The Economics of Trade Shows

It’s an interesting world out there. Even as the American economy slowly grows out of this period of contraction, it seems that companies are hesitant to flip the switch and invest in personal, interactive marketing or face-to-face marketing. When times are good, it’s “Katie bar the doors! We’re throwing everything we have into trade shows and events!” Yet when sales start to slow, instead of increasing their market presence and pushing for more category dominance, there is a tendency to withdraw and shrink - counterintuitive to what one would expect.

Why is this? One factor is that the companies who are pulling back have not experienced real value through a measurable return on their investment. After all, it’s “just a trade show exhibit.” What can a company do to avoid this discomfort? In my opinion, this is a flawed philosophy. A well designed and planned trade show exhibit should be employed as the first line of offence for sales and corporate branding. It should be a representation of all that a company offers. It should be the sales person you don’t have to pay; it should be theatrical; it should clearly stand apart from the competition. Perhaps most importantly, it should have a measurable return on a company’s investment.

I would challenge companies who are serious about growth and market dominance to evaluate their trade show program and develop a plan that is better focused on their targets, and not focused on building a bigger exhibit just to keep up with the competition. I would challenge them to invest less and get more, to think about modular displays, to design a unit that is functional and effective, to determine if the shows they attend are meeting their expectations and goals, and to ensure that the message they present makes sense and is targeted to give them a return on their investment.

No one knows you’re out there until you say something, and when you do say something, make it count. Keeping your company on top of their mind is of the utmost importance, even more so in a slow economy.