By Andree Latibeaudiere, Senior Account Manager, Hoffman Europe
Who could’ve predicted that an invisible entity could cause so much disruption?
Salesforce’s flagship event, Dreamforce, was the latest industry event to fall victim to the Covid-19 pandemic, following a long list of trade show cancellations which punctuated the past few months. However, long before the recent disruptions, the value of trade shows for B2B tech marketing was called into question. On the one hand they could represent a lucrative lead-generation opportunity, where a captive audience of potential prospects was open and willing to be sold to. For media, they formed the perfect platform for journalists to meet spokespeople, hear an announcement first-hand or experience the latest technologies. On the other hand, they were incredibly expensive and tiresome to attend and exhibit at — not to mention the environmental impact. Will this ‘unprecedented’ disruption hasten the death of trade shows? Not so fast.
B2B tech trade shows had become a beast
We can all agree that trade shows were getting out of hand. The sheer size and number of industry events challenged the coping mechanisms of even the strongest attendees. Navigating these ‘small towns’ could literally take a day, inevitably leading to fatigue and glazed expressions, as yet another booth enticed you to drop a business card into a fish bowl.
Coronavirus has taught us that a single unexpected entity can bring the events industry — and indeed the world — to a sudden halt. With most trade shows being planned six months to a year ahead, there was no way to minimize the impact. As the dust settles and the world eases out of lockdown, tech companies must be asking themselves what the future for trade shows looks like: will they still get value out of these large-scale industry events? Will anyone attend?
Journalists at industry events
Journalists can get real value out of these events, but exhibitors must offer something unique. Whether it’s a face-to-face meeting with a high-profile executive or an honest, in-depth look at the latest piece of tech, journalists should walk away with a concrete story. Shrinking editorial teams (made worse by Covid-19-related furloughs) must justify their time investment.
When asked about their thoughts on the value of tech trade shows, we received a decidedly mixed reaction. Some found them useful and interesting, citing in-person meetings as a compelling reason to leave the office, but conceded that these didn’t have to be limited to trade shows. However, one journalist found that often there was very little meat on the bones when it came to useful or exciting news. Another responded by saying, ‘Being asked to go to the Excel Centre at 9 a.m. for the International Consortium of Pipe-to-Pipe Bushmen conference is like someone [vomiting] in my mouth.’ Perhaps not what every business wants to hear.
Virtual events as an alternative
In simpler times (i.e., pre-pandemic), the idea of doing a large-scale event online was widely shunned. Horror stories about sudden dropped connections, variable broadband speeds, malfunctioning equipment and lackluster attendance limited virtual events to short webinars. However, when faced with no alternative for the foreseeable future, businesses must consider their options. There have already been a number of virtual events staged attempting to fill the trade-show shaped hole, with some larger physical events still planned for fall. Will we see this combination continue or will one eclipse the other?
Effect of Coronavirus and trade show cancellations on the B2B tech marketing mix
Looking forward, it is clear that the nature of trade shows will change. When allowed, physical industry events will make a comeback, but with a more considered offering. There must be a sweet spot where they are large enough to be diverse and interesting, but not so large they require the financial equivalent of the GDP of Bolivia to attend or exhibit. Beyond this critical mass, one key stakeholder group will become disengaged: media, exhibitors or prospects. The recent crisis should push event organizers and businesses to diversify their offering and consider new formats for delegates — such as virtual events or webinars. The trade show will never die, but it will be forced to evolve into something that delivers quality.
In the meantime, while the impact on the events industry is still working itself out, businesses must look to fill the lead generation and media engagement void. Our new e-book — Why Your Event Replacement Strategy Probably Isn’t An Event — has some tips. You can download it here.