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April 08 2013

Trade Show Myths Debunked

By David McMillin, Staff Writer

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Trade shows have gone through a complete transformation, right? Not quite. While it’s important to embrace new technologies to attract attendees and sell booth space, a recently released study from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, Attracting Attendees, debunks some myths that many show organizers believe based on those new tools.

Attracting Attendees surveyed more than 400 respondents from 14 industries on a range of factors that influence their decisions to attend a trade show and what influences their behaviors once they actually arrive on-site. Here’s a look at how the data proves three myths wrong.

Myth #1: Social media paves a direct route to your prospective attendees.

You’ve probably read countless surveys on why you should invest in social media, but the study shows that liking, updating and posting may not matter that much to your audience. Among preferred sources of information when searching for an exhibition, social networking sites ranked near the bottom of the list next to telemarketing and text marketing.

What should you use instead? An email from a colleague, word of mouth and a personal invitation from an exhibitor all ranked among the most important sources of information.

“While a social media engagement plan certainly plays a role in creating critical mass awareness about your show, connecting with attendees on a personal level is more important than ever before,” Carolyn Clark, vice president, marketing and communications, PCMA, says.

SEE ALSO: What Attendees Want From Exhibitors

Myth #2: It’s time for your show to go paperless.

Thinking of going paperless at your trade show? The study’s co-authors Jeff Tanner, Ph.D., Professor Marketing, Baylor University, and Nancy Drapeau, PRC, Research Director, CEIR, say you should think again. Many show organizers want to reduce printing costs and appear more eco-friendly, but the study shows that printed exhibition programs are the primary method that attendees use to navigate the show floor. 

“While there is significant pressure in the industry to move to digital channels for communicating schedules and activities, the reality is that only about one-fourth are relying on smart-phone apps for their at-show information,” Tanner and Drapeau write.

However, the study notes that a continued dependence on printed programs may also be due to the lack of availability of mobile applications.

“Many attendees still love their printed show guides, but show organizers must continue to invest in what’s next,” Clark says. “As the industry continues to evolve, there’s an emerging attendee base that will download those apps and use them to get around shows and learn more about products.”

SEE ALSO: Why Your Meeting Marketing Strategy Shouldn’t Go Totally Paperless

Myth #3: Technology gives attendees a reason to stay home.

Everyone’s staying home, reviewing online product tutorials and sending emails, right? Not true, says the study.

In fact, the stats show that 2013 looks to be a relatively healthy year for the industry. Eighty-one percent of respondents indicated that they plan to attend the same number of exhibitions this year, and 15 percent actually plan to attend an even larger number of shows. Just four percent of respondents signal plans to attend fewer shows in 2013.

Regardless of statistics, though, trade shows are changing. Click here to get a look at what the future might look like with research from the PCMA Education Foundation.

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