Largely regarded as the world’s first trade show, The Great Exhibition was held on May 1, 1851. Since that time, trade shows have become a pretty big business for so many of the world’s brands with thousands of shows and events happening in every country you can name. In 2019, the U.S. trade show industry generated revenue of over $15.7 billion U.S. dollars and thereby accounted for almost half of the global total. Yes, trade shows are big business.
Or they were… The COVID-19 pandemic has given the trade show industry a big case of pneumonia—and there’s no ventilator in sight as both the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the NAMM Show have been canceled in 2021.
But YOUR company ISN’T canceled and YOU still have important marketing work to do. NOW you’re going to be minus some really big events that have helped you in the past. Fear not, where there’s a will, there’s a way—and I have a few tips to help you out.
First, let’s just agree on the role trade shows can play in our marketing mix. Today, shows are used to:
- Show new products off — announce stuff, introduce new stuff to dealers, consumers influencers and media — it’s all about some quality show and tell.
- Business connections — Your network is your net worth, right? Partners, friends, associates — it’s about WHO you know!
- Research — Let’s see, we know our products but what does EVERYONE else have? Trade shows are a fantastic way to stay up to date on competitors and allies in your industry.
Now, NAMM is doing a virtual event—Believe in Music Week and CES is doing something too. But from a marketing perspective, will they deliver at the same level this year? 2021 is going to start in a weird way. But a BEND in the road is only the END of the road if you FAIL to make the turn!
Scott’s Tips for Building Awareness WITHOUT Trade Shows:
- Re: Showing new products off — This year more than ever it’s going to be about PR and ADVANCE planning. That means working right now on what media coverage we want to see in January. Every magazine and media outlet will still be covering what’s happening at the shows (virtual shows) — YOU just have to get them all YOUR stuff in time for their coverage — you can’t rely on them just stopping by or running into them somewhere during the week. For these reasons, hiring a PR firm is advisable this year. It’s gonna be a lot of work and EARLY work too (Sept-Oct-Nov). Don’t forget about YOUR own channels to announce things too!
- Re: Business connections — NAMM’s new virtual event could be beneficial here — or LinkedIn profiles, connections and groups — No matter which tactics you use, it’s going to be very important to have your virtual meeting/connecting game going strong this year!
- Re: Research — what does EVERYONE else have? Trade shows are a fantastic way to stay up to date. Again, use the virtual events for this, coupled with your own research and media coverage too—and don’t forget to ASK editors, producers and media representatives what they’ve seen in your space — they might tell you something you can really use. I’m always asking about competitive products and sharing that crucial info with my clients.
There are two ways to look at what’s happened. You can easily use the excuse of the lack of trade shows to explain WHY your company lost market share and was further damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. Or you can lean into these new opportunities to show the world what problems your products and services are solving for YOUR customers—and why they need to pay attention. There’s help available right now to guide your company/brand to what could be your best year yet!