Exhibitor Magazine has been doing a superb job of keeping their fingers on the pulse of the tradeshow industry. Since the pandemic essentially closed down the industry in March, they’ve done numerous surveys of exhibitors and exhibit industry suppliers. They recently had another webinar where Editor Travis Stanton went over the results of their latest survey, taken of over 1000 respondents. This is the fourth such survey they’ve done, and it took place in mid-November. If you’re an exhibitor or in the exhibit industry and haven’t reviewed the results, it’s worth a look. Both the webinar and the resultant White Paper have been posted on their website. Check for links below.
A few top-line results from their executive summary shows the deep and wide impact the pandemic has had on the industry as a whole:
When asked how long it would take to get back business full bore if the restrictions were lifted today, a majority of the survey respondents said it would take about three months.
Many exhibitors are waiting longer to commit to appearing at shows; roughly a third are waiting until the final four months before a show to make a commitment.
Over two-thirds of exhibitors say that their exhibiting budgets have been cut; more than half of those are at least 50-percent budget reductions.
Virtual event participation is up: Over two-thirds over those surveyed say they have participated in virtual events.
Finally, the Exhibitor editorial staff is making a prediction that live tradeshows and events will slowly come back to life during the first half of next year, but that it will be at least until the first or second quarter of 2022 before we’ll see anything we can call “normal.”
Sure, we’d all like to make big changes. Swoop in, push all the old stuff aside, and institute something NEW and DASHING and DAZZLING and TERRIFIC, something that impresses the hell out of customers, the media, and especially your boss. Because if your boss is impressed, he’ll remember you and you might be in line for a promotion, which means a raise and so on and so forth.
Sounds great! Except that making big changes, making that one BIG CHANGE that gets all of that attention, isn’t easy. You have to start from scratch, tear everything down and do something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. And if you change everything, you’d better have a damn good reason. First off, it’ll cost more. Probably a lot more. It has to be a big bold idea. How many of those have you had lately? And you have to get buy-in from the right people, and especially the people who control the purse strings.
There’s a better way, and it doesn’t cost as much. It doesn’t require big bold ideas. It doesn’t change everyone’s job that’s involved in the initiative.
Make improvements at the edges. Opportunity lies in the margins. Find a way to bring ten percent more visitors to your booth. Generate another five or ten percent leads by adding a small interactive element to your booth. Move your booth space closer to the main entrance of a big show once you’ve accumulated enough points and time in the show to warrant it. Take a survey of half of your visitors to uncover what they really think of your new products or services, adding just a little new information to your product development.
There are a lot of little things you can do on the margins to make a notable improvement that doesn’t cost a lot, take much time, or strain the system (and your brain). Yet little changes can still have a strong positive impact on the bottom line.
This past week I’ve reached out to a couple of dozen former clients and prospects that have all exhibited for years at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim. The show is usually in early March. You may recall that it was canceled on March 2nd this year, just a couple of days before it was supposed to open, just as the pandemic caused hundreds of exhibitors to pull out.
I happened to be sitting on a plane on the tarmac in Portland heading for the show that day when I saw the email from show organizers saying they were pulling the plug.
So what about next year? The show had originally been scheduled for early March again, but a few weeks ago it was pushed back to late May – a two and a half month delay, after a year in which it was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Will it happen? Obviously, organizers hope so. But who the heck really knows?
To get a sense of what exhibitors were thinking, I reached out to a couple dozen of them. The answers were varied, as you might imagine.
One said they’d signed up, but with the caveat that they could pull out and get their deposit back within a certain time frame. Another handful said they’re still in the wait-and-see mode, as final decisions are needed until sometime in January. I did hear from a pair of long-time exhibitors who said they would definitely NOT be there. In fact, one said they had decided to participate in NO shows through 2021.
Fits and starts. That’s what the tradeshow industry seems to be right now, working in fits and starts. And I suspect that will hold for all of 2021.
Hiring an exhibit house is a big task. It’s a commitment to a business relationship that, ideally, you’d like to keep in place for years. But everything must come to an end, and there may come a time when it makes sense to consider changing exhibit houses. Here’s my quick video that looks at ten situations that may warrant that consideration:
The use of virtual tradeshow exhibits may not be exploding, although my sense is that it is increasing. Some big tradeshows have gone completely virtual for the next year or so, maybe longer, depending on the depth and breadth of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Which leaves exhibitors in a bit of a quandary: what to do about virtual exhibits. Should you invest in one? Should you just wait out the pandemic and hope you can get back to live tradeshows in the next six to twelve months?
And if you are seriously considering a virtual exhibit, it’s important to consider all of the various things you can do in the exhibit. I’ve seen a few virtual exhibits lately, and there is a wide variety in the approach. Some exhibitors have chosen the simple, let’s-keep-the-cost-down approach. Others have tried to throw everything in but the kitchen sink.
As an aside, one exhibit maker I spoke with recently said that a recent client of theirs did a virtual exhibit and found that at the virtual tradeshow, they experienced a 700% increase in leads for a fraction of the cost of appearing at a live show. My eyes opened at that stat, and while it’s impressive, it’s likely not going to be a common experience for every virtual exhibitor. But it does demonstrate that there is a lot of potential in virtual tradeshows if you plan ane execute well.
Having said that, there are a number of ways to get engagement at virtual tradeshows. The first is crucial: make sure that potential visitors know about your virtual tradeshow exhibit so that they are prepared, put it on their calendar, and have expectations.
The second is to build the expectations and prepare for them by putting specific things in your virtual tradeshow booth that visitors want. Things they’ll respond to, interact with, and share with others.
From that starting point, the question remains: what should be in your virtual exhibit? There are many answers, and your company’s specific needs should help frame the answer. Here are a lot of the things, perhaps not all, that could go into your exhibit. Keep in mind that each piece will add to your overall cost, much like a 3D real world exhibit, and that each piece of content, such as videos or white papers or PDF reports, all will take time and money to create. Before finalizing your plan, create a budget based on all of the pieces you think are necessary to make your virtual tradeshow booth a success.
Here are a number of things you can and should consider:
A place to collect visitor’s contact information
Download Center (PDFs, coupons, sales sheets, special reports, etc.)
Live stream video
Schedule a meeting
Learn about your company
Learn about new products
Give people the ability to share things on social media
Steer people to your social media outlets
Leave an audio or video message
No doubt if you put your mind to it, you can come up with more. What am I missing?
I’ve had Kevin Carty of Classic Exhibits on a handful of times this year for various discussions related to dealing with the COVID Pandemic, how they’re dealing with it and more. But this week I wanted to catch up with Kevin to learn more about virtual exhibits: how they’re working their way into designing and implementing exhibits for clients, and how exhibitors can think about and approach a possible virtual exhibit for their own use:
This week’s ONE GOOD THING: Rain. Sorely needed here on the west coast with all the forest fires still burning. We got a good dose of rain late last week and while it didn’t put the fires out, it gave firefighters a good helping hand.
After viewing Exhibitor Magazine‘s latest survey data last week from the exhibitor and supply side of the tradeshow world, it got me to thinking about what exhibitors should do now. Here’s a short video:
Yes, tradeshows are going virtual. They have been for some time, and the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many shows into the digital world that might not have done so as quickly. Just a cursory search on Twitter with the hashtag #tradeshow gives you a bunch of shows that are moving to online.
The Consumer Electronics Show recently announced they’re going virtual for the next go-around. Others are following suit. In discussion with industry managers and exhibitors, the feeling is that, frankly, no one knows when “normal” will return and exactly what it will look like. There are certainly efforts to get things off the ground, like the recent Together Again Expo, a tradeshow industry event in Orlando last month.
But overall, shows are still being cancelled and / or postponed.
For example, the Snow & Ice Symposium (there’s such a thing?) has gone all virtual. Just add ice to your glass! (Click the images below: it’ll take you to the original tweet in a new tab).
Here’s another virtual expo that I’m not sure about:
Even shows overseas are going by the wayside thanks to the pandemic:
And many more, to be sure. The state of the events, conference and tradeshow industry is upside down, but it looks like many shows are going digital as best as they can. It’ll be interesting to see how the shows unfold and to see how, even when face-to-face shows return, how virtual aspects will remain. And how many exhibits and attendees will show up. And when.
A few recent newsletters that have popped up in my inbox have gotten me to thinking about B2B in the age of a pandemic. The tradeshow world is virtually shut down. Conferences aren’t happening. Events are 99.9% gone. Many of the writers behind these newsletters offer insightful observations about how business is now being done: what’s changing and what’s not.
I’ve compiled several of these thoughts and added a few of my own.
“Zoom Fatigue” has become a meme. But connecting via digital is about the only way to connect. Yes, you can pick up the phone – and I do – but a video call is more personal. Of course, there’s an extra step involved: you have to agree on a time and schedule the call and send the link. But taking those steps evinces a commitment to the meeting you might not have otherwise had.
Email: staying in touch is a little harder in this day and age. Many of the contacts I have are either working from home or have been laid off. Others are in the office only part time and their presence at work is not a given. Every company is dealing with the situation in their own way, and if an email isn’t answered in the time it typically would be, try a phone call.
Beyond Zoom, email, and phone calls, create shortvideos that address challenges a typical customer might have. A recent Orbit Media Studios post examined what happened when they added video to their content strategy. It’s led me to create short videos every week to see if they get attention.
Bottom line on Digital
Be present online more than you ever have been before.
Know your priorities.
What’s important for your company? For you? For your employees? I spoke with a handful of distilleries in Oregon this week to see if they were making hand sanitizer, as many of them did at the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak. Many had made the product and were still making it but it was not a priority. A handful of them, though realized that there was a market there and it was going to be there awhile and were actually ramping up production. Others felt it was not their core business and they would rather be known for their high-quality distilled products.
Understand your customer’s priorities
Every customer is going through something different. Find out from as many as possible what their biggest challenges are. Segment them. And if you can help them, do it. Some might need to wait another month or two or three.
Find and form valuable partnerships
Partnerships can take you places you couldn’t go on your own. Manufacturers, builders, factories, processing plants. Keep an open mind to what the possibilities are and ask good questions. You might uncover an opportunity that you had no idea existed a few months ago.
Communicate clearly to everyone
It boils down to listening twice as much as you talk. Find out what’s important to other management members, employees, team members, clientele, prospects. But make sure to let them know what’s important to you as well. We’re all in this together, and communication will be the key.
Remove friction whenever possible
Just like forming a new habit, the easier it is, the more likely you’ll form that habit. It’s like saying to yourself that you’ll put on your running shoes each morning and run around the block. There’s not much friction in putting on your shoes. Once you have the shoes on, it’s easy to go around the block. After you do that a few times, it’ll be easier to run a half mile. Then a mile. Then two, five and so on. By reducing the friction to get anything done, both for you and your clients, the easier it will be to get bigger things done. Start small where there is little friction.
Acknowledge that it’s not business as usual
The final piece. We all know that, but many of us are acting as if it’s still 2019. Are you? It’s not. We’re in the future to stay. And it’s a different world. It’s not business as usual.
Here are some of the resources that helped inspire this collection: