Excerpted with permission from Francis Friedman’s The Modern Digital Tradeshow. The new book is available here free. 

Looking to the future, marketers have already started spending significant amounts of money implementing increasingly more sophisticated systems. These systems include:

•  The ability to track customer and prospect behavior across all media
•  Real-time advanced data collection and analysis
•  Predictive marketing technology and data analytics
•  In-line, real time, market research techniques
•  Video based marketing communication techniques / technologies
•  Automated marketing systems to target, engage and personalize a direct-sell message to customers in real time
•  Artificial intelligence (AI) driven “smart systems” to drive customer interaction
•  Artificial intelligence managed “bots” (e.g. speechbots) that automate marketing functions
•  The ability to collect data and measure results as well as assess potential marketing and media alternatives

Large exhibitors have already started completely digitizing the entire customer relations and product sales processes into agile and highly responsive 24/7 systems’.

Large b-to-b marketers are also starting to take their (now-private) back-end internal data resources and build “customer-facing”, technology “ecosystems” that will allow b-to-b customers to self-order just like b-to-c customer now self-orders over the Internet today.

Five years from now, when those customers facing eco-systems are built and operational, b-to-b marketers will be able to get even closer to their customers, control the customer experience and comprehensively sell directly to that individual customer in a highly-personalized approach.

In the future, when these technology and systems changes become more evident as active b-to-b marketing practices, they will seem to suddenly jump out at our industry and we can be taken by surprise…if we do not start preparing now.

For tradeshow owners in the future, attendees will have a greater range of choices to decide… ”face-to-face” via advanced electronic technologies and/or “in-person” by leaving home and traveling to a specific venue.

Advanced electronic technology will remove face-to-face as the exclusive marketing capability of tradeshows. Marketers will also sell face-to-face via streaming media and advanced VR and AR technologies.

The tradeshow owner’s challenge in building his/her future business will be the ability to deliver qualified attendees to exhibitors…face-to-face and in person at a tradeshow site.

The tradeshow industry will also need to step up to the emerging challenge of building a compelling and unique “industry position” as an important partner in the evolving world of multi-channel/omni-channel marketing.6, 234, 235, 236, 239

Going forward, the tradeshow industry will have to demonstrate to the b-to-b marketing community how it fits as a key partner and community member in the new multi-channel/omni-channel marketing and sales matrix.

Small exhibitors and start-up companies will always see tradeshows as important to their marketing programs. However, our industry cannot live as a major marketing medium strictly on 10X10 and 10X20 booth shows. The industry needs to retain large exhibitors as key participants.

With the increasing digital capabilities of our largest exhibitors to market directly to their customers (including face-to-face) and bypass a tradeshow, the next 10 years will be a footrace between the tradeshow industry and its largest and most profitable exhibitors over these two key issues:

1. Will large marketers be able to keep buyers home and control the customer experience through robust digital-direct marketing and selling techniques, or…will tradeshow owners build high-value engaging events that attendees will decide to travel to and attend in person?

2. Is the tradeshow industry going to let large marketers define its future trajectory, or…is the tradeshow industry going to transform itself into a digital marketing partner and deliver high-value, attendee-focused products, services and experiences that large marketers and their customers are going to want to buy?

Francis J. Friedman is a 25-year, award-winning, veteran of the domestic and international tradeshow industry. Opinions are his own. You can reach him at his website

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