reduced their trade show activities. This meant that the shop window was no longer as full of goodies as previously, so visitor numbers started to dwindle. In many cases that trend has continued.
It’s a classic chicken and egg scenario: if there’s less to see then fewer people will turn up to see it. Fewer visitors equals fewer exhibitors, and vice-versa. Assuming that the fix is to get the exhibitors there first so that visitors will follow, perhaps shows need to re-evaluate their models in terms of making events significantly more attractive to their direct customers. Everyone will have their own wish list, but here’s a few I think would be generally popular:
For starters, the show floor should be conducive to business discussions, ie reasonably quiet, well-lit and with various comfortable spaces where conversations could be had in semi-privacy. Appropriate facilities should be provided for those who wish to deafen and dazzle away from the main event floor.
Events should be staged at venues which are appropriately located, close enough to other attractions that all visitors, and especially those from overseas, will have things to do and see outside the show. They should be easy to reach via road, air and rail and ideally provide ample free parking throughout the event for both visitors and exhibitors plus proper vehicular access for load-in/-out. The cost of power and other utilities throughout the venue should be reasonable, with exhibitors entitled to free high-speed wireless internet, significant discounts on all food and drink purchased from in-house vendors and low-cost access to data collection systems such as badge-scanners.
Events should also provide plentiful, relevant and cost-effective pre-show marketing opportunities for exhibitors to raise awareness not only of the event itself but also of the things to see there, especially new products and technologies. At least one day could be ‘pro-only’ for pre-registered individuals who could prove their credentials.
In particular events must now make commercial sense, with overall show costs being sustainable and offering a range of options to suit most budgets. The new reality is that exhibitors have to be wooed with a package of realistic and cost-effective benefits to rebuild a worthwhile shop window that will bring in the punters. More and better exhibitors equals more and better visitors – and that’s a win-win.
Dave Wiggins is a freelance marketeer and pro-audio pundit.