Are Trade Shows Relevant in the Digital Age? More Than Ever.

trade shows in the digital age

In an era when your digital marketing team can squeeze every last drop of measurable efficacy from your SEM campaigns, a smart marketer can’t help but wonder: Does live marketing still have a role? And yet, trade shows continue to thrive — thanks in part to digital marketing itself. For those embarking upon a multichannel marketing strategy, trade shows are an essential part of the messaging ecosystem. And if the growth of the trade show industry itself is any indication, the need for booths on the ground at shows is growing.

According to EventMB, over 90% of event planners expect their budget to increase or remain steady in 2020, and 71% of event planners with a budget of more than 5 million dollars will increase their event tech spending. This is in tune with the findings presented in the American Express 2020 Global Meetings and Events Forecast, which also predicts a worldwide increase in spending on meetings. There are many reasons for this growth, but one important factor is that trade shows offer a rare opportunity for industries to interface IRL in an increasingly virtualized market space.

In an interview with the American Marketing Association blog, Tim Asimos, vice president and director of digital innovation at circle S studio, discusses the value of trade shows. “It’s two-way communication, and that’s why it’s so powerful,” he explains. “It’s a forum for building relationships with people that you would ordinarily never be face-to-face with.”

Shop Online, Connect in Person

As retail industry blogger Meaghan Brophy observed in a post, “As consumer product discovery continues to shift online, it makes sense that more and more retailers find their products online too. Yet, trade shows are still an essential aspect of the retail industry.” Indeed, trade shows provide valuable opportunities to network — especially with those that can bring awareness to your brand.

Janine Robertson, a public relations and marketing manager writing for Forbes says, “While buying at shows has decreased dramatically over the years, they remain an important gathering point for established brands and serve as a springboard for startups — with the added benefit of publicity opportunities via attending media.”

Where the Influencers Are

Publicity can come in many forms, some of which you’d miss without a live, centralized event that attracts influencers. The Savvy Entrepreneur’s Michelle Morton points to trade shows as a way to leverage the reach of bloggers and influencers as well as traditional media. “Bloggers and influencers in the industry are likely to come to trade shows. While they might be invited by a particular brand, they will be coming to the show to see what others are offering.”

Online Gaming IRL

The rapid growth of eSports serves as further proof that just because an activity is digital doesn’t mean people don’t want to gather and enjoy it together. On the contrary, fans are coming out in droves to root for their favorite esports players and teams at arenas all over the world. Earlier this year, ESL and Intel welcomed a record number of fans to the Spodek Arena in Katowice, Poland, making Katowice 2019 the world’s most attended esports tournament. 174,000 fans attended in person over the course of two weekends (and over 232 million fans watched the games online).

What’s making fans get out of their gaming chairs? A desire to connect with community and socialize are major factors: 81% of respondents to an Eventbrite survey reported that a desire to “be part of the gaming community” motivates them to attend esports events. Other common reasons for attending were to brush elbows with pro players and meet the friends they play with online.

Meet Me at the Blockchain Conference

Another example of in-person gatherings centering a digital entity is the growing number of conferences on blockchain and cryptocurrency. In her guide to blockchain conferences, Katarina Pavlović of MVP Workshop notes that while keeping abreast of breakthroughs in technology is one reason to attend these events, “the main purpose of the conferences is for the makers and movers to get together and explore networking opportunities, create meaningful relationships and drive the industry forward.”

To this end, many of the conferences are organized around opportunities to connect with thought leaders in the space and seek out beneficial partnerships. Guests have the opportunity to listen to keynote speakers and participate in speed networking sessions, workshops, and hackathons. While you could educate yourself about virtual currency, well, virtually, to the thousands of people who attend events like Consensus, The North American Bitcoin Conference, or SF Blockchain Week, there’s no substitute for hands-on learning.

Even as nearly every aspect of our lives can be managed online, there’s still something special about in-person interaction. It’s immediate and candid, and it’s a singular opportunity to make a big impression.

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