April 18, 2024 8:32 PM
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The Ever-Changing Needs of Exhibitors and Attendees

by Caitlin Howle 

 

“Producers of tradeshows and associations staging large meetings must adapt now to meet the changing needs of their exhibitors and attendees alike,” began Francis J. Friedman in a 2003 article featured in Exhibit City News. The article continued, saying “Industry leader and futurist Francis J. Friedman wrote in “A View to the Future of the Tradeshow Industry, a White Paper on the Trends and Challenges 2003-2010,” which was delivered at the Exhibition and Convention Executive Forum (ECEF) in Washington, D.C.”

Friedman’s views throughout this article show how the tradeshow industry has had to adapt, overcome, and continue to thrive with his predictions being increasingly spot on. But, since the 20th anniversary of this article’s publishing has passed, what exactly has changed, and where are we now?

Technology and Digital Marketing

Friedman said, “If the exhibitors and organizers don’t work together to attract quality attendees, you may not be around next year,” which can be found as the perfect summary for how quickly our technology has changed. For context, in 2003 when the article was published Google had just been named the “fatest growing company,” Facesmash, a platform developed by then Harvard student Mark Zuckerburg had just launched, which would pave the way for Facebook and digital marketing on social media as we know it, and Apple had just opened the iTunes store, with the iPhone not launching until 2007.

Each of these has become an asset for trade shows and exhibitors with the latest technologies providing apps for attendees, digital marketing, and social media that recruit new visitors to shows, as well as new exhibitors. Within shows themselves, booths are now bigger and better than ever before, with a leaning toward experiences versus a table and chair.

“The movement to advanced CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and Supply Chain technologies portends significant challenges to both the for-profit and association organizers,” he continued, “In addition, if for-profit and association tradeshows are to continue to be viable and valuable to all concerned, an aggressive, multi-faceted and multi-tiered marketing program aimed at delivering attendees empowered to make buying decisions must be created and implemented. The challenges to existing tradeshow models will grow increasingly more aggressive as the decade unfolds.” Friedman hit the nail on the head. Of course, almost all businesses now use CRMs, but within the tradeshow industry, customer relations have remained at the forefront of helping build, solidify, and nurture relationships.

Digital marketing, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to a new world for tradeshows with exhibitor reach being farther than ever before. With many events pivoting during the pandemic to be virtual, many tradeshows now see hybrid events, allowing for additional accessibility and ease for attendees.

Now, more than ever before, technology has helped trade shows explode in a way many did not think was possible.

SUSTAINABILITY

In 2003, we had recorded the hottest year on record, beating its previous record, set in 2002. From the time Friedman wrote his paper, we’ve seen an explosion in the trade show industry seeing substantial shifts toward green and environmentally friendly movements. Trade shows focus now on using wind or solar energy to power exhibition halls, or using eco-friendly lighting, as well as having accessible lighting, green transportation, and an effort and focus on having our events while remaining a friend to the planet.

TERMINOLOGY

Over the past twenty years, there has been a change in the terminology that accompanies Friedman has continued to remain a voice in the industry, publishing his eBook in 2017, “Modern Digital Tradeshow,” where he again calls those in the tradeshow industry to action to remain relevant in our now digital age. But it begs the question, where will trade shows be in 20 more years? We can’t wait, and the transformation will be exhilarating.

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