2021 Trade Show Trends Marketers Need To Consider

Make the most of the “new normal” with these strategies for 2021 trade shows.

Over the course of the year, many restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have been loosened or lifted. While businesses and their constituents have been forced to accelerate their digital transformation, many ask themselves about the return of in-person trade shows and events and what the “new normal” will be. 

CDC reports show a returning tide of COVID-19 cases, so the United States probably shouldn’t get too comfortable. But, in the meantime, events are returning and accepting registrations. 

So what should one expect? 

What to Expect at 2021 Trade Shows

While working from home is convenient for many people who once commuted to office desks on a daily basis, there’s something to be said about “virtual fatigue”: spending more time staring at computer screens and less time getting out of the house. Some organizations suggest that working from home has brought more productivity, but there is still a benefit to getting out and shaking hands, whether figuratively or literally, and having in-person interactions and conversations. 

Still, business travel hasn’t rebounded quite yet. According to data from Adobe Analytics, while flight bookings are rising, business travel remains hindered by lingering COVID-19 concerns. While some business travelers are making a return to “normal” and attending in-person trade shows, we can expect that trade shows will have lower attendance. The Wall Street Journal reported that in February 2021, 5,000 people attended an event held by three apparel-industry trade shows. In early 2020, those shows drew about 55,000 total attendees. 

While attendance may be low, a silver lining to consider is the closer connection that you can create with those that are in attendance. You’ll have more time to focus on further developing rapport, relationships and solutions with those that you interact with. And you can ensure that you’re interacting with networks and prospects as people, not just numbers. 

How to Successfully Return to Trade Shows

When weighing your options, consider what the show itself is offering. One trade show in New York now hosts an outdoor event with beer instead of a structured concourse of aisles and attendees. By offering a new experience, a show can improve attendance and therefore the number of connections people make.

Enhance the Experience

Part of a brand’s role in returning to events should be enhancing that experience. So even if the physical location of the event isn’t changing, what can you do to impact the audience and help make sure attendees are having a good time while respecting the current situation? 

In the simplest of forms, a booth can do so by offering a hand sanitizer station. This not only shows your concern for safety but also creates a reason for people to stop by so you can cordially strike up a conversation. If “swag” is a part of your booth, consider branded disposable hand wipes or bottled sanitizer. Ensure your space isn’t compact and creates enough space for those that are still operating with caution as you interact with them.

Plan Ahead

Before even getting to the trade show, start planning. What can you do or show that’s engaging to the user and brings value that couldn’t be achieved online or that makes for a good virtual/in-person hybrid experience? 

To uncover and understand what will benefit your audience, do some digital research and start conversations:

  • Create connections by partaking in discussions in online forums associated with your industry or the event.
  • Ensure you’re up to speed on any market trends.
  • Use your own social media to ask your followers questions.
  • Reach out to current clientele or your sales team to learn more about customer mindsets, pain points and product/service experience.
  • Use an intent data platform, such as 6Sense, to create a segment and find out if any of your target accounts are attending; consider how you can personalize the experience to them.

When you’ve determined your goal and started an outline, get to the drawing board! 

  • What can you do to make your brand stand out? 
  • Can backdrops of video be used at your booth? 
  • Are you able to create VR or AR demos for a virtual “hands-on” experience? (Don’t forget to sanitize!) 
  • What can you share that is beyond paper handouts? 
  • Is there content that has been successful for your marketing initiatives? If so, how can you bring that story to life? 
  • Can you turn a case study into a real-life word-of-mouth referral by bringing a close customer contact to the show to speak about your solution? 
  • How can you use QR codes? They can facilitate quick access to further content or information, your rep’s LinkedIn profile or short lead forms to request or schedule a follow-up via an online calendar.
  • How can you live in real-time and connect the in-person and digital landscapes?

As your plan is further defined and set in stone, it’s time to make sure people know that you’ll be at the event and aid in its promotion. Go back to the channels you engaged within your research, let them know that they’ve been heard and tell them where they can learn more. 

Build Awareness

Build awareness by creating a landing page that brings attention to your presence or even teases what you’ll provide at the show. Is it a new product unveiling? Innovation to a current technology? Bringing the problem-solving capabilities to the eyes of the prospective buyer? Let users reach out to the rep who is attending to establish a connection sooner. Just make sure that you’re linking them to the appropriate place to do so.

Within various channels, you can create a display and search campaign with appropriate targeting methods based on keywords, accounts and/or job titles to inform the appropriate audience and build up anticipation for the event. You can even reach your target accounts by location targeting with services such as MobileFuse.

It doesn’t have to stop when the event starts. Using geofencing location targeting, you can set a perimeter around the trade show, tell users where your booth can be found and urge them to come visit you. 

Our digital lives have grown over the past year and a half, but that doesn’t mean traditions must be forgotten – just redefined. Keep quality, not quantity, in mind, and focus on the value of each person you meet. They, just like you, took the chance to travel and attend. So make it worth it.