Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

January 14 2013

What Will Trade Shows Look Like in 2016?

By David McMillin

As exhibitors and attendees alike demand greater ROI for trade show participation, show organizers have been tackling some growing challenges. Using research resources from Insight Labs and Manifest Digital, a group of industry leaders joined together to determine what those challenges will mean three years from now in “Scenarios for the Future: Convention Exhibits & Trade Shows of 2016.” 

With funding from the ASAE Foundation, Center for Exhibition Industry Research Foundation, Freeman, Gaylord Entertainment and PCMA Education Foundation, researchers collected data, surveyed exhibitors and attendees and facilitated online discussion groups to develop five potential outlooks for the way forward.

“This study clearly demonstrates that the future will not resemble the past,” Francis Friedman, president of New York-based event consultant group Time & Place Strategies, says. “New marketing methods, new formats for interaction and rapid changes in social media will require new creative approaches to audience development and building event brand loyalty.”

Weigh Your Options

However, those methods will not be the same for all trade show organizers. Because these events vary in size, industry, attendee demographics and more, the report offers five different scenarios, their design principles, their inherent risks and tools to gauge success.

1)  The Future is Now

2)  The Future is the Future, and We Will Build It All

3)  Slow Walk to the Future

4)  Show’s Over (But Let’s Keep Playing)

5)  The Big Reset

There are many factors that impact each of these scenarios, but all of them showcase the industry’s current struggle to take advantage of the possibilities of emerging technologies.

“We need to look at the entire landscape of technology,” Elena Grant, vice president, marketing, National Trade Productions, says. “The key is understanding what your participants need from that technology.”

Break Up with Your Year-After-Year Routine

While organizers work to understand new tools, many of them have grown accustomed to using what’s old. It’s no secret that many shows take the same budgets, marketing materials and floor plans from previous shows and attempt to design an upcoming show based on the old model. However, the research shows that this industry-wide habit simply cannot continue.

“The old expression ‘we’ve always done it this way’ can no longer operate,” Friedman says.

Friedman says that event managers will need to adopt an attitude that nothing is “sacred.” Instead of sticking to existing models, pricing structures and engagement techniques, they will need to examine all the angles of their exhibits with a flexible approach to reinventing the trade show model.

Collect Meaningful Data

Reinventing that model may start with your surveying methods.

Germaine Schaefer, director, convention operations, American Diabetes Association, says that the ADA invites exhibitors to contribute to the survey creation process. By asking exhibitors what they want to know about attendees, Schaefer says that the ADA can uncover key pieces of information that can help exhibitors understand how to design a more engaging booth experience.

Use That Data to Drive Revenue

In addition to help exhibitors understand the demographics and decision-drivers of attendees, more data can provide a lift for your bottom line.

“Exhibitors will pay for new opportunities if you can back them up with real statistics,” Felicia Kaban, manager, conventions & exhibits, LifeScan, Inc. & Animas Corporation, says.

For example, Kaban says that show organizers should leverage the number of mobile app downloads and the number of Twitter followers in sales efforts to attract potential sponsorship interest.

Driving that revenue also relies on looking at how your show’s message lives on after exhibitors pack up and return home.

“Nobody wants to spend millions of dollars on three days,” Kaban says. “You have to think about how to extend the life cycle of the event.”

For more insights into what the future of trade shows may look like, click here to download the full report. Be sure to check back to learn how Convening Leaders attendees reacted to the findings along with an interactive exploration of new possibilities for exhibits in “The Show Reimagined.”

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