Show iconVisit enough trade shows and it is easy to become blasé about close encounters with truly impressive and groundbreaking kit. Like a good number of you reading this, I have.

And as a journalist, my show goals are fundamentally different from those of a manufacturer or potential buyer. The truth is, a troubled trade show can make much better reading than a happy one. Both ways, a wake-up call is a sound thing.

In fact, we are all so focused on our own specific problems and goals that there’s a bigger picture that we are in danger of missing. The broader spectrum of trade shows is exploring opportunities and identifying trends that we would be well advised to recognise.

The Western trade show recipe is well established, with a round of press calls followed by a mix of planned and impromptu meetings that all require more time than is available. Compare and contrast this with the agenda of a serious buyer, intent on intelligence gathering ahead of a – possibly major – investment.

Asian and Middle East shows have a slightly alternative flavour using many of the same ingredients – they rarely host product premières but consistently provide the platform for regional launches. They still make the same demands on reporters’ time and hands, however.

Seeing the same products being presented at shows around the world brings a familiarity not shared by first-time encounters or by local visitors, to whom they might represent the solution to a critical problem or present a golden business opportunity. Or just a schoolboy ‘cool’ moment...

Trading places

InterBeeThe journalist’s alternative show agenda is sometimes lost on manufacturers and their PR. Focused on getting news in front of as many journos as possible, they can be forgiven for overlooking the obvious – that bad news can make better reading than good. To an objective observer, writing up a failing trade show is as easy as writing up a good one. Often easier.

In this respect, the press and commercial trade show organisers are united in their frequent lack of care for any particular trade.

I have long been a cynical commentator on the motives of commercial trade event organisers. These are simply businesses that trawl industries for new revenue streams without any real interest in those industries’ fortunes beyond simple, animal, exploitation. They are not to be confused with shows hosted by anybody with a vested interest in what’s happening on the show floor.

Like nature’s predators, the short-term approach of professional trade show companies can prove destructive – they would do well to take lessons from nature’s parasites, which regard a dead host as a wasted opportunity.

There is yet another side to show business. Alongside the industries that need them and those that provide them, are those who analyse them.

While trade show organisers like to assemble spreadsheets of record-setting figures and exhibitors carefully try to calculate the value of meetings made against cash spent (return on investment), there are observers who try to evaluate and extrapolate.

Social climbing

In common with many other niche markets, pro audio is too small to attract its own independent analysts, but can still benefit from more general analyses.

These indicate that exhibitors are more closely measuring their return on investment (ROI), doing more with less and that there is perceived competition from virtual trade shows. Fair enough.

These analyses quite accurately equated 2010 business fortunes with 2011 show planning, anticipating a decrease in attendance but of more qualified and motivated buyers, while a weakened US dollar (quantitative easing) boosted US manufacturing sales and made travel to and exhibiting at US shows less expensive for foreigners. Among other things... like going ‘green’ and seizing on social media.

Green girlsAssessing the 2010 Plasa show floor, the green campaigning Julie’s Bicycle organisation found a massive discrepancy between audio and lighting companies in the ‘green index’ of their equipment. Audio came a poor second.

But that’s not strictly what a green show is all about.

This approach targets those who are more aware of environmental and ecological concerns. Using green attractions and offering eco-friendly gifts – like solar-powered calulators and biodegradable pens – will demonstrate ‘proper stewardship of natural resources and an awareness of the importance of green living’, enhancing a company’s image. Companies are also considering how to recycle exhibits, and construction from sustainable materials like bamboo and cork is on the rise.

Count Lab.gruppen’s ‘kinetically powered’ calculator and ‘recycled’ notebook in the green corner at this year’s Plasa. The green tee-shirt was just to hammer the green amplifier technology message home.

Social media tradeshow marketing is booming. Although Facebook is presently favourite, newer social media channels such as Foursquare and Twitter are also becoming effective ways to bring visitors to stands. These allow exhibitors to micro-target specific demographics through viral advertising, blogs and podcasts. Once inside the show hall, dedicated smartphone apps are increasingly being used for show navigation – as the Develop game developers’ show will confirm.

So what of coming trade show trends?

As we are already seeing, as well as allowing businesses to communicate directly with customers, social media are an extremely effective means of highlighting show activities and promotions. Present indications are that 2012 will see the move towards social media and away from mail and magazine marketing continue in a combined use of social media and eco-friendly marketing.

Truth is that there is little substitute for a face-to-face, whether it’s man or machine. See you soon?

See also:
Showtime: IBC 2011
Showtime: Plasa 2011

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