Embracing Technology: How Trade Shows Will Succeed In The Future

November 23, 2015

Trade shows are big business, I’ve been in B2B marketing for trade shows, driving attendance and exhibitor growth programs since 2010. There’s nowhere more evident that where digital’s slow permeation into the an industry can be seen more so than here. But not all the digital tactics and tools for trade show marketers are what they seem.

Technology and the internet of things have drastically shifted the way trade shows and live events market to attendees and exhibitors. We recently read a great post by Chris Cavanaugh of Freeman that said, “We are on the precipice of massive change, wavering between the analog past of live events and the digital future of connected experiences. Embrace it or be left behind.”

In his post, Cavanaugh talked about seamless experience, continual engagement and data. This amazing piece spoke to us as digital marketing lovers who knew exactly what he was saying – championing it. But as marketing practitioners in the B2B trade show space, we knew it was easily envisioned, but not easily done. Here’s how we think digital needs to be approached in B2B trade show and event businesses today.

Not All Trade Show Attendees Want 365/24/7 Communication

When it comes to B2B, especially in the retail space, buyers don’t require engagement 365 days per year at every hour unless they attend CES, ComicCon or another event that caters to the millennial, hyper tech-focused attendee. Most shows can focus on a consistent communication strategy that use all digital channels in accordance with the audiences’ communication preferences.

If you look at data (we’ll get to that in a minute) you can discover how often to utilize any one communication channel based on the audience behavior (or lack thereof). We guarantee if you look at their consumption patterns, you’ll find that you don’t have to move as quickly as you think unless you’re at the top of your show cycle. From there, you can  set the pace of your daily and weekly communications to their cadence. The first thing you want to do is focus on the purpose of your messages, what are you attempting to accomplish? In the past year, ASD Market Week has seen a 14% increase in attendance. Why? Because we got creative in the way we marketed to buyers. For example:

If you’re starting your registration campaigns, figure out how to craft them into conversations that drive registration conversion. “Register Now!” gets old when continually broadcasted. How can you wrap registration messaging into the content and other news that your audience wants? Get creative and this naturally increases the quality of your message and will raise response rates. When you overlay your main goal (registrations) with the  key interests of your attendees, they connect and engage with it. That engagement naturally gets attention and they want to know what’s new. And if they see something that piques their interest, they’ll convert.

Creating Attendee Smart Marketing Experiences

Another area that is a hot topic, in both the consumer and trade spaces, is experiential marketing. Whether creating connected online and offline interactions or events that happen live. What marketers and event professionals have to understand is that while experiential marketing in the trade event space is starting to see great successes, the cost implications can be extremely high. So once again, this is where we have to look at behavior patterns of our attendees and figure out where to spend. We have to ask serious questions like:

  1. Does our event need a mobile app with social features, real-time connections and interactions, or do we need to focus on our navigational experience so our attendees can find what they need to be successful at our show?
  2. Do events outside the show floor provide value to our attendees or should we spend those dollars elsewhere?
  3. How are we creating seamless experiences with something as simple as our social media conversations?
  4. How do our email, content and social media efforts serve as experiential bridges?
  5. Can we create partnerships with businesses, hotels or local shows to add to our attendees off hours enjoyment and continue to foster an environment for networking?

While experiences are great, they need to be developed to meet the attendee audience. They should not just be copies of other events. It’s also important to note that they need to fit the culture of the audience. If your attendees are international, then their value sets are going to be much different than a U.S. attendee.

For ASD Market Week, we use experience in the way our attendees find useful.  For example, we know that our buyers want to touch the products they purchase before they buy them, just like the customers that shop their stores. In order to find products they may want to carry, we have to provide great navigational tools to touch, experience and feel. From that, we design our content, our mobile apps and our matchmaking services to help meet that goal. We also offer resources in our one-on-one communication from buyer representatives. Offering services to connect them to suppliers, creating programs to get them to our show and hiring knowledgeable staff to help them find what they need is key to our experiential success.

Using Data To Make Informed Decisions

For the past ten years, all business professionals have been told they need to understand data and how to use it. Any online marketing effort you have generates data – information created from your audience’s actions. From email open rates, to click through rates to content traffic to report downloads and more, anything that happens online is tracked. Even the more traditional tactics like call campaigns and outreach generate data.  

You can use this information to develop more effective strategies to meet your show goals – which are most likely to increase event attendance and exhibitor sales (floor space sold). Data set against these goals can be used to develop better inbound and outbound market tactics for your sales representatives, develop and nurture new attendee leads, and help your staff determine what’s important to your attendees so that the experiences and communications that we spoke about above can be effective.

Data should be an important tool in marketing and sales. That being said, there are always places where data should end – too much data generates false positives. So if you look at too much and only make data-based decisions, you could hurt your goals. For example, in retail, people love experiential, softer marketing tactics like bloggers, PR, and others. These are critical to the industry. The data doesn’t always show the true  value, but we know they’re  important components of brand awareness and word of mouth. They’re necessary. The key to data success is to lay a firm foundation of what you’re measuring and use tools and services that help you track the path to success. Beyond that, don’t customize or add on too much or you risk making expensive missteps.


From data to experience, brand awareness to second screen behavior, technology and how we use it will change how we market events. Developing practical, thought out plans to leverage them in our business is key. By taking the long view, events will be set for success.