Original insights in international business and marketing

7 Reasons Why Trade Shows Don’t Work Anymore


Trade shows are fast becoming an antiquated and outdated form of classical, outbound marketing.  I’ve never hidden my disdain for them and so I wanted to at least share some of my experiences as well as some rationale for why they no longer belong in the marketing repertoire, at least not in their present form.

Like many of you, I’ve attended, exhibited and sponsored a number of industry congresses and trade shows over the years.  Some have been massive productions with over 5,000 attendees while others have been much smaller, more intimate affairs with only a few hundred delegates.  Although they undeniably provide value and benefits to the exhibiting companies, the costs and hassles have grown considerably out of proportion with the actual value and quality these shows provide.  Perhaps they may have made good sense two or three decades ago (prior to the digital era) but today, they increasingly feel like a relic of the analog age.

Trade shows and congresses are increasingly losing their appeal and value to organizations looking to forge a sustainable dialogue with customers/partners.  Here are the main reasons:

  1. Declining Event Attendance.  I’m probably not alone in noticing a significant attendance drop-off at many events these past few years.  The realities of the recent global recession have negatively impacted our customers’ budgets and their travel allowances.  As they discover new on-line substitutes for live-attendance, they are unlikely to return to congresses as they have in the past.
  2. Trade show Proliferation.  The last two decades have seen a considerable rise in congresses that target the same audiences.  Many more firms are entering the lucrative trade show business and are fighting for a share of the pie.  With multiple venues competing for the same audience, we will see a continued shrinking of attendances.  Quality will decline.  One bright spot is that successful event organizers will increasingly be collaborating with industry partners to improve formats, schedules and content.
  3. Out-of-Control Costs.  The costs of designing, building, shipping, setting up, tearing down and storing booths has become outrageous.  This is compounded by similarly absurd booth space rates  (up to several thousand Euros per square meter in some cases) and sky-high sponsorship fees.  Costs for shows can easily run into several hundreds of thousands of Euros/Dollars, if not in the millions in some cases.  Also, I’m probably not the only one to have noticed a growing amount of greed, arrogance and intransigence from several congress organizers over the years.
  4. Tuning Out.  Like most of us, congress attendees are being bombarded on all sides with messages and advertising campaigns.  Like most of us, they are learning to tune more and more things out.  The grandeur of a booth, the neat tag lines, the cool background videos, the attractive hostesses, the branded give-aways hold less and less appeal anymore.  Except for the perennial attendees who simulate interest only to collect the freebies for their friends and families back home.  You know the people I’m talking about.
  5. Booth Overstaffing.  In my experience, many shows have turned into annual corporate boondoggles where everybody from Sales and Marketing (and other groups) absolutely want to get together to network, gossip and simply break up the monotony of their daily work routine.  The excuse is that they all need “to meet with KOLs and customers” but how often is that really the case and is this really the right venue?  How often have you seen a booth stuffed with company people chatting each other up and nibbling on the snacks?
  6. Marketing Hubris.  Every year trade shows are a big (if not the single biggest) production for marketing departments.  They are a highly visible activity that serves to justify the staffing and budgets for marketing departments that are keen to show off to key individuals or groups within the company (e.g. CEO) just how marvelous and creative they really are.
  7. Sub-Optimal Interaction.  Many congresses have a great deal of ambient noise in the exhibit halls.  Additionally delegates are swarmed (overwhelmed?) by all the commercial activities, competing products and displays around them.  They usually have a lot on their minds even as they walk the exhibit floor (appointments, emails, messages from back home, lectures to attend, friends to see, hunger/thirst, tired feet, hotel check-out, flights, etc…).  Hardly the most opportune time to strike a deep and meaningful conversation with potential customers.  Is this really the best time and format to develop insights and impress potential customers?

Net, while the idea of interacting with customers and partners at a single event is a perfectly good one, the realities of trade shows today have convinced me that this is fast becoming a dying marketing model.  The ROI is simply too hard to measure or just plain horrible.

In a separate article (10 Strategies to Fix Your Trade Show Problems) I have outlined alternatives and ways to help make the most of trade shows that are still too important to wean ourselves off of completely.

In the meantime, do you agree or disagree?  Do you have others beefs with trade shows?  Any experiences you want to offer?  Share your comments below!

photo credit: ‘Playingwithbrushes’ via photopin cc


5 comments on “7 Reasons Why Trade Shows Don’t Work Anymore

  1. S.Alonso
    January 28, 2013

    Great article Andrew, i am curious about the alternatives. Are we talking about more focused groups? something seminars…

    • Andrew Hyncik
      January 28, 2013

      Hello Sudario. Thanks for your comment. There is a fair amount of “learning as we go along” here. The first step is to concede that trade shows aren’t working like they used to or are simply not delivering the bang for the buck anymore. With that realization in place, attention can be focused on alternatives and – I suspect – a fair amount of experimenting. The good news is that technology offers a whole range of possibilities that were simply unimaginable as little as 10 or even 5 years ago. Virtual trade shows are one example, webinars are another. Don’t forget that a good, on-line conversation with a potential customer (using social media of course) is worth far more than a quick booth chat in a loud congress hall. I would focus on creating on-line communities and conversations around hot topics. I would set virtual appointments with customers where you can present the solutions interactively while narrating live. Create expert panels for engaging conversations on new products and therapies, etc… I would also consider creating special customer events or even roadshows where you can directly interact with customers without all the distractions of a congress hall.
      Hope this helps. More thoughts/ideas in next week’s blog! Cheers.

  2. Pingback: Why Trade Shows Will Always be Relevant | Global Result Communication

  3. John
    June 27, 2014

    Bad news for the booth designing & building industry.

  4. Website/Blog
    August 22, 2014

    magnificent put up, very informative. I’m wondering why the
    other experts of this sector do not notice this.

    You must proceed your writing. I’m sure, you have a huge readers’
    base already!

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This entry was posted on January 28, 2013 by in Marketing and tagged , , , , , , .

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Andrew Hyncik

Andrew Hyncik

Parifornia is the creation of Andrew Hyncik, an experienced International Marketing executive who's lived and worked for over 20 years in both Europe and North America.

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