10 Aug, 2023

How Effective Are Trade Shows in 2024?

Trade shows aren’t right for every business. Just like affiliate marketing or diversity marketing aren’t right for every business.

Event sales reps have to sell floor space, and there have been many companies who have ended up doing shows that have had no benefit to their business.

We’ve all been there, you get a call from an excited sales rep and before you know it you’re flicking through brochures without knowing anything about the event.

All trade shows are effective, but it depends what you mean by effective. Positive? Negative? Ineffective?

Trade shows will have a positive or a negative effect on your business; you just have to understand what those effects are so you can make an informed decision about whether to exhibit.

How Effective Are Trade Shows in 2024?

Move Over, The Digital Revolution is Here

The reputation of trade shows has been questioned in the past 10-20 years, and an unwanted stigma has glued itself to the credibility and ROI of such events.

Additionally, new marketing strategies have risen in popularity since the emergence of digital marketing in the 00s and 10s.

Search engine optimisation and social media have been driving the revolution, supported by technology tools like SEO software and social media schedulers.

As marketers and business owners spread the benefits of these methods and technologies, traditional marketing methods like trade shows, TV and billboard ads were labelled dwindling and irrelevant forms of advertising.

As we progress into the 20s, you may be asking yourself whether traditional methods of marketing are still relevant. In short, yes. They have their positives and negatives (which we’ll discuss), but they certainly aren’t going anywhere.

Digital marketing isn’t going anywhere either, it can offer much more data, geographical targeting, enhanced reach and ROI measurement than trade shows.

But if the predictions of marketers from the last 15-20 years came true, we wouldn’t have any trade shows.

Trade shows are still relevant, but whether you should exhibit depends on certain factors.


The Signs a Trade Show Will Have a Positive Impact

1. You Want to Close Deals & Generate Leads

Unlike an unannounced call or cold email, people are expecting businesses to try to sell to them at a trade show. It’s why buyers go to trade shows.

‘81% of trade show attendees have buying authority.’

When you try to sell something over the phone, especially if it’s an outbound phone call, you’re often going in with no prior knowledge of their business or what they do. So the person on the other line is automatically suspicious.

Even if buyers don’t buy anything at the show, you can still take their details, and you have a lead. Experienced sales staff will know which leads to pursue and which leads to take information from.

Further reading - How to stand out at a trade show: 12 inventive ideas


2. You Focus on Face-to-Face Communication

While we wouldn’t want to bash digital marketing, it can often have a cold feel to it.

Imagine if you never had human contact with people in your social life, and you spoke to them via messaging apps and social media every time you interacted. You’d soon become a bit lonely and bored. We’re humans; we need physical interactions.

Face-to-face communication is the best way to get to know someone and understand their goals and challenges, and trade shows provide you with an opportunity to get that information.

Here are three benefits of face-to-face communication:

  • When you make a good impression at a trade show, people talk. And word-of-mouth marketing is the best form of marketing you can receive.
  • You don’t have to go out and find your audience, the trade show provider does all the work and gives you people to communicate with.
  • Making yourself visible means you’re more accessible to the people who use your product or service, and people always want to know more about the businesses they buy from.


3. You Have an Accompanying Digital Marketing Strategy

Savvy trade show exhibitors always know how to fuse traditional and digital marketing techniques. Whether it’s collecting email addresses or creating a buzz on social media, infusing the two is going to have a positive impact.

While getting social media likes doesn’t get you any direct sales or sales qualified leads, they’ll be in your periphery. After the event, you can incorporate posts that will interest these people.

Email lists are a little more personal, and you should consider how you approach people when asking for their information. Make sure you have consent and ask people what content they’d like to receive, it’ll take out the guesswork for you and suggests you won’t spam them with irrelevant content.

It’s good to have staff that are sales and marketing savvy on your team; they’ll know when to push for sales, when to get email addresses for and more importantly, who not to spend much time with.


4. You Know What Your Competition Are Doing

When you attend a trade show, you’ll get to take a look at what your opponents are doing. What’s their business model? What are they focused on? What’s their marketing spin?

If you’ve got this mindset, you’re more likely to see a positive effect from your trade show. You’ll be able to pick up the good things your competition is doing and the bad things. Remember that you are independent of them, you don’t want to go in and copy everything they’re doing and become a copycat version of their business.


5. You Keep Current Customers Informed

Most business people see trade shows as an opportunity to generate new business and fail to include the people that they already work with. Big mistake.

Most communication is done via email or telephone calls nowadays, with the odd face-to-face meeting now and again.

Capitalising on this face-to-face meeting is something you should take advantage of. Your customer probably didn’t sign up for a new deal or increase their order capacity over your last email thread.

Plus, if you’re on good terms, there’s little rapport building needed and you can start off strengthening the relationship as soon as you meet them.


6. You Want to Improve Brand Exposure

If you’re a startup or a niche business, brand exposure is vital, or maybe you’re a bigger business that’s had a rebrand. This is why a lot of businesses in competitive markets go to trade shows, so they can stop generalisation and show they’re different.

While trade show sales are great for business, trade shows are a long term investment, and people will work with you if they remember you. And that’s the key; you need to make your brand worth following.

This isn’t a ‘get the best stand and watch us grow’ mentality. It’s holistic. If you’re looking at the whole process, planning, execution, follow up, your show will have a positive effect.

Further reading - The best exhibition stand in the world and why they work


The Signs a Trade Show Will Have a Negative/No Impact

1. You Don’t Have the Capacity for More Customers

If you’ve already got enough work coming in and you don’t have the workforce to take on any extra work, a trade show isn’t a good idea at that point. If you’re already at capacity, the desired effect shouldn’t be more business, it should be on stabilising or hiring.


2. You Aren’t/Don’t Want to Grow

Can’t grow? Don’t want to grow? Whether it’s in or out of your hands, trade shows are for businesses that want to grow and make more sales. If you’re happy with your current position, a trade show would be a pointless endeavour.


3. You Don’t Have the Correct Staff

If you’re going to invest in a trade show you need to maximise ROI, and if you aren’t confident you have the staff to do that it could end up being a waste of time. Generating leads and making sales at a trade show requires the skills of experienced salespeople who know how to work in a face-to-face environment.


4. You Can’t Afford to Exhibit

If you don’t know what you’re doing, trade show costs can spiral out of control. If you can’t afford to do it well, don’t do it. You’re putting your business out there for all to see. If you turn up with a shabby, poorly designed stand and the cheapest team you could pull together at the last minute, you could end up hurting your business.


5. You Don’t Have Buy-In From Management

This applies to any form of marketing, if people don’t believe in your vision or plan, then you may as well screw it up and toss it in the bin. Management has to be willing to provide you with the resources you need to succeed; otherwise, the effectiveness of your trade show will be minimal.


6. The Trade Show Doesn’t Suit Your Business

Picking the right trade show is the key to having a positive effect, but sometimes businesses get it wrong. Our best advice is to niche, think about the specific product or service you sell and search for a trade show in that niche. While generalist events have a bigger reach, the audience could be looking for anything.

‘Trade shows may not make sense for every business. It may not fit their business model or growth plans. Or, they may not have the internal capacity or skill to plan and execute a strategy.’


Are Trade Shows Worth It?

Only you know the answer to that question! Use the above criteria and consider whether a trade show is a good idea for you at this point. Even if it isn’t, it could be in 12-24 months.

The main takeaway from this article is all trade shows are effective, whether they have a positive or negative impact depends on various factors.

If you do think a trade show is a good idea, get in contact with us, and we can help you plan your day.