Most of the last couple of weeks saw KEXINO in the German city of Düsseldorf attending DRUPA, the world’s largest tradeshow for the printing industry.
Talking to exhibitors, it’s clear that most had the feeling that attendee numbers were significantly down compared to DRUPA 2004. Of course, the exhibition organisers tell a different story. Well they would, wouldn’t they?
We’ve been saying this for some time now, but we firmly believe that the writing’s on the wall for the ‘traditional’ tradeshow exhibition format.
Do We Still Need Mega-Size Tradeshows?
The truth is that the profile of show attendee has drastically changed over the past few years. Manufacturers no longer need to wait until a tradeshow to launch their new products or services when the web can give them instant exposure to their targetted demographic. Tradeshow visitors are more clued-up on what to see – and what’s not worth seeing – and do their booth visit plans well in advance of ever setting foot in the exhibition centre. The reasons attendees come to tradeshows has changed. But most tradeshow organizers haven’t woken up to that fact – or don’t want to.
While we’re in the subject of tradeshow organizers – as a group they’ve been shafting exhibitor companies for years. Most tradeshow organisers provide much less perceived value to both exhibitors and visitors than before, because they’re running the show in the same way that they’ve done for the last thirty years. Want an example? Just three years ago I paid $7,500 for what was euphemistically called “broadband internet” (it was 256KB/sec!) for a 4-day tradeshow in Chicago. Let that sink in for a second: Seven…and…a…half…grand. It’s little wonder why more and more businesses are “doing it themselves” – organizing their own open days, webinars, and conferences. Unless they radically change the way they organise tradeshows, organizers will continue to see potential exhibitor companies spending their marketing cash elsewhere. Not the big players, of course, who need to spend their marketing budget allocations in fear of not getting sufficient funds in next years’ business plan.
However, the small, often innovative niche companies that we were used to seeing in ‘pipe-and-drape’ booths peppered around the show floor periphery are increasingly finding it harder to justify investment in such tradeshows, preferring to look at more targetted means of attracting prospects and channel partners. As well they should.
New, more relevant and timely channels are providing the platform such companies sorely need. The web, social media, and various content-creation inbound marketing tactics have made every day a tradeshow day.
Tradeshows Must Localize and Specialize To Survive
So does that mean tradeshows are dying out? Not at all. But ‘one-size-fits-all’ tradeshows such as DRUPA are clearly less effective at drawing audiences looking for niche products, services, and technologies. Increasingly, these people are being better served by smaller, shorter, localized events.
There’s also the issue of lazy, out-of-touch marketers who think the way to plan their tradeshow presence is pretty much the same today as it was 5, 10, or even 20 years ago. The days of building a booth and adopting a “If We Build It, They Will Come” attitude is as dead as the floppy disk. If your company doesn’t plan your tradeshow presence with pre- and post-show programmes, communications, public relations and a lead-generation and closing strategy, then your tradeshow booth is nothing more than a very expensive advertisement.