Transforming One’s Trade Show – Call to Action to EVOLVE!

Transforming One’s Trade Show – Call to Action to EVOLVE!

By Nancy Drapeau, PRC, Research Director, CEIR

CEIR Predict was a phenomenal event this year. Presenters challenged attendees to push the boundaries of how they think about their events, what goals they should strive to achieve, and what this means about how the trade show model needs to evolve. Commentary spanned from real world examples on how today’s organizers and exhibitors ‘knock the socks’ off those who attend their events and futuristic thinking, a call-to-action to experiment, to evolve.

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There were two presenters that really forced Predict attendees to think beyond today. Their role was to plant the seed, motivate a call-to-action to innovate. They didn’t give the solution. They challenged trade show leaders to experiment and find a new path forward. World renown designer Bruce Mau discussed the power of invisible design, and how the trade show floor is ripe for evolution to a new reality. Marc Pomerleau, VP of Strategy at Freeman XP intertwined the evolution of human society from early times to today, advancements in philosophy, the industrial revolution to today’s technological advancements which he argues increases the power of face-to-face marketing. He asserted that technology has created a heightened sense of alienation of individuals, that it increases the need, the desire to connect face-to-face. This assertion is not the first time I have heard this. Back in college, I recall this statement being made, relating to evolving philosophical and political thinking in the 16th century, pre-industrial revolutionary times. So here we are in the 21st century with all our gadgets, which connect us on one level to each other, but not in the physical space. We are humans and crave that connection. I agree with Marc, digital heightens the need, the craving for communities to connect face-to-face. Digital and exhibition channels complement each other.

still waitingIn CEIR’s Generational Differences in Face-to-Face Interaction Preferences and Activities, it was found that interacting online prompted attendance to business-to-business exhibitions, the younger the attendee, the higher the percentage indicating this.

Pomerleau and Mau argue that today, the face-to-face medium needs to ‘transform,’ evolve with changing norms. The trade show format has not changed much since its hey days of the 1970’s. Perhaps it is time to do so. How to evolve the trade show floor in a way that retains and perhaps even grows profit and delivers a profound experience for both brand marketers and professional attendees? The message of Predict is that organizers need to transform or disrupt themselves, before someone else does…. Though what does that mean? Where and how can trade show organizers evolve?

  • To take on this challenge, an organizers needs to understand two things:
    1. What is the core essence, value about the trade show medium that is unchanging? Organizers need to avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water.
    2. What aspects of a trade show are not core, can change? It is in these areas where organizers need to experiment.

Let me assert the core values of a business-to-business exhibition based on CEIR research:

  • Connecting attendees with product – ability to touch, feel, smell, test-drive, evaluate the products in-person, in the physical space. One example I love to give is the World of Concrete’s demonstration area. They give attendees the chance to rip up concrete, test drive jack hammers, experience new product. Does it get any more visceral than that? If you’re an organizer, how does that example apply to your industry?
  • Connecting attendees with people – the people behind a product, product experts, product designers, industry experts, peers, mentors. PEOPLE.
  • Learning/education – this is accomplished in many ways – via attending education sessions, interactions with industry experts, product experts, peers, etc. In many industries, professionals attend to satisfy certification needs though the core essence, value is the power of what is learned or the power of how much is learned, accomplished.
  • Serendipity – the real-time, interaction of people and product generate experiences and learnings that the attendee didn’t expect to takeaway. Connecting with an individual in a similar work role who turns out to be a mentor, a life-long friend who helps the individual and his or her organization advance. The discovery of a product that addresses a current challenge that an organization is facing. It can be for a challenge that wasn’t even on the attendee’s radar before going to the show.

The gist of this blog is this, be brave, dare to experiment, evolve your event, begin to generate new concepts, test them, and if they show promise, expand the concept more broadly into your event. EVOLVE!

Want to take a deep dive into CEIR reports that may help in strategic planning? Here is a laundry list of recently released reports. Happy reading! If you have any questions, reach out to me at I am happy to point you to CEIR studies that can answer your information needs.

Attendee Focused Research

Quick Guide on Attendee Preferences by Industry Sector

2014 Young Professional Attendee Needs and Preferences Study

Exhibition Floor Interaction: What Attendees Want

Purchase Process and Customer Relationships

Exhibitor Focused Research

Best Practices for Exhibit Booth Design – For Companies of All Sizes

2015 Exhibitor ROI and Performance Metrics Practices

2015 Young Professional Exhibitor Needs and Preferences Study

The Marketing Spend Decision

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