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Trade Shows? Ditch the bathwater, keep the baby!

  • B2B Marcom
  • Apple Computer announced its last year at Macworld Expo. According to

    "Apple is reaching more people in more ways than ever before, so like many companies, trade shows have become a very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers," the company said in the statement posted to its Web site.

    In a comment to that article, reader John Storm notes:

    The conference track at Macworld Expo is great, but I have worked major trade shows in the tech industry for years. The exhibit halls are the pretty much the same thing year after year. Often times they even use the same layouts if the venue is the same! Same old customers, same old questions. Even before the economy started taking a downturn, most companies have done trade shows just to "prove they are still alive relevant in the industry". Now, there has been a paradigm shift in the tech industry and companies realize they can get away with not attending. The PR bloody nose they might receive as a consequence is worth the savings. Most trades shows cost far money to exhibit at than they are worth. The unfortunate side effect is that conference oriented shows such as Macworld Expo may not survive financially as companies continue to pull out due to the lost exhibit hall revenue required to maintain the show.

    I believe he's nailed the forward-thinking issue - which is, how can we not throw the baby out with the bath water? The baby? Technical conferences.

    In my B2B practice, trade show exhibitors end up footing the bill for technical events. We've all started seeing through that, and are now doing something about it. The exhibits are no longer the place to announce product or technology breakthroughs (that's what websites, emails, SMSs, and word of mouth are for - as I noted in a recent comment on EMSPeople). By the time a trade show comes around, the news is out. What customers seem to be most interested in is hearing tech papers being delivered, being talked through the slides and the concepts, meeting the presenters and researchers, and discussing the topics with peers face to face. What suppliers are most interested in is increasing sales, profits, market share, and image via being seen as the most valuable purchasing option. And, speaking of paying for things, attendees also pay. They purchase air tickets, hotel rooms, meals, etc., and incur opportunity costs. They HOPE to derive a positive ROI, but can often be surprised by the results.

    So, how do we retain (even enhance) our tech conferences while ditching the exhibitions? It all boils down to money. The only two parties involved are the suppliers and the consumers - so it's got to come from one or both sources. Since both parties benefit, it makes sense to share the expense. But how should the pie be divided? Perhaps we have reached the crux of the matter.

    I suggest that it behooves the suppliers to generate COMPELLING findings, valuable tools, useful techniques, and profit-delivering pointers - to lure the customers. When the contents are extremely valuable, the customers should pay more. When the content is weak, the suppliers should pay more. (I know this doesn't address the cases where customers generate valuable data - my concept is far from perfected.)

    Continuing ... then, we should ask all parties involved to rate the value of the information delivered. The score would be plugged into an equation and the costs would be divided accordingly (more imperfection - but it is a starting point).

    Yes, this idea is a bit of a gamble. It asks people to commit to something with vague up-front costs. That needs to be addressed. But I like the idea of boiling it all down to VALUE.

    Please share your better idea.