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The Evolution of Tradeshows and Events: A Guide to Successful Marketing in the Digital Era

image of attendees at a trade show event walking by several booths

A Look Back: The Importance of Tradeshows

Traditionally, annual tradeshows were the heartbeat of a company’s marketing strategy. They were pivotal in generating sales, meeting customers, and showcasing the vitality of the company. However, as we moved into the mid-2010s, the dynamics changed dramatically.

The Digital Revolution: A New Marketing Landscape

The internet boom brought with it a wealth of information. Platforms like LinkedIn emerged, databases expanded, social media evolved, and ad targeting became more sophisticated. These developments provided marketers with powerful tools to identify potential clients and launch targeted ad campaigns. The internet also enabled sales teams to prospect more effectively, marking a significant shift in how businesses approached marketing.

The Cost of Marketing: A Shift in Priorities

During this period, the cost of marketing plummeted, and customer acquisition cost (CAC) dropped substantially. Tracking attribution and return on investment (ROI) became much simpler, allowing for a clear view of expenditure versus returns. This data-driven approach appealed to CEOs, CFOs, and CMOs, as it provided a cost-effective way to reach a broad audience.

Tradeshows and Events: A Changing Landscape

Attributing and tracking ROI from tradeshows and events is notoriously challenging. Before the digital revolution, this was less of a concern, as the annual tradeshow was a non-negotiable part of the marketing strategy. However, the digital era has brought about a decline in tradeshow attendance and buzz, leading many companies to question their value. Without clear ROI tracking, it can be difficult to justify the expense when there are other, more measurable marketing channels available.

The Current State of Tradeshows

Despite these challenges, many companies continue to exhibit at annual events. However, there is often uncertainty surrounding the purpose and benefits of these activities. Tradeshows have become a “cost of doing business” rather than a strategic investment. With the convenience of digital tools, simply showing up at a tradeshow is no longer enough to ensure success.

The Future of Tradeshows: A Strategic Approach

Tradeshows and events still hold value for marketing, sales, relationship-building, and education. However, to leverage their full potential, companies must adapt their strategies:

  1. Select the Right Shows: Not all tradeshows are created equal. Choose those most relevant to your business and audience.
  2. Define Your Purpose: Understand why you are exhibiting, sponsoring, or hosting an event.
  3. Understand Your Audience: Be aware of who your audience is and what they want.
  4. Strategize Your Approach: Plan your tradeshow or event campaign carefully to maximize results.
  5. Invest Time and Energy: Running a successful tradeshow or event requires effort. Make sure you’re prepared to invest the necessary resources.
  6. Track Results: It’s crucial to show the impact of your efforts. Devise a system to track ROI and other metrics.
  7. Engage Leadership: Get buy-in from company leaders at the outset. Afterward, showcase the results to reinforce the value of tradeshows and events.

The landscape may have changed, but tradeshows and events remain an important part of marketing strategy. By adapting to the digital era and implementing a strategic approach, companies can continue to reap the benefits of these platforms.

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