What’s it like out there? What are your other clients experiencing? How’s the attendance level at shows? Should I take a smaller space with a different trade show rental booth?
No matter how clients phrase them, the questions keep coming about the current state of face-to-face marketing, all driving for answers to the underlying conundrum: Is it time to return to the trade show floor and if we do, what degree of success can we expect?
According to industry research, this stage of the industry recovery is more difficult than last year when there were only two choices for trade show organizers: (1) Go Virtual, or (2) Cancel/Postpone. Subsequently, the two choices for exhibitors were to either create virtual experiences as a substitute for face-to-face, or to rely on other marketing activities and wait for the return of true face-to-face opportunities.
Now we are seeing custom trade show exhibits return. Although each situation has its own unique considerations and results, below are comments that provide insights to consider shared by Exhibitus’ clients at the recent ISC West in Las Vegas.
- While attendance was about half of the pre-pandemic numbers, 15,000 versus 30,000 typically, and the number of exhibitors was also roughly one-half, clients agreed that the quality of attendees was improved.
- With smaller crowds, the time between demos could be longer, meaning that the sales teams were able to spend more time discussing products/services with individual attendees rather than having to quickly move forward to the next demo. Sales also felt this helped to further qualify leads on the show floor rather than later during post-show follow-up.
- There was more unscheduled drop-in traffic from attendees curious to meet those exhibiting.
- One client had a more visible presence on the floor than usual, given that the company’s two main competitors did not attend. Also, they elected to keep overhead lighting which set them apart from most exhibitors who chose not to so.
- With fewer exhibitors, one client was able to increase the size of their booth space and improve their location, something they had been wanting to do, but couldn’t because competitors held status in the process. Happily, they will retain their new location for future shows.
At many large and small shows, the aisle carpeting has not returned, giving a more industrial look to the event. Attendees report that they are so glad to be back on the floor that they have no problem walking on concrete between booths.
In addition to the concern about logistics and demographics for the current environment, clients are questioning how events will permanently change once the virus has been conquered and we return to more robust trade shows. Given what we are reading, hearing and experiencing with our clients, here are some of the potential changes to consider:
Crowds will be smaller – Business travel is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024. For exhibitors, this might not be a disadvantage as those that do attend will be more intentional about being there. As mentioned above, the time spent with each attendee can increase and add value to conversations.
Regional shows will increase – Regional shows allow more people to drive and participate without incurring the cost of air travel. In addition, shipping properties and materials can be regionalized, avoiding cross-country transportation costs.
Technology will be king – Prior to the pandemic, technology and digital offerings were becoming a requirement to enhance customer experience. During the pandemic, many companies turned to virtual opportunities to stay connected to customers and prospects. At first, these efforts were like throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what would stick, but through the process many companies discovered how to best incorporate virtual experiences into their marketing mix and are exploring how to take what they have learned onto the trade show floor. They now also have better understanding on how to use the data content that was served up through technology resource providers.
The thought leaders at Exhibitus continue to research the status of the industry from the perspective of the general business economy, show organizers, exhibitors and other exhibit providers. We provide our clients with the most up-to-date information possible to make decisions that best serve their companies and trade show programs. Contact us to discuss how you can move your program forward even in this time of uncertainty.