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Talkin' About Tradeshows: Why They Matter in the Digital Age

by Verónica Jarski  |  
September 10, 2012

Thanks to the upcoming B2B Forum in Boston, I've been thinking about tradeshows. I'm looking forward to this exciting event, and I also was wondering, "What do other folks think about tradeshows?"

Recently, I got the chance to ask Rob Murphy and Ed Jones that question and many others. Rob and Ed will be presenting the B2B Forum track titled "Getting the Most Out of Your Tradeshow Investment."

Rob Murphy is the chief marketing officer of MC2, a leader in the exhibit and event marketing industry. His background is in building effective marketing tools in face-to-face, print, video, interactive electronics, Web-based solutions, and training.

Ed Jones is the CEO of Constellation Communication Corporation, and he has has nearly 30 years experience crafting prospect, customer, and employee communications programs that improved the bottom line.

What's the biggest misconception people have about tradeshows?

Rob Murphy: In our view, there is a misunderstanding of the role of a tradeshow to the overall marketing strategy. Many companies feel compelled to focus on the tactical requirements of the show and counting leads when the focus should be on strategy and delivering a valuable experience to their attendees.

There can be this misconception that if a company has an exhibit space and a booth, the show will be a success. This can’t be further from the truth. Producing the desired outcome needs to drive all planning from the start---right down to the placement of the potted plants. Tradeshow companies, like MC2, are not only in the business of attending to the details of execution,but also helping bring the marketing goals to life so that marketers can zero in on their clients and prospects.

Ed Jones: Build it, and they will come. Many companies participate in tradeshows believing that people who are interested in their product and have authority to buy (or directly influence purchase) will find them and visit their stand.

In the same context, many companies believe they will have many more visitors than they actually do.

Are tradeshows still valued in today's digital age?

RM: Most industry analysts agree that marketing dollars assigned to tradeshows and events deliver a very high ROI. The digital alternatives to face-to-face encounters are grabbing headlines but not necessarily marketshare. Real business happens at industry events. They are essential in the rhythms and cycles of many industries and act as key milestones in the seasons of major markets. Attendance is increasing, and so are the number of shows, nationally and internationally. However, as people are consuming information in new ways, companies are seeing an increased value in their face-to-face events by incorporating digital and social media components.

EJ: Face-to-face activity is basically about relationship and risk reduction, and therefore remains essential. Customers and prospects are more comfortable with people they have met and more confident in products and solutions they can see and touch. The result is more confidence in decisions, especially when they feel they have considered the landscape and available options, an important accomplishment that tradeshows and conferences are well-suited to provide. People come to an event much more informed about what is new from the real-time information available to them every day. Content must be additive in value to the participant, not just informational. Digital and social media give companies thousands of new ways to gain leverage from their face-to-face events by engaging, re-engaging, and converting prospects and others into communities and customers before, during, and after the live event.

What's the biggest concern people have about attending tradeshows? About putting one on?

RM: Budget. What things cost and how they are going to align their hopes, desires, and competitive instincts with their assigned budgets is a recurring challenge. But, when companies integrate measurement into their tradeshow program they realize areas that could be improved and the impressive ROI potentials. However, most don’t do any measurement, and, therefore, budgets are assigned based on legacy either as an unchallenged budget allotment or as an afterthought.

That said, as traditional media declines in its influence, we are seeing the budgets of face-to-face marketing increasing.

EJ: Attendees often report that exhibitors do not give them adequate value for their time. Therefore, the value of visiting the exhibition is diminished. The complaints range from a completely myopic focus on company and products to poor engagement, interaction skills, and ability to convey valuable, tailored information by the staff members working the stands. All of these weaknesses are addressable by better planning and training.

With regard to putting on a tradeshow and conference, attracting and keeping an audience is the single most important critical success factor. Content is king and therefore acquiring and managing content is an essential function. Good content is required to attract a high-quality audience, which in turn attract exhibitors and sponsors. Interestingly, a good exhibition is considered to be an important part of the content sought by participants for the reasons already cited.

What questions should a person ask themselves when deciding whether to attend a tradeshow?

RM: Start at the end. Ask yourself, "What is my desired outcome in attending?” Once that has crystalized, develop a strategy to attain those goals. The rest is in the execution, and therefore, is elementary. The "desired outcome" question is centered around effective marketing and the creativity in making that a reality. The show will be organized and promoted, the industry will be buzzing, the attendees will be there. The question remains, "What do you want to happen and how do you increase its potential effectiveness?"

1.) What can I accomplish by going?
2.) Who do I need to see in order to accomplish those objectives?

Having studied tradeshow participants for nearly 30 years I have learned that people go to tradeshows for very consistent reasons. Below are some of the most common objectives noted. These will provide good criteria for deciding to go to a show, what you should be looking to accomplish by going and who you should put on your calendar while visiting.

To learn more about tradeshows (and much, much more!), register to attend the B2B Forum in Boston this Oct. 3-5.

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Veronica Jarski is the Opinions editor and a senior writer at MarketingProfs. She can be reached at

Twitter: @Veronica_Jarski

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  • by Concetta Phillipps Mon Sep 10, 2012 via blog

    Thanks for the informative article, Veronica. I work with a genealogy cooperative and with several crafting organizations.

    Have you found in your experience that the same ideas apply when doing a resource fair booth? I'm always looking for good ideas to help our participants come up with better and better ways to reach our participants.

    The resource fairs I run are slightly different than trade shows in that there is already an education focus that means we have marginally higher interaction rates. Recently I started asking on our conference questionnaire how much value people found in attending the resource fair and found that most of the participants found a depressingly low value in many of the booths. As an organizer, I want to help push my booths to be much better, and I'm trying to find ways to encourage higher value.

  • by EllisLP Tue Sep 11, 2012 via blog

    "The digital alternatives to face-to-face encounters are grabbing headlines but not necessarily marketshare. " This is one of the first statements I have come across which has really struck a connection. Its common sense that reality and real life experiences through events are more likely to generate a higher ROI than the digital concept of marketing-although digital has had a positive impact on the events industry (as stated here on an events blog ) people forget that real time conversations have a better impact and create stronger connections.

    Great article Veronica :)

  • by Caroline Wed Sep 12, 2012 via blog

    If you would like to bolster your argument that digital and face-to-face are not mutually exclusive, I recommend this book -- "The Face-to-Face Book" by Ed Keller and Brad Fay and a podcast interview with Ed Keller by MC2's Russell Reich.

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