Is there real value in trade shows?


By El Kwang on 28/03/2017


The shadow of doubt has been cast over trade shows for a while now. Despite having their favourite shows, some buyers and sellers are in two minds when it comes to trade show participation.

Amongst the noise lies the reality of the cost of doing business and the objectives of such business networking activities.

One of my previous bosses once told me: “We have to spend money to make money”. Many may agree with the statement but are crippled by the process of measuring return on investment. As the competition becomes stiffer, sellers are more careful with investing into activities like trade shows.

Here are some of the reasons why I exhibited at trade shows when I was a seller:

  • The opportunity to communicate the newest products and offerings. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind”. We had a strong desire of keeping the brand on top of buyers’ minds. The challenge of creating the right communicative strategy for the business remains every year.
  • The opportunity to refresh the team’s energy with new strategies deployed at trade shows. Nothing beats remembering key offerings launched than having the team “on show” at the show. Incorporating elements of the business like a chef cooking on the stand allowed an effective showcase of the experience that the business promised to deliver. In addition, it was one of the best ways to educate and expose newer team members to the industry, allowing them to have face-to-face interaction with clients and colleagues. The trade shows we attended allowed us to leverage on pre- and post-show activities, therefore elongating the key messages and experience we were delivering.
  • It was efficient as my team got to network with many qualified buyers within a short period of time in one location. This was certainly more enjoyable than qualifying buyers ourselves and travelling from client to client in unpredictable traffic and weather conditions to have the same face-to-face meeting opportunities.

Here are some of the concerns I understood after having several conversations with some buyers and sellers over the past six months:

  • Investment versus return. Trade show participation can be a costly exercise. Without a strong business objective, it is hard to justify the investment and measure return. The challenge was managing expectations of senior management. Sellers were frustrated of being sold to on the stand by other sellers who registered as trade visitors and did not invest in a stand.
  • Business matching. This affected both buyers and sellers. Some buyers complained that they were allocated to products or destinations they will never consider using. Sellers struggled to strike a rapport and gather sufficient business intelligence on short appointments. Buyers were also reluctant to attend the show if there isn’t a right mix of products exhibiting and some found the back-to-back appointment schedules lacking breaks. Buyers would like to have more free time to wander.
  • Content quality. This was a key draw card for buyers and sellers and some shows did not deliver on the content they marketed for. Buyers and sellers also struggled to attend education sessions due to appointment commitments.

As an industry, we cannot deny the fact that face-to-face connections between buyers and sellers are paramount in business as strong relationships cannot be built via emails and social media alone.

It is certainly harder to measure returns but we also need to start weighing the value of strengthening relationships as a result of such activities.

Of course, if strong relationships are already established, the value perception is less. We simply can’t deny the joys of having a good catch up during a networking function.

Maybe instead of turning our backs on the legacies of trade shows and what they have done for the growth of our industry over the past decades, how about joining our efforts in making a positive change?

Maybe some trade shows need a completely new format. As event professionals, I am sure our combined creativity, passion and purpose can create an event that focuses on engaging the audience whether you are a buyer or a seller.

So, what is your suggestion?



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