Tradeshows and Technology: Finding the Synergistic Sweet Spot
By Michael Sturman, Ph.D. Professor, Human Resource Mgmt, Rutgers School of Management & Labor Relations | August 30, 2015
Communications technology has become an important but in some ways unheralded feature of tradeshows. Although interactive technology may someday replace the tradeshow, that day has not yet come. Instead of replacing tradeshows, communications technology has become essential to tradeshows' operation by improving efficiency for participants. As we discuss here, tradeshow organizers should seek a "sweet spot" that balances the cost of technology with the amount and type of technology used by exhibitors and attendees.
To understand the importance of digital technology to tradeshows, let's start with the reasons that exhibitors and attendees participate in tradeshows, as reported in a study published by the Center for Hospitality Research. The study's researchers are HyunJeong Han, who is on the faculty of the National Research University in Moscow, and Rohit Verma, who is a professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. With the assistance of the ASAE Foundation, Han and Verma surveyed 2,527 tradeshow participants: 674 exhibitors and 1,853 attendees.
Not surprisingly, exhibitors and attendees give somewhat different reasons for their tradeshow attendance; nonetheless, these reasons are complementary in many ways. Organizers must therefore find a "sweet spot" in many areas of the tradeshow operation, including size, technology, and educational offerings.
Information exchange is central to both groups' participation in a tradeshow, and technology has become essential in this process. The exhibitors identified these top four reasons for tradeshow attendance: to promote their brand, to develop market leads, to network with industry peers, and to introduce products and services. The attendee group gave the following four top reasons for traveling to a tradeshow: to attend educational sessions, to learn about the latest products, to network with industry peers, and to attend speeches or other sessions.
Comparing these lists, we see that exhibitors, who are focused on developing sales leads, can meet their potential customers' needs if they focus their presentations on their new products or processes. That approach gives attendees the opportunity to meet their goal of learning what is newly available in their field. Because time is a critical element for both groups, this is one area where technology can enhance exhibitors' reach and save time for attendees.
Exhibitors can focus their booth presentations on their newest and most important products and processes, while at the same time offering information about the rest of their product line via web pages, through QR codes, or by distributing stick drives containing the information. As a side benefit, that approach also improves a tradeshow's sustainability, because printed collateral is no longer needed. Regardless of sustainability issues, the survey found that attendees are not interested in hauling large quantities of collateral away from a tradeshow.