What’s the Future of Trade Shows?

Posted on by Larry

COVID 19 has decimated the trade show industry. Yet, as an industry, we still need trade shows. What’s the future hold?

As I was writing this week’s newsletter, I had an interesting conversation with Sam Bogoch, CEO of Axle.ai. We were discussing the challenges small companies face in finding new customers – something that trade shows are famous for enabling.

But, with the exception of CES, the pandemic is making any size trade show almost impossible. And, even at CES, exhibitor cancellations and attendee no-shows hit record levels.

Questions I’m pondering include:

Forces way beyond their control are forcing trade shows to evolve – but into what? The virus continues to make these kinds of meet-and-greet events almost impossible.

There are two key purposes of a trade show, it seems to me:

  1. To allow potential customers to discover new companies, products and trends in the industry.
  2. To allow companies of all sizes – especially smaller ones – to attract new customers.

Yes, trade shows are valuable as a place to meet old friends and check in with companies who’s products we already own. But there are many ways we can connect with folks we already know that don’t require trade shows.

Compounding this situation is the lack of an industry-wide forum, an on-line environment where we can all get together to discover the latest news. Sam pointed out that Creative Cow used to have that role, but no longer.

Instead we have a fractured online world of reddit, Facebook, Linked In, and a host of vendor-specific websites. Lots of tribes, but no central meeting place. Worse, many of the s0-called “neutral” online forums are overwhelmed with ads and self-important announcements.

While there are a number of new websites that attempt to re-create the trade show experience, they seem to focus on avatars, or recreating the physical layout of a trade show, rather than optimizing connections and discovery.

Six companies – Axle.ai, cinedeck, Imagine Products, NetApp, Venera Technologies and XenData – created an experimental website to see what an “evolved” trade show might look like. It’s called: MediaTradeShow.com

Link: https://mediatradeshow.com/index.php

This website is an experiment, not a product or place. Instead, it challenges us to think about the evolution of our industry trade shows. How do we discover what’s new?

Yes, trade shows will be back, but they won’t be the same. I’m interested in your comments on what they might become.

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6 Responses to What’s the Future of Trade Shows?

  1. Clayton Moore says:

    Aside from what you have already addressed here there is value in people meeting up. Overhearing a valuable tidbit, just chatting with people and bouncing off ideas and information about things you might not have thought of. Most importantly all the elements of a trade show provide a certain context for people to feel part of a larger community as they taken in a huge amount of information. I know some people have grown tired of them over the years, but I think they are in the minority and there is clearly opportunity here in my opinion. I can think of some key players who might want to be part of the conversation.

  2. Gayle C. says:

    I agree there should be a “central meeting place” for the media industry as well. Virtual or in person, I don’t know in what form it should take, but over the years, I’ve missed many opportunities to attend in-person trade shows. As with many things during the pandemic, we are being forced to think out of the box and come up with some different solutions. I wish I had some to contribute in this matter, but it’s great that Larry is offering it up for discussion – which is the first step to trying to make change. Thank you for that, Larry.

  3. Philip Hodgetts says:

    I agree that the two official reasons for trade shows are the two you identify, but I believe there’s a third reason for meeting in person: serendipity. So many innovations and project have started because someone sat next to someone else on a shuttle bus, or started talking over a drink at an informal function or at a Supermeet etc.

    Those serendipitous moments are extremely, extremely hard to replicate online. (I’d say impossible, but I’ve learnt better!)

    As a small Independent Software Vendor (smaller than those in mediatradeshow.com) and have never had a trade show return the investment. Not one. Not even close. Like a lot of companies., we’ve noticed almost no change in business with the lack of trade shows. That includes smaller, much more focused conferences.

    I’m not as confident that trade shows will be back, but I also have no idea what will replace them.

    • Larry says:


      You make an excellent point. Serendipity is an excellent reason for going to trade shows.

      And, I agree, trade shows are really, really expensive. Sadly so. i wish the companies that ran them didn’t consider them an inexhaustible fount of revenue.

      Trade shows – that old-fashioned watering hole where people meet – will return. But they won’t be the same.


  4. Clayton Moore says:

    Cost – I don’t think there is any question that the people who run trade shows and make money from them, and that means all related venders,
    need to consider cost since (no more trade shows) = a larger ROI on 0% is not worth much.

    Yes serendipity, and there is nothing like just picking peoples brains either, at a booth, with a vender or other attendees.

    I guess I’d make a list of the aspects of trade shows that make people want to attend, then work out from there. Sounds like a good brain trust / work group to me. Larger, global retailers like B&H should be on that list along with experts in virtual conferences
    AND trade show orgs. I would go so far as to make B&H a global contact point for the attendee feedback side.

    Bottom line, don’t just let this kind of, sort of, evolve when you have gobs of smart “CREATIVE” smarts ready to go to work on the idea, and many opportunities to test the shit out of this all over the world.

  5. Larry Jordan says:

    Clayton Moore sent me the following comment.

    My recent experience with using Zoom for public meetings reminded me that the aspects that we took for granted with fully in-person events, when trying to replicate those virtually, do not feel organic or graceful. Until venders like Zoom develop NEW features we are left with work-arounds.

    Can it be frustrating? Yes. Frustrating not just trying to manage an imperfect process, but frustrating dealing with clients who really have no clue whats involved or what’s possible. Online is simply not the same as in-person.

    So for trade shows I can see a real opportunity for everyone to up their game by developing virtual/ remote meeting and events to feel more organic by building in features to support “human beings” not just the involved IP.

    Event clients and the event venders need to be proactive and get out of the box and not allow their self (as far as the nuts and bolts of virtual functionality) to settle with “good enough.”

    The easier a thing is to accomplish, the more graceful it will appear.

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