Breathe New Life Into the Trade Show Industry with These Four Transformations

November 23, 2014

The trade show industry has a rich history of celebrating new ideas that are on the bleeding edge of innovation. It has grown into a multibillion-dollar behemoth, yet it’s stagnated with the rules and regulations put in place to help big companies get ahead.

Trade shows are by far one of the most effective channels for marketing and networking, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement or that exhibitors aren’t still underserved.

It’s time for trade associations and vendors to start thinking about the next phase of development with these long-overdue changes:

1. Lower Costs for Exhibitors

Trade shows are one of the most effective lead-generation channels for B2B marketers, so many exhibitors and vendors have made a habit of inflating price tags and milking every possible cent from exhibitors.

Problems like not knowing the full cost at the time of registration drive startups and Fortune 500 companies to choose alternative marketing initiatives and even bring events in-house.

Allowing associations to package products and services ahead of time, provide transparent pricing and save exhibitors money would encourage more companies to participate. Plus, if trade shows were more affordable, companies would be able to exhibit at more shows, increasing participation and creating a demand for more events. Competition would drive down expenses, and associations could introduce a handful of extra vendors to their selections to help control costs organically.

2. Increase Exhibitor Advocacy

Exhibitors are often the only paying entities at trade shows, which makes them the lifeblood of events. Unfortunately, they’re usually treated as an afterthought, rather than the main focus. The industry is operating like a large company that thinks it’s too big to put its clients’ needs first.

Associations need to become advocates for their exhibitors and take ownership of their events. Remember that exhibitors are preparing for many events with many deadlines while adhering to strict budgets. They need tools to quickly and effectively plan, order, manage, and report on all these events.

The first show that outwardly advocates for exhibitors and adapts to their challenges will reap incredible rewards.

3. Improve Communication Between Players

Everyone involved in trade shows has the same goals: to make money, provide valuable networking and content and create memorable experiences. So why aren’t we working together to reach these goals?

For some reason, all trade show entities are currently operating in silos. Exhibitors deal with associations, associations deal with vendors and vendors deal with exhibitors. Vendors are left guessing at how to serve their clients’ needs, while associations are fielding unnecessary complaints on top of managing their members’ needs. Meanwhile, exhibitors are being blindsided by high costs. Even industry events, such as the EXHIBITOR show and the ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition, are separated.

Opening lines of communication and coordinating efforts would minimize or eliminate many problems the industry currently faces. We could simplify trade shows, bring down costs, increase business, and foster a new era of bigger, more profitable shows.

4. Consolidate Ordering

Ordering is a huge pain point for exhibitors. Multiple vendors with PDF forms, disparate online ordering systems, on-site orders, deadlines, early-bird discounts, and late penalties make the ordering process time consuming and expensive.

Standardizing these antiquated systems would mean exhibitors could spend less time worrying about the details and more time planning out their goals for the event. A single point of ordering would allow for instant reporting and reconciliation (just like receiving a folio at the end of a hotel stay), and the money they could save by avoiding late penalties would allow them to attend more shows.

The trade show industry is poised for growth in 2015 and 2016, but a lot needs to change for events to capture even more marketing dollars. Streamlining the industry would lower costs for exhibitors, meaning more organizations would participate and breathe new life into the show space.

Instead of focusing on the little ways to make a quick buck, all trade show entities need to start working together to improve the experience and make it more profitable for everyone.

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