Trade Shows Still Work in an Increasingly Online World

The 2013 Consumer Electronics Show just ended last week, and the usually record-breaking trade show came just a few thousand attendees short of meeting last year’s attendance numbers. With over 20,000 products showcased and over 1.9 million square feet of booths and exhibitors (which was a new record), some are wondering if trade shows like CES still have benefit and relevance to both companies and attendees.

However, not every company can attend CES to demo a new product, and not every company is in the consumer electronics business. Although CES is wildly discussed and anticipated (there are already predictions for CES 2014), offering great press to those who do debut there, it’s an exception when it comes to trade shows. Trade shows are not on their way out. In fact, as long as they still work for companies and companies adapt their event marketing to reflect digital connectivity, trade shows will never leave us.

Event Marketing Can Incorporate Digital Tactics

This doesn’t mean using digital or online tactics to promote an upcoming trade show, but to incorporate technology and to bridge the online world with the offline event. For example, exhibitors are now using QR codes to gather contact information and to connect with attendees beyond the event. QR codes are a relatively new technology that has jumped in popularity at trade shows.

In just two years, the percentage of exhibitors incorporating QR codes into their programs has skyrocketed from a mere 8 percent in 2010 to 46 percent in 2012Travis Stanton, Editor of Exhibitor Magazine.

“However, it will be interesting to see how much staying power QR codes have, as only 42 percent plan to continue using QR codes in 2013.”

Another great example of a digital tactic is video, which can be used to demonstrate product, to show a case study or a success story or to train customers in how to use the product. The excellent thing about video is that it can be useful beyond the trade show. That same video produced for a particular event can be used to generate leads on the website, to build brand awareness on social media, or as a resource for potential customers. This creates additional return to the investment of a trade show.

B2B v. B2C

Trade shows, or event marketing, is much better for B2B companies than for B2C companies. In the case of B2C, trade shows serve a purpose in debuting new products and in dictating trends, but aren’t necessarily the best for generating sales or in connecting with customers. However, trade shows that B2B companies and industries are great for generating sales and connecting with customers. According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, 91% of attendees said that trade shows impact their buying decisions because the competition is in one place, allowing for comparison shopping in real time. Event marketing still works, but it works in different ways for different companies.

If Done Right, Trade Shows Can Still Work

If you take a trade show from the company’s perspective, and from a company that understands marketing and conversions well, then the number of attendees wouldn’t matter. This is because event marketing should be about conversion rates, getting attendees to qualify as leads instead of just show up to the booth, pick up a pamphlet, and not do anything else. Sure, the more, the merrier, but a company can still lose at a trade show if they fail to consider event marketing goals, brand messaging, and a call-to-action. A trade show can have a million attendees, but if an exhibitor only got 10 or 20 leads/sales out of that million, they didn’t do too well. However, that’s a great number coming out of a trade show that had only 1000 or 2000 attendees.

Marketing experts have been wondering for years if trade shows were dying, if they were going to be replaced by faster and cheaper methods of connecting and comparing vendors. No, trade shows are not on their way out because face-to-face; real time connection is of great value. No, trade shows won’t die as long as they are working for companies and successfully merge the offline and online realms. They are not dying, even though the trade show of five or 10 years ago will not look like the trade show of today, or tomorrow.

Sonya Hartland

Sonya Hartland is a partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Pierce Mattie. Sonya’s areas of expertise include strategic brand building, earned and paid content from press and influencers, and experiential and affiliate marketing. An avid animal lover and occasional canine foster mom, Sonya volunteers with a local animal rescue.

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