Death of the Trade Show Channel? Don’t Count on It….

Death of the Trade Show Channel? Don’t Count on It….

by Nancy Drapeau, PRC, Senior Research Director, CEIR

Ok, I’m putting my stake in the ground, I’m saying it: face-to-face marketing is alive and well. CEIR research does not find cracks in the power of face-to-face marketing. If anything, the rise of digital has offered tremendous opportunity for face-to-face marketing settings, trade shows in particular, to survive and thrive in the digital age. Temporary market places that deliver the right mix of buyers and sellers that fulfill the objectives for participating on both sides of the equation (attendees and exhibitors) are poised to do well. Those that get lazy, assume they know their audiences and fall into the ‘same old’ rut and do not experiment with integrating digital into the experience; well, they are poised to have their lunch eaten.

My assertion is not based on emotion, but on a bedrock of CEIR research findings. CEIR offers different reports that can help exhibitors and organizers align approaches with stakeholder needs. Reports from the Attendee Retention Insight Study series identifies what converts an attendee to a loyal alumnus, a repeat attendee. Repeat attendees are evangelists of the events they frequent repeatedly, with Net Promoter Scores (NPS) to die-for, 61%. The newest study series on Attendee Floor Engagement pinpoints organizer and exhibitor tactics that enjoy high attendee use, engagement. Part Three in this report series affirms that large percentages of exhibitors, 44% and higher, that use attendee engagement tactics to help achieve specific sales lead, brand awareness and relationship management objectives rate these tactics as highly effective in helping them achieve these objectives. The Changing Environment of Exhibitions Study Series lists the key values the trade show channel delivers to exhibitors, helping them achieve their most urgent marketing and sales objectives, nurture business relationships, access hard to reach industry sectors and more. Results point to a healthy, vibrant channel.

A major challenge or opportunity before the industry is the need to integrate digital into the attendee shopping experience that aligns what they are accustomed to doing in their everyday lives. Attendees go to shows for the physical, face-to-face experience. Digital is valuable to help them find who and what they want, so they can spend more time enjoying such engagements and less time with the logistics. CEIR’s Digital Toolkit Study offers insights on what exhibitors and organizers are doing to integrate digital into their approaches and where there are gaps to fill. Engaging in such experiences does not threaten the channel, it assures its relevance and value to attendees and exhibitors.

Of course, ongoing research is needed to keep pace with innovations in use of digital in the trade show space. Though for a great resource for learning opportunities, look no further than retail. I was inspired to write this blog this morning when I heard an NPR radio story on Amazon’s launch of bookstores, how they are delivering an in-person shopping experience that ties the benefits of shopping on line. I had read about Amazon’s plans to launch bookstores earlier this year and am following developments with high interest. Funny isn’t it, the digital behemoth can show legacy retailers the way, a case study approach to personalize the in-person shopping experience? Trade show organizers and exhibitors take heed, this development offers a highly valuable opportunity to watch and learn. If near an Amazon bookstore, visit, experience it! Are there any learnings from that experience that trigger ideas on how to integrate digital to maximize the value and impact of the attendee experience at a trade show? What makes sense to integrate into a temporary marketplace that trade shows offer and what doesn’t make sense?

Keep in mind that in 2016, only 9 percent of retail sales in the United States were done online. Market share of online purchases will continue to grow. Where it stops, no one really knows. Legacy retailers are shedding stores and scrambling to integrate digital in a way that aligns with the needs and preferences of today’s shoppers. Will Amazon rule the entire world of retail in the future? I am sure they want to, but really, come on! Does Walmart rule the world today? Or will Amazon’s tactics spawn copy-cat retailers, will brick and mortar retailers adopt and experiment in the digital realm and compete, maybe outcompete Amazon in different niches? All of the above I believe will occur, some longstanding retailers will endure, and others will disappear. Anyone remember Grants Department stores?

We are lucky to live in transformative times. The call-to-action is to jump into the river, swim, experiment! And when doing so, please assure experimentation retains the core value of face-to-face engagement trade shows deliver.

For those interested in reading the NPR article go here:
Be More Than A Bookstore: A Brick-And-Mortar Shop’s Key To Success

Nancy Drapeau, PRC, is Senior Research Director, CEIR, Opinions are her own. You can reach her at


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