The B2B trade show market grew steadily up to 2019, by which point it was valued at $15.58 billion. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it dropped precipitously to a mere $5.56 billion. While growing numbers of vaccinations and changes in public health guidelines at the federal and state levels may permit a slight return for the remainder of 2021 and into 2022, Price Waterhouse Coopers estimates that it will take until 2024 for revenue levels to return to their 2017 levels. Not only does that leave major exposition companies in something of a bind; it has many companies rethinking their approach to marketing for the manufacturing industry. If you're wondering what comes next, we can help with trade show marketing in whatever form it may take.
Whether you're following through on a rescheduled appearance or dipping a hesitant toe in the waters in the months ahead, it's worth revisiting the steps behind getting a traditional trade show presence right. After all, these same principles underpin the less-traditional alternatives we'll be discussing, too.
Plan ahead, starting with market research that reacquaints you with your target market and accounts for how their needs may have shifted since you were last face to face. Plan your goals, too, to better align your creative and branding for the big event.
Make sure key stakeholders, including sales, marketing, and executives, are on board to minimize frustrating—and sometimes expensive—last-minute changes.
Think about what you can offer that is a tangible and useful reminder of your brand after the show is over. Brands that "stick" convert!
Promote your presence through your usual channels, including email marketing, social media, and content marketing. If you'll be supplementing your trade show booth with an online or virtual presence, make that known as well.
Most importantly, follow through; the trade show is the beginning of the process, not its capstone. Enter new leads into your CRM and make sure you follow up with your new connections in the days and months ahead.
On the other hand, perhaps you've been away from the show floor for a while and found that you like it that way. What can you do instead?
There's more than one way to form connections and drum up new business. Rather than hosting, sending an attendee or two can help you form connections in a more organic and less forced way than what you may be used to in the traditional meet-and-greet booth format.
Educational sessions and panel discussions are a fixture of many trade shows. If your product or service aligns with the subjects discussed in a given year or at a given show, take full advantage. Not only will you be uniquely establishing a presence, but you're also building thought leadership and authority in your field.
Tour buses aren't just for the likes of Willie Nelson. Take the show on the road, visiting your customers where they are. Your team gets an opportunity to connect in a new way, your prospects get some time away from their desks, and everyone comes away from a memorable experience. This can be a useful supplement to your trade show booth or may replace it altogether.
This is how most of us have approached the year and a half, but as things continue to improve, we have more options than ever before. You can, of course, continue hosting your own virtual events. You can take a page from the National Association of Music Merchants, which took Winter NAMM 2021 entirely online with multiple vendors. Or you can piggyback on an ongoing trade show, finding a smaller venue in an event's host city to put on your own event; the press is already in town, and you can gain valuable exposure this way.
Most trade shows can be summed up in one word: “Buy!” Change a word and flip the script. What if you said “Thanks!” instead? Customer acquisition is expensive since you'll only land a small number of prospects—and a smaller-still number of clients—from any marketing effort. Customer retention, by contrast, isn't just cost-effective. It's good business.
We'll offer this for consideration while you're evaluating and planning your trade show efforts in the coming year. One of our client's marketing managers reported that their company, a large manufacturer of metalworking machinery, attended FABTECH 2021. He spoke with many exhibitors there who reported that attendance was certainly less than previous events, but those who did attend were not just there to "kick tires." These attendees were ready to buy!
Host a gathering for your customers to thank them for their business and give some thought ahead of time to ways in which they can connect with other owners and entrepreneurs whose businesses complement theirs. That's an experience they'll remember long after their traditional trade show swag would have made its way to a landfill.
What many recent think pieces overlook is that the ground was already shifting beneath B2B's feet before the COVID pandemic as many manufacturers turned to seemingly unconventional outlets (like the Consumer Electronics Show) or had already begun exploring less traditional marketing channels. And that's yet another reason to contact Cain & Company; since our founding in 1973, we've seen our share of changes and helped our clients make the most of each of them. Let us help you with your most challenging marketing dilemmas.