Tradeshows Don’t Have to Suck

Something has be weighing on me the past few weeks. Like a knot in the stomach. I’ve been afraid to either admit it, or say it out loud, but a recent post by Dave Lutz at TSNN has given me the strength to come out with it.

Tradeshows kinda Suck.

Yesterday, I was re-reading HubSpot’s Social Media & Business Marketing eBook, and I came across something that startled me.


Ouch. Sandwiched between Telemarketing and Direct Mail in the pit of Interruption based marketing. Is this truly how marketers view tradeshows?

I’m realizing, it’s a broken system we’re in. I’ve been afraid to say it, but if the industry is to survive, this image needs to change. I have increasing conversations with exhibitors that reflect these flaws. I’ve heard this one over and over, “We’re only exhibiting at this show because our competitors are.” Really? Have we watered down and stripped the value of tradeshows so much to the point that the vision of tradeshows, being exposed to hundreds, if not thousands of qualified customers and prospects, has become a mirage to exhibitors? What happens when someone takes a stand and refuses to exhibit? Take the competitor out of the equation, and chances are you’ve lost this exhibitor as well. Let the dominos fall.

The value is fading.

Though I try, I can’t get past the idea that tradeshows are viewed as Interruption based marketing. We’re in the middle of a major shift in which Permission based marketing and advertising is dominating our culture.

Most of us have viewed the famous “Did you Know” video series, which supports this shift away from traditional marketing:

  • In 2009, traditional advertising saw a steep decline:
    • Newspaper: -18.7%
    • TV: -10.1%
    • Radio: -11.7%
    • Magazine: -14.8%

While none of these numbers may be directly reflecting of tradeshow industry, the fact is traditional marketing is dying. Stack that up against statistics that show a 2.9% decrease in March, 1.4% decrease in April and 4.0% decrease in May for meeting and convention totals, it makes me believe the proverbial elephant has just entered to room…with friends.

We have a problem.

Regardless, I firmly believe there is an unending value in face to face meetings. A value that can’t be replaced by technology but instead is rooted in our humanistic need for that handshake or look in the eye that helps establish the trust we need to develop and sustain business. I don’t believe the current trends and views on tradeshows are because of a flawed vision for the industry, I believe it’s simply failed execution and lacking adaptation.

The good news is that I believe tradeshow CAN be permission based. Tools like Social Media, videos, blogging and community building are PERFECT for tradeshows. Relationships can now be formed before an event and sustained infinitely beyond it. Instead of being that guy, who looks like a lost puppy dog, waiting for attendees to clammer over his newest product brochure, we can develop networks and communities that support a field of business and use tradeshows and face to face environments simply to extend beyond it. To deepen and solidify those relationships.

Whatever the strategy, another thing needs to change: Universal value. If organizers are the only ones benefitting from tradeshows, why bother? How much long can we leave exhibitors, attendees and sponsors in the dark and expect them to put up with it? A four-sided partnership needs to be developed between these parties and structured to ensure benefit to all. Without one of these “gears” in the machine, the entire thing ceases to work.

Lara McCulloch recently illustrated how the events industry, as a whole, is shifting. She states, “The events industry is changing and our silos are breaking down.” Conference planners, meeting speakers, tradeshow vendors, are slowly being woven together in a world that is shrinking with tools like Social Media. This gives us the power to collectively adapt and make the changes necessary to better our industry. The question is – Are we ready for the task?

Stand together, or die alone.

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