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For start-ups and entrepreneurs, trade shows used to be a key industry calendar event. They provided great opportunities to network, assess the competition, meet potential suppliers and access the latest market trends, and in the home and giftware world they are still great places to do business with huge shows such as Spring and Autumn Fair, Top Drawer and Home and Gift Harrogate being key events in many of our members’ business strategies.

Trade shows can be a great arena to showcase new products, raise brand awareness and generally create a buzz around a brand. But with increased costs, reduced footfalls and huge technological advances does the tradeshow look set to head the same way as the high-street?

Networking

If you take the networking aspect for example, given 332 million people in over 200 countries currently use LinkedIn, it’s unlikely you’ll meet anyone at a trade show that you couldn’t by clicking a button, all from the comfort of your own office without incurring the cost of a pitch or a day off work. But will you have the person to person conversations that you would have at a trade show and start to build up that customer relationship? As business is done between people, having the face to face aspect of a trade show can be the deal maker. Technology has advanced making the world more connected, but has this also affected how much we hear from people effectively being trapped in an ‘echo chamber’ where we are targeted the same things for to five times a day.

Showcasing new products

The days of a trade show being able to showcase a trend before anyone else are slightly ailing, given that most products can be displayed to an adequate level online as and when they are ready. A brand’s website and social media profiles now act as the showcase the trade show used to. Though being able to view the actual products and see and touch them can decide whether they are the right quality: social media an help promote a product but does it tell you everything you need to know about that product?

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Latest trends

People are also unwilling to wait until a show to assess what’s going on in their sector.

Ashley Boroski, from international transportation company LILLY + Associates, explains: “When people have a need they want it resolved now, not in two more quarters at the next trade show. If they are looking for a solution they search the internet. We have found by offering information to prospects, they form a level of trust in us from a very early stage. The website is the new ‘trade show booth’ that projects the initial image of the company and showcases any products or service offerings.”

Raising brand awareness

Field marketing is also on its way out, and with the huge advances of digital marketing a brand name can be on the tip of its audience’s tongue with a well-placed online campaign, something no tradeshow can match.

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So what is the answer for tradeshows?

Some shows have already started fighting back and ensured increased relevant footfall by merging shows to create a destination event such as Comic Con. In the future it’s likely we’ll see fewer, but bigger tradeshows.

Another way tradeshows look set to change is the adoption of augmented reality which will be able to show a consumer how a product or service could fit into their life via a headset.

Dan Wade, director of flooring manufacturer Life Floor, said: “Augmented reality technology like the Oculus Rift may present an interesting opportunity for exhibiters like Life Floor to change our trade show experience in the future, but betting on mass adoption of such devices in the next two-three years is probably overly optimistic.”

“Exactly what we would do with augmented reality would depend on how it developed. Assuming current trends hold, and something similar to Google Glass or Oculus Rift becomes widely available, we could use it to help customers virtually walk through their own space as though Life Floor had already been installed there while they physically touch and stand on the product in our demo environment.”

Technology can also be used to make networking more efficient with apps, interactive networking walls and other connection devices.

Essentially for tradeshows to remain relevant today and in the future they will need to create an experience that can’t be replicated online. However, Neil Philips from outdoor suppliers Sail and Trail said: “With all the advances in technology there is still nothing (yet!) that can compare to good old fashioned salesmanship and face-to-face networking.

“Right now consumers can just use Google to get the best prices, but I honestly believe that consumers will once more want to actually touch and feel before buying, as well as having a friendly honest chat with the person selling it.”

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