The Future of In-Person Trade Shows

The Future of In-Person Trade Shows

It is safe to say that every business and industry has felt the impact of COVID-19 since the pandemic first struck. Like other in-person events, trade shows have had to pivot, adjust, and rethink how business can be operated. From these efforts, we have seen the rise in digital conventions, virtual webinars, and other online alternatives that have attempted to fulfill the connective value trade shows have on business.

As vaccinations become more widespread and businesses begin to enter a new phase, brands and organizers are looking to see what will become of the future of trade shows. In this blog, we will dive into the important role trade shows serve for businesses and agencies, the changes happening with attendee values, and what to consider when entering the new age of trade shows. 

Trade Shows Before the Pandemic

According to Shopify, a trade show is “an event held to bring together members of a particular industry to display, demonstrate, and discuss their latest products and services.” Dating as far back as 3000 BCE, businesses have used trade shows as collective events to facilitate commerce, educate consumers, and act as a hub for commercial and cultural exchange. The history of modern trade shows is one that, despite changing technology through time, has evolved and adapted in tandem with the business world.

Moving away from its origins simply focused on the transactional sale of goods, trade shows have become hubs for networking and connection. While the internet can digitally connect people across the globe, trade shows are one of the unique times when major players in specific markets come together face-to-face to showcase the latest innovations and share their products and offerings to the world. Whether you are a business looking for exposure or a distributor looking for your next client, trade shows bring together like-minded people under one roof for a chance to connect. 

Still, everything has a tradeoff. In exchange for attending these magnetic events, they do come at a cost. From the ticket price of an event pass to the costs of travel and time, these are all valuable things to consider now more than ever. In a report by FTI Consulting analyzing sentiments around the post-pandemic trade show industry, 58% of respondents noted that their trade show budget had decreased compared to pre-COVID levels. While this is unsurprising, it is notable that when asked about their predictions for budgets in a post-lockdown world, “46% said there was an intent to increase their budget above pre-pandemic levels.” This is a promising outlook that notes respondent’s belief that there still is great value in in-person trade shows moving forward. 

The Future of Trade Shows

Like many uncertainties today, the future of in-person trade shows is still in the air. Nevertheless, as vaccinations reduce the risk at in-person events, businesses are beginning to ease their way back into the trade show circuit.

While businesses are looking to get back into trade shows, attendee priorities have shifted with the changes in the world. According to the report, the top trade show objectives for smaller companies were networking, selling products/services, and showcasing products/services (in that order). Networking and selling products/services both have grown in post-pandemic importance while showcasing products and services has decreased in importance. For larger companies, the top three objectives were building brand awareness, networking, and showcasing products/services. With bigger companies, building brand awareness and networking have increased in importance in contrast to the decrease of importance with showcasing products/services. As a business reevaluates whether attending a trade show is worth the cost, it is important to understand the shift in priorities based on the needs of your business.

Still, commercial businesses are not the only attendees of trade shows. Additionally, these changes also impact agencies and other companies looking to connect and partner with vendors and brands. As the needs of businesses change, so will trade show attendance. Agencies and other third parties must reevaluate if the same trade shows they were attending pre-pandemic offer the same value and clientele that they aim to connect with today. Overall, as companies reenter the trade show world, they must be aware of the cultural shifts that may affect their bottom line.

Here is a quick checklist of questions to ask yourself when considering coming back to the trade show circuit:

  1. Is this tradeshow still worth the investment for your brand or agency? While certain trade shows may have been beneficial historically, do they still offer the same value given the shifts in attendee sentiment?
  2. What are the safety guidelines? This goes without saying, but it is more crucial than ever to understand and follow the safety guidelines set by event organizers. Additionally, during a pandemic, a trade show’s safety guidelines alone can be a big asset or determinant for attending.
  3. How can you take advantage of the moment? Having face-to-face interactions in today’s world has much more meaning and value than it did pre-pandemic. Going into these events, what are ways you can use this time to set your business or agency apart and create those connections and partnerships?

Final Thoughts

While the future is still uncertain, the new normal is being forged as we speak. Trade shows have reemerged and are ready to serve their purpose: to connect. Still, we must not forget the large cultural and industry changes that will impact the industry. Those who adjust and adapt to the changing environment will be the ones who are able to make the most of the new trade show world. 

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