Remember, Though the B2B Exhibitions Industry is Paused, It Is Resilient

Remember, Though the B2B Exhibitions Industry is Paused, It Is Resilient

By Nancy Drapeau, PRC, VP of Research, CEIR

First of all, my heart goes out to our global community, stay safe. Thanks are in order for the bravery of all healthcare staff, doctors, nurses, including my own two sisters and other staff on the frontlines caring for the sick. As well thanks are in order for convention center staff, contract workers and laborers who are responding to the call of duty and are converting venues to temporary hospitals. You are amazing.

To the B2B exhibition industry, it is painful to see how COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on organizations big and small, who are forced to stop producing events and the resulting damage this historic pandemic has brought countries.  As CEIR’s Index has documented in the US, the fate of the B2B exhibition industry rises and falls with that of the US economy and so as the economy has paused, so has our industry.

Do not lose faith! The US economy will come back and so will our industry. Note too, CEIR is tracking the status of 2020 events. Though a number of events scheduled to take place in March to June canceled after the COVID-19 flared up, a number have also postponed to later in the year.

I will write another blog about the importance of leveraging digital outlets to maintain connection with your communities if you were forced to cancel your event. Though this blog is dedicated to reminding industry stakeholders of the power of B2B exhibitions and reasons for its resilience

Some may say I write this out of a sense of hope rather than a sense of reality. Well, having been in the B2B exhibition industry since 1998 and having studied trends that have hit it over time, such as September 11, health tragedies such as SARS and Bird Flu, Hurricane Katrina, the economic collapse of 2008-2009 (Great Recession) to name a few; the data consistently documents a temporary hit on the industry and then a recovery. The most recent, dramatic hit was the Great Recession of 2008-2009. The chart below documents our industry recovered. In fact, in 2019 we were in a period of expansion before COVID-19 appeared in 2020. The nature of this terrible pandemic has its own characteristics that may force the economy to pause longer than anyone wants, but once this pandemic is over, we will recover.


Growth in the US B2B Exhibition Industry Compared to US GDP
Growth in the US B2B Exhibition Industry Compared to US GDP


So why will the industry recover? There’s one fact that is fundamental to the enduring strength of the industry and it is this – people need people. I am guessing the celebrations that will follow the end of this scourge will be amazing. A celebration of life, of humanity, a thankfulness of having made it through. How can your event do this for the communities you serve?


1945 Photo
An American sailor George Mendonsa kisses Greta Zimmer Friedman in TImes Square in 1945. – Reuters


Though of course it has to be more to justify the existence of B2B exhibitions. It takes time and money to attend and exhibit. There is extensive research, evidence of the power of F2F (face-to-face) marketing. Harvard Business Review, has documented the powerful, synergistic effects of face-to-face engagement in a physical setting, not virtual. See: A Face-to-Face Request Is 34 Times More Successful Than an Email and Why Face-to-Face Meetings Make All the Difference.

CEIR research repeatedly, over time, has documented the enduring value of participating in B2B exhibitions. For business professionals that attend, it penetrates the noise of digital, enables business professionals to see for themselves whether pitches presented by brand marketers are real, are a fit for their business needs. It is top-ranked for value as a primary information source for business information and purchasing decision needs. In comparison, online information sources rank fourth. Business professionals in this study explain they attend B2B exhibitions to achieve multiple shopping and learning objectives in a time and cost-effective manner. It is one of the key strengths of the channel. Another highly valued aspect of attending is the serendipitous power of valuable, unexpected discoveries. Walking a show floor can result in finding products that meet business needs an attendee wasn’t even thinking about that are highly impactful and connections with peers and booth staff that generate brainstorming, unexpected learnings and business solutions. For a full understanding of how attendees evaluate the ROI of attending a B2B exhibition, pull down reports from CEIR’s Attendee ROI Playbook series. They are downloadable for free.

Value Ranking of Primary Information Sources

Why do brand marketers spend their finite marketing dollars to exhibit at B2B exhibitions? It is because it penetrates the noise and is highly valuable in helping achieving a number of top-ranked marketing and sales objectives.

That’s what marketing leadership at North American organizations that use the channel have told CEIR. It’s not nice to have, it helps hit goals.

Statistics on the Power of Exhibitions

According to Janet Sperstad, CMP, a neuroscientist, physical touch triggers a 45% surge in release of oxytocin from the brain which makes the experience memorable. Handshakes, fist-bumps and the like that occur in an exhibit booth can make that powerful, instantaneous connection between attendee and exhibitor to help exhibitors achieve their end goals. Where relationship selling is part of a company’s sales process, B2B exhibitions are used and vital.

This is one hurdle digital can’t overcome on its own. Instead, CEIR data suggests digital and F2F marketing, exhibiting at trade shows, work well together, synergistically. Keep a watch for my next blog, which addresses how organizers need to use digital engagement today, to keep connection with its communities and help exhibitors do the same.


Nancy Drapeau, PRC, is a 24-year market research veteran and is CEIR’s VP of Research. She conducts industry-wide studies and reports on current trends in the exhibition industry. She holds a Bachelors from Georgetown University and a Masters from l’Institut Européen des Hautes Études Internationales.

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