Expo Displays Attendance Dropped a Bit – What Are YOU Doing About It?

So, the latest Center for Exposition Industry Research (CEIR) report on trade show profitability and attendance is out, and while the news could certainly be far worse, it’s not as good as we might hope. The trade show industry barely grew in 2013 -which is better than shrinking- and a lot of that was due to a drop in attendance, roughly 2% less than this time last year.supernova backlit trade show backdrop

While CEIR is cautiously hopeful about 2014 being a better year, these numbers should spur every trade show exhibitor and sponsor to think about what we can be doing to boost attendance at our exhibition appearances.

What’s Causing The Trade Show Attendance Drop?

CEIR themselves don’t offer too much of an insight into where these attendance drops were coming from, beyond blaming the re-occuring Federal budgeting crises. They noted attendance drops were especially high in government and education-based trade shows, which would go along with this.

Ceir’s statistics also showed drops in home renovation / improvement shows as well as government and education. In the meantime, the biggest gains are apparently found in the legal sector.

This all does seem to suggest that the economic troubles from the past year have had a significant impact on trade show attendance. Analysis from MPIWeb further suggests that businesses are sending fewer employees to trade shows as a budget-cutting measure, cutting out unnecessary attendees.

While it would be nice to look at the future projections and assume this is something that will blow over with time, in reality, we need to be more proactive about drawing in trade show visitors, especially if you’re in a segment that’s driven by government or private consumer spending.

Not to mention, with yet another budget deadline looming as I write this, no one actually knows whether the US government will manage to fund itself successfully any time soon. This is just going to add to the uncertainty among groups hesitant to commit more money than is necessary.

So, if you suspect your trade show market groups are laboring under reduced 2014 budgets, what can you do to convince them to come to the show anyway?

Making Your Trade Show Display Attractive To Budget-Conscious Visitors

1 – Start your pre-show promotion as early as possible.

If, as MPIWeb suggests, businesses are becoming more strategic about which shows they attend and who they send, that makes early promotion all the more important. When businesses are making decisions for the entire year on which shows to attend, you’ll need to get noticed by them early in 2014 to hope to make it onto their schedule.

So, start sending those emails and making those calls early. We’d recommend especially focusing on calling companies whose presence you’d like to ensure. The personal touch is likely to make a difference, and it establishes that your firm is really interested in seeing them visit your trade show displays.

Of course, as a corollary to this, it means you need to start your own trade show display planning earlier as well. Now is the time to be finalizing your plans about what shows you’ll be attending in 2014, so you can tell other people about it (surely you already have a tentative plan?!)

2 – Do more social media networking.

As we discussed recently, networking is growing as a reason to attend trade shows and individual exhibitions. Getting a group of high-profile social media users to agree to visit your expo displays will create a strong incentive for other visitors to come as well.moe 1338 ipad stand with 4 swivel stop clamshell frames and shelf

So, get more active on social media, especially LinkedIn, and try to get people to publicly RSVP. More people publicly announcing their intention to visit your display will ultimately make it look more desirable to everyone else.

3 – Shift your promotional focus to less-expensive services.

2014 may not be the best year for showing off your biggest and most expensive products and services at your convention displays. When business budgets are reduced, they’ll be looking for quality and value more than they want the most grandiose offerings.

Especially if you’re in one of the markets that’s struggling, try highlighting your more budget-friendly offerings. That doesn’t mean you have to totally bury your coolest stuff, but make sure it’s clear to people passing by that your products are still affordable.

4 – Offer more experiences, fewer sales pitches.

If your industry does allow sales at the trade show, don’t push too hard for immediate at-show sales; you may just scare off businesses operating on a smaller budget. Gear your trade show displays to focus on being informative and experiential – look to build awareness and interest, rather than trying to push for sales on the day of the show.

Lower budgets means that buyers will likely be gathering more information before making a purchasing decision. Giving them all the info they need -in as many formats as possible- will ultimately increase your chances of a sale later on in the year.

Look to create hands-on displays and demonstrations when possible. Few things will cement the value of your products in the mind of a buyer better than allowing your visitors to actually interact with them.

5 – Look for giveaways with real value to your leads.

Finding the right freebies for a trade show display is often more of an art than a science, but 2014 will be a year you’ll want to be targeting your giveaways heavily. Don’t invest in generic” giveaways like pens or tote bags – really think about your prime target groups and what they, specifically, would find appealing.

Whether it’s a free written consultation report, a week-long product demo, or just a unique gadget, the best freebies in the upcoming year are likely to be those with large appeal to your target markets, and less appeal to everyone else. This maximizes incentives for qualified leads to visit, while minimizing the moochers.

Plan Ahead And Focus On Your Customers In 2014

When the economy is shaky, it makes thoughtful pre-planning for your marketing campaigns all the more important. It’s easy to set up a successful trade show display when times are good and visitors are plentiful. When budgets are down and economic problems are causing uncertainty, precision message targeting is a necessity.

By all means, let’s hope that CEIR’s predictions are accurate and 2014 will see better attendance than 2013. In the meantime, the smart exhibitors will be looking for ways to ensurethey get plenty of visitors, even if everyone else’s attendance is hurting.

So, how are your 2014 trade show preparations going? Are these new reports going to cause any changes to your exhibition strategies?

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