Exhibit House Survey on Trade Show Marketing & Technology: Perspectives, Roles & Preferences

Exhibit House Survey on Trade Show Marketing & Technology: Perspectives, Roles & Preferences

Samuel J. Smith is a thought leader, researcher, speaker and award-winning innovator on event technology. In 2011, BizBash Magazine added Sam to its annual innovators list. Since then, Sam has won awards from Exhibitor Magazine, IBTM World, RSVP MN, International Live Events Association and MPI for innovation in event technology. You can read more from Sam at http://www.socialpoint.io and reach him by email at samueljsmith@socialpoint.io.

Over the past few years, our company has increasingly partnered with leading Exhibit Houses to create interactive trade show game activations for their exhibiting clients. We have been impressed by the commitment, care, and expertise they bring to their clients’ trade show marketing.

To better understand Exhibit Houses’ roles, perspectives, and preferences in their clients’ trade show technology and marketing campaigns, we surveyed them in late Fall 2018.  Survey respondents were all either Exhibit House Account Executives or senior management, all with client-facing responsibilities. They provided honest, educated, and sometimes surprising insights into their clients’ trade show programs. This is the first of potentially multiple blog posts based on the survey.

Exhibit House Trade Show Marketing & Technology Survey: Executive Summary

Some of the most interesting insights from this survey include:

  • Exhibitors value sales results more than marketing results
  • Exhibitors value the marketing potential of trade shows, but often deploy insufficient resources for marketing success
  • Exhibit Houses do far more marketing than just exhibit design
  • Top trade show marketing methods include experiential marketing, interactive technology, and integrated marketing
  • Exhibitors could improve results with more booth staff training
  • Exhibitors want marketing campaigns most of all that are creative and innovative, appealing to their target market, and brand-centric
  • Exhibit Houses report that their exhibiting clients’ most-likely issue with a viable marketing campaign is lacking the funds to implement it
  • 96% of Exhibit Houses are involved in their exhibiting clients’ interactive technology
  • Exhibit Houses are three-times more likely to favor experiential marketing

Here are the results of their responses to a number of questions about trade show marketing and technology.

Exhibitors Driven More by Sales Than Marketing Results

This may be a surprise to some of the people who pursue trade show marketing: it’s actually sales results that matter most to exhibitors.

While 52% of Exhibit House survey respondents agreed that their clients viewed sales and marketing as equally important, 44% said that sales results were more important, but only 4% said that marketing results were more important.

Therefore, almost all exhibit houses say that sales results are important (52% + 44% = 96%), while only 56% (54% + 4%) say that marketing results are important to exhibitors.

Exhibiting Clients Survey Graphic

So, while there are nearly three times as many people who search Google on “trade show marketing” versus “trade show selling,” it’s sales that matters more to exhibitors.

Exhibitors Value Trade Show Marketing More in Spirit Than Action

We asked Exhibit House experts to choose any of six statements to agree with about their exhibiting clients’ attitudes and actions regarding their trade show programs. They told us that four out of five exhibitors (81%) value the marketing power of trade shows.  It’s how they execute on that value that differs from their attitude.

That’s because two-thirds (67%) of exhibitors choose to have a logistics-based person managing their program, rather than a marketing person.  Plus, almost two-thirds (63%) of Exhibit House survey respondents agreed that exhibitors invest too little time or resources to drive marketing success.

Having watched their exhibiting clients for years and years, exhibit house executives say that only a quarter of exhibitors (26%) put sufficient time and resources towards their trade show marketing, and only a fifth of companies (19%) give their trade show program to employees who can bring a marketing background to all their trade show interactions and duties.

Exhibiting Clients Survey Graphic 2

The hope is that the more-common logistics-based person is getting enough guidance from a marketing supervisor, or that their exhibit house is filling the marketing gap, so that exhibitors can create winning trade show marketing campaigns. Otherwise, exhibitors are not committing enough internal marketing resources to succeed.

Exhibit Houses Do Far More Marketing Than Just Exhibit Design

Exhibit Houses act as outsourced marketing partners for their exhibiting clients.  Fully 85% of Exhibit Houses have some marketing involvement with their client’s trade shows.

  • Nearly one in five Exhibit Houses (18.5%) are right there from the beginning, helping exhibitors brainstorm potential marketing campaign ideas. These tend to be the largest Exhibit Houses that act as marketing agencies.
  • Almost half (48%) of Exhibit Houses are asked by exhibitors to execute a marketing campaign based on the theme provided by the exhibitor.
  • Another 15% of Exhibit Houses say their marketing participation is asked for only for their client’s largest shows.
  • Only 15% of Exhibit Houses say their exhibiting clients restrict their marketing participation to only exhibit design.

Exhibiting Clients Survey Graphic 3

If exhibitors are employing logistics-based personnel to manage their trade shows (as seen in the previous question), exhibitors can lean more on their Exhibit Houses to help enact their trade show marketing campaigns.

Most Often Asked-For Trade Show Marketing Campaign Elements

We asked these client-facing Exhibit House executives what marketing campaign types and elements were their clients asking about more in the past two years. Of the 15 choices, the top 5 were:

  • Experiential marketing (83%)
  • Interactive technology (79%)
  • Integrated marketing campaigns (54%)
  • Measurement (54%)
  • Social media (50%)

Exhibiting Clients Survey Graphic 4

The top two choices, experiential marketing and interactive technology, are elements that help derive greater value from the face-to-face medium of trade shows, and help differentiate trade shows from increasingly popular digital media.  All 5 top choices are hot topics covered extensively in trade show industry publications and blogs.

These 5 choices are what exhibiting clients ask their Exhibit Houses for the most, and they closely mirror what Exhibit Houses say works best (with one notable exception), as we see in the next question:

Exhibit Houses Value Exhibitor Staff Training A Lot More Than Exhibitors Do

Of the 15 possible trade show marketing campaign elements, Exhibit Houses gave top 5 marks to 4 of the 15 choices, for both what exhibitors ask for, and what they think are effective.  They chose experiential marketing, interactive technology, integrated marketing, and measurement for both lists.  This is extra confirmation that these are tactics and elements that exhibitors will have success pursuing.

However, Exhibit Houses listed staff training as the second-most effective choice for trade show exhibitors, even though staff training was ranked far behind, as the 11th most-asked for element, by their exhibiting clients.  This startling insight points to the underappreciated need for booth staff training to enable more successful trade show marketing.

Exhibiting Clients Survey Graphic 5

What Exhibitors Want for Their Trade Show Marketing

We asked Exhibit Houses to report which of 15 different attributes their clients ask for in their trade show marketing. Some of the noteworthy results include:

  • Exhibit Houses say “creative and innovative” is the number one attribute their exhibiting clients want in their trade show marketing.
  • The second-most desired attribute for their trade show marketing is “appealing to their target market’s needs or pain points.” While #1 is an aspirational goal, this #2 reason is a more tangible strategy that every exhibitor can more easily follow.
  • Just under two-thirds of Exhibit House respondents say their clients want their trade show marketing to be company brand-centric. Which means almost 40% of clients are willing to go beyond their brand for their trade show marketing, or don’t realize how important brand consistency is.
  • Technology is wanted by over half of all exhibitors. Tech-aided face-to-face interactions is the norm at trade shows.
  • Under half of exhibitors want their trade show marketing to integrate with their other marketing messages. Either exhibitors want to remain unshackled to their company’s existing marketing, or they don’t understand the benefits of integrated marketing.
  • Exhibit Houses say 43% of their clients want their trade show marketing to be both low cost and easy to implement.
  • About a third of exhibitors want education built into their trade show marketing, and also want their trade show marketing to be fun for attendees.
  • Unfortunately for the aspiring barista, less than one in ten Exhibit House respondents say their exhibiting clients want food or drink as part of their trade show marketing.

Exhibiting Clients Survey Graphic 6

Problems Faced By Exhibit Houses When Creating Marketing Campaigns For Exhibiting Clients

We asked Exhibit Houses to select which of 5 potential problems they have faced when helping their exhibiting clients with their trade show marketing. Note: These numbers look high, but Exhibit Houses were reporting which problems they had experienced, not faced every time.  So, in actuality, these problems happen less frequently.

  • Money is problem #1 for exhibitors, according to the Exhibit House survey respondents who work with them, as 83% say they have experienced clients that lack the budget to invest in a viable trade show marketing campaign.
  • The second-most common problem experienced, at 57%, was insufficient time to create an effective trade show marketing campaign.
  • Half of Exhibit House survey respondents (48%) said they have had clients who lack the knowledge to judge potential marketing campaigns. (Again, this doesn’t mean half of clients don’t; it means half of exhibit houses have had a client who didn’t have the marketing know-how).
  • Almost 4 in 10 (39%) Exhibit House survey respondents have experienced having a client who had more than one trade show marketing idea to choose from, but couldn’t get internal consensus on which campaign to implement.
  • One in six exhibit houses (17%) were asked by their clients to execute a campaign they felt was beyond their internal capabilities or vendor network.

Exhibiting Clients Survey Graphic 7

96% of Exhibit Houses Involved in Exhibiting Clients’ Interactive Technology

Exhibit Houses are very involved with creating interactive technology for their exhibiting clients, with 96% having some role.

  • Twenty-two percent of Exhibit Houses rely mostly on their own in-house tech team to create interactive elements for their exhibiting clients.
  • About 4 in 10 have some in-house tech capabilities, but rely most on outsourced tech companies to create interactive elements for their exhibiting clients.
  • About one-third manage tech interactives for their clients, but outsource the development to outside tech companies.
  • Only 4% of Exhibit Houses don’t get involved with their clients’ interactive exhibiting elements.

Exhibiting Clients Survey Graphic 8

This 96% statistic demonstrates Exhibit Houses’ deep involvement in exhibit marketing technology, far beyond the traditional, limited role of exhibit design.

Exhibit Houses Favor Experiential Marketing Nearly 3 to 1

Experiential marketing was rated #1 in both interest by exhibitors and as promising by Exhibit Houses. And it’s perhaps the most talked about trend in trade show marketing.

  • Exhibit Houses have a mostly favorable view of experiential marketing, with 71% agreeing that experiential marketing is a trend they encourage their clients to pursue with their help, and a way for exhibitors to stand out and make a strong impression.
  • Only a quarter (25%) of Exhibit House survey respondents think experiential marketing is too difficult and expensive for most of their exhibiting clients, or that it’s talked about a lot but not often implemented.

Exhibiting Clients Survey Graphic 9

Survey Respondents: Number of Employees at Their Exhibit House

While our survey respondents work at a wide range of sizes of Exhibit Houses, 70% work in Exhibit Houses with 51 to 500 employees.  However, these smaller companies wield outsized influence. They help far larger companies create and implement major trade show programs. It is not uncommon for an exhibit house with 100 employees to manage the trade show program for an exhibitor with 10,000 employees.

Exhibiting Clients Survey Graphic 10

Exhibit House survey respondents also shared, in their own words, their advice for more effective trade show marketing, and their views on some of the more popular (and over-hyped) trade show technology.  Their insights will be shared later blog posts.

Trade show marketing continues to evolve, with greater use of technology and interactivity.  Because Exhibit House Account Executives work hand-in-hand with many high-level exhibitors, they have unique insight into exhibitors’ perceptions and results. I hope you’ve gained useful insights into how to increase exhibit marketing performance through this survey.


Samuel J. Smith is a thought leader, researcher, speaker and award-winning innovator on event technology. In 2011, BizBash Magazine added Sam to its annual innovators list. Since then, Sam has won awards from Exhibitor Magazine, IBTM World, RSVP MN, International Live Events Association and MPI for innovation in event technology. You can read more from Sam at http://www.socialpoint.io and reach him by email at samueljsmith@socialpoint.io.

Share this:


Technology Disruptors Transforming B2B Events

Driving In-person Event Attendance via Online Community Building

How to Maximize Exhibit and Sponsorship Sales Outcomes in the New Normal