The most glaring reality I’ve pointed to previously in this space — that three out of four B2B buyers conduct the majority of their research before talking to a salesperson — greatly affects the sustainability of the tradeshow business model. That, and the others explored in the five realities of today’s B2B buyer post, and how those insights can be applied to evolve the traditional expo, remain major issues today.
Add to that fact the high cost of purchasing, setting up and staffing an exhibit booth and then sprinkle in how digital marketing channels have grown more sophisticated, and it’s easy to see how our exposition marketplaces may very well be on the road to becoming the next Sears.
While there are a number of disruptive forces that will impact the future of trade shows, the biggest risk has to do with how much buyers and sellers will trust the environments we create.
Researcher Rachel Botsman provides compelling insights about how consumer trust is earned at a time when it is at an all-time low for institutions — and yet people embrace riding in a stranger’s car or staying in the home of someone they don’t know. Botsman developed a concept called the trust stack, which has three levels: 1) Trust the idea; 2) Trust the platform; 3) Trust the other users.
When we think about conferences and expos, trusting the idea scores strong. The evidence is pretty clear that face-to-face events yield the highest levels of trust. Likewise for trusting the other users: Many events have a strong sense of community and year-round engagement.
I think the greatest trust risk for our industry has to do with the platform. The typical trade show’s business practices could lead to distrust from both attendees (buyers) and exhibitors (sellers).
A responsible platform should protect its biggest asset (buyers) and never sell them out. This means the practice of selling or providing usage of the pre- or post-show attendee list will likely stop. Since GDPR hit last year, customer expectations for data care have increased substantially. Opt-in will replace opt-out and very few people will opt in unless they are given an incentive.
Somewhere along the line, we inflated exhibitor rental and services costs — for everything from drayage to lead-retrieval readers to room rates — to help offset show-management costs and improve bottom lines. Exhibitors have responded by taking smaller footprints, doing digital product demonstrations, and shipping less freight. If an event organizer were to be completely transparent about the concessions and rebates they were receiving from the official show vendors (whom exhibitors believe are price gouging), would exhibitors trust your platform?
I think our model is ripe for disruption without a more transparent and trusted platform.
Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2019.
Are your business practices around your trade show transparent to your exhibitors? And to your attendees?