It seems that almost every industry has been affected by COVID, changing business communications and relationships. Most will be feeling the effects well beyond when it is no longer a societal concern. The trade show industry is one of them. During the last few years, with so many people hesitant to gather in large rooms to buy and sell products and services and exchange ideas, trade shows were nearly nonexistent. What will Trade Show look like in the future?
The trade show industry involves much more than buyers and sellers. There are hotels and convention centers that play host to these events, and food services that provide refreshments and meals, for example. It is a multi-billion dollar industry, and it is a massive driver of business-to-business sales. That means that while trade shows may never be the same, they will absolutely continue. Here are some predictions for trade shows in 2021 and beyond.
People are starting to come together again in large groups as vaccination rates increase. Sports teams, for example, are taking advantage by having large amounts of fans in the stands, and even Broadway will be opening up again in the fall. However, there are still many people who are uncomfortable gathering or travelling. That’s why figuring out how to have hybrid trade show events with in-person and virtual aspects will be so important.
This may be uncomfortable for event planners, but it will also be exciting. Having a virtual option will help smart trade show planners bring in consumers and businesses that may not have attended a trade show in the past. They can also market to virtual attendees to convince them to come to a future event in person, when issues surrounding the pandemic have settled down even more.
Information technology is changing business and will play a larger role than ever in trade shows, and not just in making them more accessible to virtual participants. This will happen partly because of concerns about human proximity and contact, but also just to provide a more exciting and modern experience for visitors.
Trade shows that haven’t embraced technology in the past will start to have no-contact badge scanners and sign-in procedures, for example. Not only that, but displays will have more electronic than physical swag. This could be coupons, gift cards,or any number of other goodies.
Booths can send demos and displays to attendees’ phones while providing interactive experiences. However, that doesn’t mean that the traditional displays are extinct. You will still need attractive retail displays and fixtures to draw the eye and bring in people to connect with. Digital displays can get lost in the noise, and they often can’t be seen from more than one viewpoint, so vendors will still need to make sure to have traditional forms of marketing available.
When you have a hybrid trade show, the virtual event experience of attendees is not be same as actually attending a trade show. This barrier can definitely make people less likely to register.
For example, networking will be much more difficult in a virtual environment, if it’s really possible at all.
However, to bring in more eyeballs, trade shows will have to find ways to excite and engage people. Having dynamic and effective speakers and presenters may be one of the best ways to do this.
The best part is that a speech or presentation can be easily shared virtually and in person simultaneously. Anything that can be combined for virtual and in-person attendees will make planning easier, keep costs down, and make it more of a shared and communal experience for everyone. Trade shows are about building connections and getting leads, and the best way to do that is provide shared experiences.
Even as the economy starts to open up, there are many people who are still hesitant to travel. Not only that, but there are still areas with high levels of COVID-19. This means that trade show planners may want to avoid having visitors travel from places with higher infection rates to places where the spread is low. It could be better to focus on having smaller events that draw in local vendors and consumers to build connections in that way. This may be a more sustainable model going forward if the hesitance with travelling continues and attending virtually becomes easier.
It’s important to remember that what the world has experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. So many things have changed already, and they’ll continue to change going forward. For trade shows, there will be a lot of experimentation and trial-and-error. There will be failures and successes on the road to figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
How prepared is your business for an unpredictable future? There is no way of knowing what the future holds for trade shows. There could even be another wave of COVID-19, or another disease altogether that throws the world into chaos. Vendors, attendees, and trade show planners should be open to change and willing to try new things. Trade shows will most likely change and look very different in two or three years than they did prior to COVID-19, no matter how much the world has returned to “normal.”