By Michael Hart, Event Consultant and Journalist
Many of us know the contours of a conventional trade show floor so well we could probably enter one for the first time with a blindfold on and not bump into anything.
The anchor exhibitors with large, garish signage and displays have the best real estate near the entrance. They are surrounded by the 20x20s and 40x40s, with the 10x10s off on the fringes. The buffet line is at the back of the hall with, if it’s a scientific or medical show, the poster displays.
This standard layout may have worked 10 or 20 years ago when the average attendee took a more leisurely approach to his or her showfloor activities, strolling down every single aisle past every booth, stopping to chat with the salespeople who piqued their interest and loading the requisite brochures and business cards into their tote bag.
The attendee’s approach to their trade show experience has changed. Many exhibitors we interviewed understand this and struggle with show organizers who are not catching on.
Today’s attendees use digital tools to shop for a car or tonight’s dinner. They want instantaneous information about what’s available and real-time directions on how to
find it. They want to use show tech the same way and come with an agenda set ahead of time, a set of goals, a list of things they want to see and people they want to meet. They don’t have time for “the old-school stroll” around the exhibit hall.
Adroit exhibitors know this and use not just their presence to attract attendees but employ digital tools, either with a pre-event marketing campaign or social media messages they know will draw traffic to their booths.
Exhibitors today are questioning why they’re making this substantial investment in their trade show participation if they’re doing “all the work” and realizing they no longer simply “have to be there.”
Exhibitors now believe it is incumbent on the show organizer to “create the crave,” to design an event that attendees can’t wait to attend.
Exhibitors want show organizers to build a brand out of their cookie-cutter show that is so strong they will want to attach themselves to it and, just as exhibitors at International CES or SXSW do, brag about their participation all year long.
Exhibitors expect show organizers to adopt innovations and help them deepen their engagement with the attendee. They know attendees expect the new, the different, the wow.
Show organizers must constantly be testing new ideas to create the crave for attendees, exhibitors and sponsors. It is imperative to act on innovative ideas at each iteration of an event to avoid the conventional layout and flat attendance.
Exhibitors are hungry for innovation because they know attendees are hungry for innovation. Reimagining an event can be the platform on which future successes lie for show managers, exhibitors and attendees alike.