Hard to believe as I write this we are just 4 short months away from it being 2020. I am really dating myself here, but it seems like yesterday we were all hearing about the Y2K bug as we rolled over from 1999 to 2000. Where does the time go?
As we hit another numerical milestone, it has me wondering: What will Trade Shows be like 1 year, 3 years, 15 years and beyond?
I have personally been in the trade show industry since 2007. So much change has occurred in a relatively short period of time from technology, our economy, and much more. These all directly or indirectly affect the trade show industry.
But let’s talk about the purpose of trade shows past and present before we stumble too far into the future.
Trade Shows… The Face-to-Face Marketing Channel
Trade Shows since the early days have been and will continue to be a place where humans can meet other humans face-to-face and learn about them and their products. I don’t think this will change…
…but I used to…
Rewind back to Circa 2008 and the market is crashing. Things are going down (stocks, real estate, job prospects, etc).
Trade shows took quite a beating along with most other industries during the Great Recession.
At the time, we weren’t sure what would happen. Some shows dropped 50-60% virtually overnight and some shows merged into other shows while others died out completely.
This period coincided with the increase in social media and advances in online technology. I would hear things like ‘virtual trade shows’ and think:
“Hmm, is everything going to move online and replace the physical convention center industry all together?”
I mean if you think about it, it wasn’t too far-fetched at the time. But luckily…
….I was wrong.
Like really wrong.
Not only did trade shows not go the way of the Dodo bird, but these new industries that I thought would lead to it’s demise actually spawned NEW TRADE SHOWS.
All of a sudden, there are Cloud Computing Trade Shows, Artificial Intelligence Trade Shows, and gasp!…Social Media Trade Shows!
I figured, ok if Social Media companies are having their own shows, then I’m feeling pretty good.
It turns out people still need to meet people face-to-face. This will never be replaced no matter how high-resolution our screens get. From business relationships to personal relationships, computers and the internet are a great tool, but it is not a replacement.
And neither is the ability to touch and feel new products in person.
So I stayed.
And in the process have witnessed some changes in the last 13 years. Here are a few:
Changes in Trade Show Industry over the Last 13 Years
#1 Mobile Technology
The biggest change that I can think of is mobile devices. When I started in 2007, we still had pretty unsophisticated phones. About half-way through 2007, the first iPhone came out and that started the mobile boom.
Now, people could communicate in ways never possible before from taking photos at the show and sharing, to Facetime and much more. It made logistics easier, sharing easier and gave essentially everyone a hand-held video camera.
#2 Rise of the Portable and Modular Exhibits
The increase in new print technology (especially printing on fabric) led to a boom of portable and modular displays.
It meant virtually any structure could be wrapped with fabric graphics. The reduction in cost combined with the advancement in computer modeling and manufacturing led to a boom in colorful and creative exhibits that are portable and easy to assemble.
#3 Backlit Trade Show Exhibits
Backlit exhibits were pretty much non-existent just a few short years ago.
This new trend in technology combined with the portable and modular exhibit elements made it possible to create vibrant and bright graphics that blew away non-backlit graphics making exhibitors scrambling to upgrade their own exhibit assets.
#4 Digital Kiosks
While TV Monitors have been around for a long time and continue to be used widely (especially now that the cost has dropped and the tv picture is absolutely stunning in 4K, 8K and beyond).
But now we have Interactive Digital Kiosks that allow Trade Show attendees to swipe, scroll and interact with the digital kiosk like they would with their phones.
This gives exhibitors another highly productive trade show asset to use for lead generation, marketing reels, and informative demos. These have been especially hot in 2019 and we anticipate this to really start to take hold going forward.
The Future of Trade Shows
So that all brings us to the future.
One can only speculate what the future holds, but if there is one thing for certain: It will have a lot to do with technology, but beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.
So without further adieu, here is my best guess for what is in-store for 2020 and beyond:
Technology will start being integrated with everything.
Those digital signage kiosks mentioned earlier will morph into larger and more dynamic interactive systems. Rather than just being one screen they will be made into walls, towers, etc.
The software to run them will become more advanced and will allow virtual tours of a company’s facility, can meet people on-site remotely and can view 3D models and a plethora of other integrations.
Exhibits that Build Themselves
We’ve already seen inflatable back walls, counters and towers, but what about a full exhibit that is inflatable or assembles by itself?
This one is a bit of a guess, but I could see the innovation of a crate that gets shipped to your booth space and it simply get’s inflated and assembled in minutes with everything needed to set up for it to be show ready.
Augmented Reality at Trade Shows
It’s hard to see exactly how augmented reality will fit into the equation, but I can definitely see it being a useful tool for attendees to navigate a large trade show floor using their mobile devices combined with augmented reality to see where other company’s booths are and pull up lots of information before they get there.
The Great Unknown
The funny thing about the future is we just don’t know. Think back 20 years ago, would we have predicted all the things that shape our lives today?
Since the 1950’s we’ve been promised flying cars, but that is still a distant reality.
One thing is for sure, whatever the future holds it will definitely be quite remarkable but still won’t be able to replace that deep part of our brains that needs to feel, see, touch and smell.
I hope when I go back and read this article 20 years from now, that will still be very much a part of this ever-changing industry.