The advantages and disadvantages of exhibitions (and how to make sure yours is a success)
Posted by Tom Oakes
Exhibitions are a tricky beast.
On paper, they seem like an easy opportunity to get out there and meet customers, build relationships and drive sales. But in reality there are a lot of potential issues that could hurt your business—unless you go in prepared.
Sadly you won’t find too many good articles talking about both sides of the argument. So we thought it might be useful to break down the key advantages and disadvantages of exhibiting at trade shows, and how to give your exhibitions the best chance of success.
Advantage: Exhibitions are important for brand awareness
Appearing at an exhibition is a fantastic way to raise the profile of your brand. Research revealed by HubSpot has previously shown that up to 86% of businesses considered exhibitions as being highly valuable in helping reinforce and build brand awareness, while 73% saw it as one of the most important goals of attending (second only to increasing sales).
Getting yourself seen at a relevant trade show should therefore be a key goal for most businesses. Otherwise you’re missing out on a chance for your prospective customers to find you, plus making it easier for your competitors to capitalise.
“Find all the relevant exhibitions you know your audience and competitors will be at (more of that later) and make sure you’re there too. You’ll need to set aside a budget for attending and get a stand designed, but the opportunity to improve your brand awareness is one you shouldn’t pass up if you can help it.”
Advantage: You can meet your customers face to face
That same research (above) also found that 48% of event attendees say face-to-face interactions are more valuable than ever before, with another 43% believing that the value of these more personal meetings will only get more important.
And they’re not wrong. Because meeting people at exhibitions is one of the best ways of starting customer relationships. We may live a lot of our lives online today, but there is arguably no better method of creating a connection with someone than by meeting them in person. (If we can be a little more marketing-minded for a second, it’s also far more effective for getting a feel of how warm the lead might be, before passing their information on to the sales team.)
“Your exhibition staff need to be informed, prepared to chat, and be skilled at doing so. You also need to ensure that your exhibition stand is designed to provide whatever your prospective customers might need—whether that’s open space to browse and chat casually, or quiet spaces for more involved discussions about your product or service. Get all this right and you’ll be well equipped to create those long-lasting customer relationships.”
Advantage: You can scope out your competitors and their exhibition stands
This might not be the main reason for businesses wanting to attend exhibitions, but it’s certainly a useful bonus. Because if an exhibition is worth going to, you’re certain to find your main competitors will be there—and it will be a great chance to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
“Make sure you build in time for you or your staff to wander the venue and do a little bit of opposition research. Take notes, take photos or just look and learn and ask yourselves questions like: who has the most popular stand and what do you think is drawing in attendees? Then go away and think about how you can use this information to improve your own exhibition offering.”
Advantage: Exhibitions are the perfect place to launch innovative new products
A massive 80% of businesses use exhibitions to launch new products or services, and with good reason. There is only so much information you can get across online or in print. Videos have certainly helped, but nothing beats being able to explain your innovative new product or service in person and also being able to deal with customer questions as they experience it ‘first-hand’.
“Launches aren’t just great for showing prospective customers a new product or service, they’re also brilliant for gauging reactions. You should take the time to watch and listen to their initial experiences, because their reactions might well help you refine your approach to marketing. If they are all asking the same questions, you need to make sure you’re providing the answers for those who aren’t face-to-face, to ensure the entire customer experience is as smooth as possible.”
Disadvantage: There are a lot of costs (it’s not just about the exhibition stand design)
Yes, there are a number of costs built in to exhibiting. We’re not just talking about getting the best custom-built exhibition stand design (although it’s often worth the money to get this done properly, see below), but also the stand space at the venue, along with travel and accommodation. It can cost a lot in time too, as you’ll be out of the office for a few days, plus there’s the marketing that you need to undertake weeks or months ahead of time (to generate interest) and also after the event (to gauge success).
“It’s useful to build exhibition costs into your budget as standard, allowing for all the expenses described above. If budgets are tight, make a shortlist of the top events and maybe just hit the top one or two. And while marketing your appearance at these events might seem low on the scale of importance compared to things like building the stand, you need to make sure it isn’t overlooked. Poor promotion means you won’t get the return that your exhibition investment deserves, which can seriously dent your bottom line.”
Disadvantage: You’ll be judged against your competitors and their stands
We’ve already discussed how attending exhibitions means that your competitors don’t hog all the limelight. Plus the opposition research is useful to see how you match up. But don’t forget that you’re also being judged in the attendees’ eyes. They will be comparing you to other businesses and asking themselves what makes you superior—and with so much competition out there it could be tough to stand out. Unless you’ve put in the effort ahead of time and are showcasing yourself in the best possible light, you could be doing more harm to your business reputation than if you’d simply not attended.
“Preparation is everything. You need to market ahead of time. You need to make sure your offering and service on the day will give attendees the best experience possible. And, above all, you need to make sure you get the exhibition stand design right. It’s all very well saving money with a cheaper shell scheme, but that little bit of extra money for professional exhibition stand designers (plus project managers who can supervise everything from the build to delivery around the UK or Europe) might well be the thing that gives you a stand to really set you apart from the competition and draw the crowds.”
Disadvantage: Even if you’ve done everything right, your exhibition might not deliver
Of course, there’s every chance your exhibition might not deliver the results you need, despite top-notch event staff and a great stand. The event might not have drawn the right audience. There could be competing events which have thinned the crowd. The location might have been too awkward for a lot of people to get to (or stay near). All of which are out of your control and can have an impact on your exhibition ROI, which can hurt financially and also make it far more difficult to persuade the board to invest in future events.