After several years of COVID-influenced lockdowns and cancellations, trade shows are making a huge comeback. A tremendous amount of pent-up demand is driving a veritable tidal wave of events in 2023—both live and virtual.
The logistics of staging such events have, however, have evolved significantly thanks in large part to COVID-19. Shifting demographics, changing trends, and the widespread adoption of new technologies designed to deal with restrictions imposed by the lockdown are changing the event landscape.
According to a recent study by Freeman, the global leader in events, in-person attendance is down approximately 36% from 2019 levels. However, this decline is not exclusively attributable to lingering concerns about COVID. A mass exodus from the workforce, particularly by those over the age of 55, has shrunk the potential pool of attendees.
For those who do attend in-person events, an eagerness to get back to normal by networking with colleagues and visiting exhibits are their primary reasons for being there. Meanwhile, those who prefer virtual events are more interested in education and keynote or general sessions.
Moving forward, Freeman notes that companies have a choice when it comes to events: try to recover by returning to the old way of doing things, or accept the new reality and embrace the opportunity for change and growth.
How Trade Shows are Changing
The following list explores some of the notable ways that tradeshows have changed, providing a roadmap for how companies must adapt to keep pace with their competitors:
1. A greater emphasis on digital marketing
Like everything else these days, tradeshows are increasingly promoted through digital marketing channels like social media, e-mail and online ads. This enables companies to achieve a much wider reach and greater engagement with their expanded audience before, during and after the event. Additionally, by allowing people to register for events online reduces the need for manual outreach, saving valuable time and money for your sales and marketing teams.
2. Greater focus on the attendee experience
For in-person events, many exhibitors are pivoting away from traditional booth displays and are now featuring interactive exhibits, in-show events and educational sessions to improve visibility and create a more engaging and immersive experience for attendees. Activities like photo booths, corn hole competitions and raffles may not be business oriented, but they do have the desired effect of keeping people in your booth longer or over multiple visits, which is great for brand stickiness. Offering food and beverages also attract attendees, encouraging them to hang out, socialize and chat with booth personnel.
3. An emphasis on sustainability
Many tradeshows have jumped on the sustainability bandwagon by reducing waste and minimizing their carbon footprint. These environmentally friendly objectives are achieved through aggressive recycling, minimizing the use of paper products in favor of digital content, reducing energy consumption, offering more sustainable giveaways, or donating money to a worthy cause for every lead.
4. The integration of new technology
Many companies are rushing to incorporate new (or newish) technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and beacon technology. For in-person events, companies are using more monitors and other electronic displays to showcase videos or display static images that not only enhance the booth’s appeal but also provide additional branding opportunities. These technologies enable hybrid events (a necessity during the COVID lockdowns) while enhancing the in-person experience, leading to greater engagement and facilitating better lead generation
5. Greater personalization
Many events today are designed to appeal to the preferences and interests of individual attendees, allowing them to customize their experience by selecting and attending only those sessions and exhibits they are interested in. This personalization attracts more qualified attendees interested in the topic being discussed, leading to more ongoing discussions and communications.
6. Greater emphasis on data
Not surprisingly, exhibitors are focusing more on gathering and analyzing data from their trade shows and other events to measure the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. This data, gleaned from lead capture devices and other analytics tools, measure engagement and ROI, allowing companies to make adjustments in the future and hone their skillset. When combined with digital marketing and outreach efforts, this technology makes it easier to track and follow up with attendees after the show.
7. Continued support for hybrid events
As mentioned earlier, trade shows and other types of events had to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic by offering hybrid events—that is, a combination of in-person and virtual experiences. Today, even though the restrictions imposed by the pandemic have largely been lifted, escalating travel costs and shrinking budgets have made it difficult for some to attend shows. As a result, many events are still offering virtual options that allow attendees to participate remotely if they can’t attend in person. This flexibility extends the reach of the event to a much wider audience, allowing them to stage a much “larger” event from a smaller, more compact venue. And the larger the audience, the greater the exposure for exhibitors.
Trends to Consider
An increased focus on technology, interactivity, and sustainability over the past five years has significantly changed how companies plan and execute their in-person and virtual events, allowing them to develop best (or better) practices that deliver greater returns on their trade show investments.
That doesn’t mean they can stand still, however. If recent events have taught us anything, it’s that the world will continue to change. And that means these changes, technologies and trends will continue evolving as well, shifting the business landscape.
The obvious lesson here is that change is constant. Like technology, businesses must continue to evolve and innovate if they want to meet the changing needs of attendees—their prospective customers.