The “must-attend” is dead, long live the “must”attend”.

For years visitors have dragged their bodies onto a plane bound for the next “must-attend” event in a not so glamourous destination to contract exotic strains of flu, drink rivers of alcohol, eat mountains of terrible food, pay vast sums for neat piles of overpriced decent food and battle endless lines of irritated visitors all on just a handful of hours of sleep stretched across several nights.

But the “must-attend” is becoming a diminishing relevance. They are no longer the most important place to go to see what’s going on and as a concept is changing and maybe fading away.

Social media is replacing the trade show as a platform for displaying and distributing products and concepts and ideas. When major companies — and new companies — have a product to launch, they host their own events and rely on the press, Facebook and Twitter to do the rest. There is just a much wider spectrum of better ways to tell a company’s story than physical gatherings.

Repeatedly it’s overheard that “the show was just too big, we don’t see the people or products we want to see”.

For visitors there’s the secret wish that some emergent new stuff that isn’t lame mass-produced garbage will be on display. The thing is, that “emergent new stuff” has been doing most its emerging outside of the “must-attend” and its multi-thousand-dollar stands.

The decline and fall of the “must-attend” as a premiere stage for new products, services and technology is no tragedy. Perhaps technology and social media has rendered the trade show obsolete as the sole mechanism for launching anything into the world. Maybe we should be dancing on their graves.

Many exhibitors are witnessing dropping attendance, stands becoming smaller and customers not attending. Both organiser and exhibitor need to respect the medium as a strategically important marketing-communication tool. Many organisers – and their suppliers – employ mindless gimmicks that fail to further the sales process and continue to look at events logistically, not strategically without measurable objectives that support the marketing mission.

If organisers are to curtail the trend of the diminishing “must-attend” there must be an understanding that the bottom line, short-termism and personal commission aren’t the dominant objectives.

Trade shows, above social media, is all about creating an experience for attendees — current and potential customers — so that when they have a need, they think of the “must-attend” in which it creates an environment that converts attendee behaviour to buying.

Many organisers employ mindless gimmicks to attract visitors to trade shows. Participation in a trade show is all about selective attraction. Having a neat and nifty promotional item or “all-singing-all-dancing” app is neither attractive or selective, it is a waste of money.

Time is the competition at a trade show; exhibitors want as many qualified visitors as the organiser can attract. They are not interested in ones who just want a freebie. Targeted pre-show communication is far more likely to move prospects along the sales cycle than a random giveaway.

Exhibiting today is all about converting — converting opportunities to potential sales. The “must-attend” is not dead, but if if the events industry doesn’t start looking at what they are doing more strategically, they will surely kill the medium. 

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