Where to Trade in Your Trade Show Dollars

In a year that’s forced companies to ditch plans A through Z, the worldwide pause on conferences, exhibitions, and trade shows offers a rare opportunity to recoup losses and invest in new ideas. Last year’s global exhibition market encompassed nearly two million events, earning over $15billion in revenue. With COVID-19 stopping those events in their tracks, some companies are now sitting on millions of unused marketing dollars.

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If you’ve found yourself in a similar (if not smaller) boat, here’s how we suggest you spend that money to keep it working hard for your business.

1. Refresh Your Look: Similar to how quarantining has driven many families to use their vacation dollars on home improvement projects, your involuntary break from that $50,000-a-weekend trade show booth is the perfect opportunity to refresh your brand’s image for years to come. Rebrands don’t have to be dramatic either. Little tweaks to modernize a logo can go a long way. Likewise for new color palates and typography updates. These changes may seem small or even tedious, but—like new floors or light fixtures—you (and your customers) will see them every single day. Next thing you know your new logo will be on future booth designs, and customers will forget what the old one even looked like.

2. Refine Your Voice: If refreshing your brand’s look is like renovating your home, addressing your copy is like hiring a life coach. Good agencies will be able to evaluate what you’re saying, how you’re saying it, and who you’re saying it to, then advise you on what needs to change in order for the business to improve. They may tell you to loosen up and quit using pretentious adjectives like “effervescent.” Or maybe they’ll tell you the opposite, that a robust lexicon inspires confidence in your customers. What matters is that they’ll develop a unique, detailed voice for your specific needs. Brand voice guidelines and company manifestos are effective ways to address this internally, while new marketing campaigns and updated websites will get that new voice to consumers quickly. The faster you find that voice, the easier communicating will be when conferences return.

3. Get Online: Calls to expand your brand’s social media presence may sound trite at this point, but the truth is our staggering rate of screen time is only growing. Some studies claim we’re spending up to 500% more time on our devices this year. Pair that with modern targeting capabilities and we can guarantee you that a well-planned social campaign will reach the eyes of the consumers you were planning to meet face to face at the big convention this year.

4. Send Something Special: There’s a flip side to our increasingly online world: We miss real things. We’re so inundated with Slacks, Zooms, and emails that physically interacting with a co-worker or client is now the most memorable part of our workday. With that in mind, personalized direct mail pieces are now more thoughtful than ever. Send them to the vendors, buyers, even competitors that you normally see at these trade shows. Try including handwritten notes, too. You’ll find the process quite therapeutic and the recipient will appreciate holding something real for a change.

We love trade shows, conferences, and conventions at MGH. We’ve participated in hundreds, both for our clients and ourselves. This post is by no means a eulogy for the industry. It’s simply a guide for how to make the best of a difficult situation. One day the exhibitions will return, and when they do we’ll celebrate alongside millions of other companies. Just keep your eyes peeled for a bright orange booth with a goldfish on the table. Until then, don’t be afraid to try something new.

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