Death of the Exhibit Hall Expo?

by Kevin Gilbert on June 15, 2010

Kevin Gilbert

Kevin Gilbert

I recently had the opportunity to attend two expositions in one week. I took my daughter to Collosalcon in Sandusky, Ohio, where hundreds of screaming teenage “sailor moons” gathered to share their interest in anime. I also attended the IA Tech Expo in , NY, where hundreds of technology professionals gathered to share their interest in technology.  Over the past year, I’ve also participated in online and hybrid expositions (such as VMWorld).   But none were as ear-shattering as Collosalcon.

Over the past ten years, I had come to believe that the death of the expo was imminent.  Havin gattended countless conventions and expos, I can conjure up better ways to achieve the same results. I’d watched the development of virtual expo capabilities with enthusiasm because individuals can attend an expo from their desks without traveling.  Through virtual expos, information is made available on-demand. Virtual expos have made me believe traditional expos are on death rails.  Several of my favorite expos have died off, such as NetExpo and MacWorld.  Comdex, another favorite of mine, died off, but is returning as a virtual trade show in 2010 – which had further strengthened my theory. Strengthened, that is, until I attended Collosalcon.

Let me explain Collosalcon from a marketing perspective:  Anime (Japanese animation) has grown into a large industry, controlled by a relatively few number of companies. Surrounding the product is a community fan base filled with influencers, advocates and fanatics. Those fanatics come together at events and get pumped up, and then are released into the public to promote and encourage the brand.

I contrast Collosalcon to my experience at the IA Tech Expo:  I found attendees at IA Tech to be middle-aged, not excited, and not very knowledgeable in their trade. These were not influencers, advocates or fanatics. They were consumers who were learning about technologies that have been around for years. At one point, expos were the best way for technology consumers to keep up with the industry and make purchase decisions.  Time has passed, and the expo has been displaced by Web 2.0 technology and virtual tradeshow resources. The IA Tech event had low attendance and lacked the enthusiasm I saw at Collosalcon.

Even though the IA Tech Expo was typical of the dying breed of traditional expos, Collosalcon has returned some hope. Given this new hope, I offer up these tips to consider when participating in a traditional expo:

  1. Modern consumers are savvy and have better means to gather information, so don’t waste time spoon feeding them things they should already know.
  2. Traditional break-out sessions are for knowledge transfer. Because there are better ways to do knowledge transfer, use the break-out sessions to build excitement for your products – not overkill with information.
  3. Point attendees to online Web 2.0 resources for deeper dives, information, and knowledge.
  4. If you get the attendee to stop at your booth, don’t become too pushy or sale-zy. Provide requested information, but try to hook the attendee into your online presence and community to keep the conversation going.  Having unique booth swag helps!  (Read what blogger Peg Mulligan recently wrote about SIGMA’s booth swag, “ROI” the Husky.)
  5. Look at the attendee profile and make sure those attending are the best to receive your information in the way you’ll deliver it.
  6. As a primary goal, use the Expo as an opportunity to build your company’s reputation and your product’s community. As Samir Balwani explains, “An online fan base can help build buzz, generate excitement, and market your business.”
  7. Building the product’s community should not be heavily sales focused. Sales should be lower priority. If you build the community first, the sales will follow. According to Cynthia Trevino, a community builds trust, loyalty, and makes it easier for prospects to find you.
  8. Use audience participation. Traditional lectures put people to sleep. Keynotes with brilliant individuals sending a multi-media message that people want to hear is fine. But every event can’t be mini-keynotes.
  9. Consider a hybrid approach where you combine the physical expo with online (live and on-demand) activities. This will expand the expo’s audience.

There is something to be said for the hands-on experience of an exhibit hall expo and trade show.  With the pace at which this world is going digital, it’s still nice to experience the face-to-face, real-time interaction between human beings.


About the Author:

Kevin Gilbert is the Technology Manager at SIGMA Marketing Group.  Kevin headed the data center virtualization projects for four years and is a VMWare Certified Professional (VCP).  Connect with Kevin on .

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