How tradeshows used to be

What do you think the future of trade shows will be, particular in technology sector, post pandemic? Will they exist?

Since March 2020, practically all trade shows were cancelled or postponed everywhere in the world. To add to that, only the very bravest of organisers are planning on any tradeshows in 2021. So then, what does the future hold?

Do we need tradeshows any more, given the rise of the digisphere?

In short, yes we do. Tradeshows serve to provide many of a vendors marketing aims, namely:

  • Brand awareness (visitor sees the company stand, despite not specifically looking for it)
  • Brand excitement (visitor sees product demonstration or how excited other stand visitors are)
  • Problem solution (visitor understands how the products can solve their problem, takes brochure)
  • Call to action (Visitor is drawn towards the stand to enter competition, prize draw, time limited discount etc)
  • Customer capture (Visitor agrees to being contacted directly in the future, warm lead)
  • Networking (Visitors may bring intelligence about your competitors, introduce your sales staff to other warm leads or enable alternative suppliers or partnerships to be discovered)

No other sales channel can provide all of these combined marketing elements together. For example let us have a look at a few COVID friendly alternatives:

  • Digital or printed, still image, advertising
    • Brand awareness
    • Call to action
  • Youtube advertising
    • Brand awareness
    • Brand excitement
    • Problem solution
    • Call to action
  • Cold calling – businesses only
    • Brand awareness
    • Problem solution
    • Call to action
Traditional Vs radical

However, to truly predict the future of tradeshows, one cannot ignore the human psyche. Having been to many tradeshows myself, it is difficult to imagine this being successfully done only by virtual means. I feel the technology isn’t quite there yet. Senior decision makers are fond of safe traditional methods. In their minds, they have simply postponed visiting or exhibiting at tradeshows. As soon as COVID has ceased to be a risk, normality will quickly return.

Why I am wrong

I will call it the zoom effect. Until zoom and the pandemic met, I was unimpressed with video meetings. The audio and video synchronisation would easily go out of kilter and that’s if the internet connection didn’t give up first. The overall user experience was poor. Zoom proved it could be done well and the pandemic produced the need. We could refer to this as the problem-solution partnership. Jump forward to 2030 and nearly all tradeshows will be virtual only, why, because COVID will be replaced by another problem ‘Cost’. Corporate CO2 emissions taxes and costs associated with personnel being tied up attending tradeshows will grow. The technology to deliver totally immersive virtual reality will have become cheaper enough for event organisers to licence from software providers and to loan any VR equipment to registered exhibitors and visitors alike. Visiting a virtual tradeshow will be as easy as Zoom is today and exhibitors will have no physical limitations in how good their virtual stand could look. Networking would be seamless with you being able to audio chat to any virtual character near your virtual character. Plus, your financial director will be happy too. This virtual tradeshow will cost much less than the real thing as there are no travel, hotel or bar bill expenses.

The scales of economy are simply vast

A virtual tradeshow environment will bring vast scales of economy.

  • For the exhibitor this will mean
    • No build up or tear down costs
    • Easy to reuse their virtual stand for future events (assuming some common standard)
    • No travel expenses
    • Can exhibit in parts of the world that may not have been before cost effective
    • Exhibition operations will not be impacted by future variants of COVID which may cause disruption for many years to come
    • No hassle of shipping physical items in and out of countries
    • More staff can get involved
    • Stand designs no longer constrained by real world limitations
    • Limited insurance risk
  • For the visitor this will mean
    • No travel costs
    • Can visit numerous exhibitions in a week, regardless to where they are
    • No risk in catching illnesses
    • Being loaned any physical VR equipment as part of the ticket cost and would get a part refund if they returned the equipment in good condition
    • Avoidance of any carbon emissions tax
  • For developers of virtual reality tradeshow platforms
    • They can licence their technology to countless tradeshow organisers around the world.
    • Adapt their technology to serve other industries such as virtual supermarkets, casinos, etc

Between 2021 and 2030 I would expect to see the technology sector being one of the earliest adaptors of this trend. At first we could see a hybrid of the old and new as physical tradeshow gradually return and are accompanied by a identical virtual world. Staff on physical stands would be alerted to inbound virtual visitors and would have to don a VR headset to see and talk to the virtual visitor. Once the benefits of VR tradeshows have become obvious the physical tradeshow will gradually fade away for all but the few things that cannot be digitised. Examples could include wedding, animals, makeup, fabric and other touchy feely industries.

In short, tradeshows will exist but not in a form that we know today. Instead they will exist in a brave new world of endless possibilities.