Trade show approaches need some imagination

Trade shows, especially trade shows in the technology world, have been the bane of my existence for a couple of decades. I hate them and think they are a terrible waste of money. That doesn’t mean I think they are useless, but how companies use them makes them so. I almost think there should be a minimum entrance requirement.
In the past couple of years there have been some changes that give me hope.

One is the introduction of social media into the effort and the other is specific focus. UBM seems to have discovered that secret.
UBM’s Design West conference in 2012 served as an umbrella for seven different conferences, ranging from Android development to sensors. Attendees could focus directly on their interest, rather than wander about over several days trying to figure out what to do. The recently concluded ARM TechCon, run by UBM and heavily sponsored by ARM, broke up the three day conference and expo between semiconductor design and software/systems design bringing in completely different audiences. This allowed exhibitors the opportunity to target resources to the right audience. Both of these models are steps in the right direction, because it forces companies to prepare properly, but I think we need to go even further and step right into the workplaces of the customers.

I started this line of thinking when I saw this video of a doctor talking about the need of continuing education for medical professionals and how that can be accomplished best by going into where the professional work.


The beauty of this approach is It takes less time and the content becomes highly focused.Ten years ago this idea was unheard of simply because of the sheer logistics of sending out personnel to multiple locations to present papers and demonstrations.

Five years ago it was impossible to do the same thing virtually over the internet. But combining the two now makes the potential of the virtual trade show a real possibility and at a fraction of the cost of current trade show budgets.

For example, the average exhibit space at a low end trade show, like the Design Automation Conference, is around $7000 for 200 sf. Now you have to add to that the cost of the booth exhibit ($10K), signage ($2K), drayage, monitors, presentation development, public relations, catering, electrical, etc. and you are easily out $30K for a low-cost exhibit effort. For two to three days you hope to meet with 100 (but would settle for 10 truly qualified) leads that have been attracted by the single, 10-minute, generic, committee-designed presentation. Of course, you won’t get that many leads because companies that spend 10 times the amount you spend will grab all the attention.
But for the cost of the exhibit space alone you could create 30 minutes of interactive video presented online (as in the above example), gather qualifying data from the engagement and then be able to afford to send personnel directly to individual companies for face-to-face meetings.

Does this mean trade shows are completely useless? No, not at all. Imagine what your trade show effort would be like if you knew exactly what your potential leads were looking for. Imagine setting up your booth for the purpose of closing deals, rather than having a booth-babe spout an informercial script. Imagine a 10x10 booth where potential customers came with questions at the ready, rather than have to drag it out of them at the end of the presentation. Imagine a trade show that wasn’t a complete waste of time.

That’s all that’s lacking from industry wide meetings: a little imagination.