7 trade show trends to follow in 2018 (for the best chance of success)
Posted by Tom Oakes
Trade shows are always evolving. They reflect the peak of industry salesmanship, with each company working with their exhibition stand designers striving to do everything they can for maximum exposure, and the ultimate engagement with customers, vendors and more.
And with such fierce competition (plus so much at stake financially), businesses need to take advantage of the latest trends, from new booth concepts to new evaluation tools to new ways of reaching your audience.Want to know what to plan for in 2018? Here are 7 trade show trends we think you should be following for the best chance of success. Click To Tweet
1: Having a universal event strategy
A lot of businesses approach each trade show event as a single entity. All the focus goes into making that a success, before any thought can be given to upcoming shows in the calendar. Yet we could see a far smarter tactic from companies in 2018, by taking a more integrated approach to events as part of a wider marketing strategy.
Planning for all your trade shows and other events at the same time can help you be more efficient and minimise overspend, by allowing you to see where booths, giveaways, technology (etc) can be used across the calendar rather than in isolation. Not only this, but it will enable you to plan ahead and align stand designs with your advertising and marketing campaigns, so that your brand messaging and identity is consistent throughout the year.
A more consistent brand identity means less confusion in the customer’s mind about who you are and what you stand for. Which means more trust in your brand and a greater chance of purchase.
2: Having a theme
This follows on neatly from the idea of having a more integrated strategy. Because more companies using a holistic approach to events means we’ll be seeing more use of themes at trade shows in 2018.
These themes will carry over from overarching marketing campaigns, but won’t just be limited to colours and messaging. More creative use of fabrics and exhibition stand frames will allow businesses to have booths that better reflect the brand and translate those campaign ideas into a living breathing stand that can’t help but engage attendees.
Use of themes will help trade shows become an extension of a company’s marketing, allowing for that consistency we talked about in #1—which is important to building trusted relationships with customers (and others) given the increasing number of different ways they can interact with brands these days.
3: Using technology for better engagement
Using technology as part of your trade show is a trend you won’t be surprised to see here, because it’s become a key component of events. Yet, as with the technology itself, the use is evolving—and this year we see it being all about visitor engagement.
It’s no longer about cramming as many devices into your space as possible or having the latest (or best) technology available to show off. Now it’s all about being more efficient with it, both in terms of showing attendees how your company can benefit them, as well as helping you gather as much lead data as possible to analyse and use later on.
One of the biggest trends in tech use you’ll see this year is likely to be virtual reality (VR). This has hit big in the commercial mainstream in the last couple of years with the accessible Google Cardboard and the more heavy-duty PSVR and Oculus Rift. Now exhibitors are going to be taking advantage of that trend to find new and interesting ways to use VR to enhance the visitor engagement and experience at their booths.
This could be on-stand, providing a direct way to demonstrate the product or service in question or acting as a captivating digital game to draw in and entertain attendees, while simultaneously collecting lead information. Or it could even be the provision of a VR offering for people off-site, enabling interested parties who couldn’t attend the trade show to still be a part of the experience. With the accessibility of smartphone VR ‘headsets’ like Google Cardboard, VR is an exciting and cost-effective platform of engagement and allows you to reach a wider audience than just those at the event (see also #7, below).
4: Enhancing visitor experience through stand design
Again, this follows on from the trend above, but whereas VR is all about creating a virtual experience, we believe that the year ahead will see more emphasis on enhancing the practical, on-site experience through smart, creative stand design.
It’s not just about the structure, but about the whole attendee experience. We talked a little about this in #2, but fabrics and frames will need to keep human visitors as the focus of the space, as well as embodying the brand. This trend means going all the way back to the start and making sure that the attendee experience comes first and foremost when it comes to planning and design, not just what you want to include.
Will your visitors want a simple stand design that feels comfortable or one that feels edgy and exciting, with multiple areas of interactive engagement? What materials or lights or even smells will trigger what you want customers to feel and think?
Remember, these events should be a multi-sensory experience, so go beyond sight and sound to touch, smell, and even taste.
5: A greater mix of open and enclosed stand design
Looking at more practical trends when it comes to the design of exhibit, there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing more creative combinations of both open and enclosed areas in stands—simply because it allows you to cater to a variety of visitors.
Keeping part of your stand open allows for maximum flow and accessibility, making sure that you’re able to draw in and engage as many browsing attendees as possible. Those people who might be just be passing and/or who aren’t ready to make a purchasing decision just yet. Meanwhile, keeping a closed-off area with walls and even a ceiling can allow for a more private attendee experience, perfect for those purchase-ready attendees who want to take things to the next level and find out more about your product or service, for example with a guided demo.
6: Incorporate charging stations for phones and tablets
It’s a simple concept but a powerful one. We all live and work from our mobile devices these days, so what better way to draw in visitors (and keep them for an extended period of time) than enabling them to charge their phones and tablets at your stand?
Spending the day or weekend at a trade show takes its toll on these devices, seeing as there will be plenty of answering emails, taking and sharing photos, researching companies and products, or just passing time on social media. Providing a helpful place for visitors to recharge them isn’t only a good way of painting your brand in a great light, it also helps you put your marketing directly in front of attendees and allows your staff to engage them in conversation that could lead to unexpected sales. Charging stations are a mutually beneficial trade show trend we’ll definitely be seeing more of in the coming year.
7: Going live for a wider audience
We mentioned this in #3, but video technology is so accessible that you can now push beyond the trade show floor and reach an audience anywhere in the world.
VR could be one interesting way to do this. But live streaming has really found its feet on social media platforms like Periscope and Facebook, and it’s easy and cheap to do. All you need is a half-decent phone with video and a willing member of your team to take viewers on a tour of your stand or the show itself, and you’ll be attracting a captive audience in minutes, who’ll be more invested in your sales pitch than if you’d simply caught them passing your stand.
Better yet, with live streaming you can keep tabs on what works and what doesn’t, as viewers react and comment in real time. Meaning you’ll be able to engage with users directly: responding to issues immediately, running live polling to spark ideas, asking questions of your audience or getting them to ask you anything—all the while learning how to better optimise your trade show videos for peak future engagement.