Is your digital marketing portfolio missing an old-fashioned touch?

The case for why tradeshows still matter

By Brian Martucci
Monday, June 6, 2016

In a digital world, a tradeshow booth may be your company’s ticket to memorable marketing.

That’s according to Plymouth-based nParallel, which admittedly has a dog in the fight: they’re a tradeshow marketing company that specializes in designing, building and managing creative, totally customized displays. They’ve worked with heavy-hitting clients, including New Era and Bridgestone.

Old-fashioned displays seem quaint against a high-tech digital marketing backdrop. But that’s part of their allure, says nParallel co-founder Don Gonse. In a bits-and-bytes economy, the tradeshow is one of the few remaining drivers of tactile, face-to-face vendor-prospect interaction.

Tradeshows offer a rare opportunity “to captivate the customer’s attention through a live conversation,” says Gonse. “We believe that tradeshows build loyal, long-lasting relationships between clients and consumers.”

This isn’t just anecdotal speculation. According to an Exhibit Surveys report, about 50% of tradeshow attendees plan to buy within 12 months. What’s more, 63% of attendees are not current customers — that’s better than six conversion opportunities for every 10 people walking by a given tradeshow booth. And 38% of tradeshow attendees report that visiting tradeshow exhibits influences purchasing intent. Translation: tradeshows are high-ROI opportunities.

Tradeshows are also fun for attendees: 73% rate their experiences “excellent” or “very good,” according to Exhibit Surveys. That means more repeat visitors — and more selling opportunities for participating businesses.

Despite their old-school pedigree, tradeshows are well positioned to capitalize on a slow-building trend: millennials’ aversion to hard selling. As young people move up through the corporate ranks, they’re likely to precipitate a long-term (and perhaps permanent) strategy shift that rewards business partners with soft or collaborative selling approaches, and penalizes those with more aggressive tactics. That’s great news for tradeshow operators, who replace the awkward discomfort of the cold sales call with the warm embrace of the face-to-face get-to-know-you chat.

Tradeshows aren’t totally immune to the forces shaping the rest of the marketing world, though. Gonse and nParallel see some key trends coming down the pike:

  • Custom Tradeshow Booths: Actually a cost-saving measure. Companies pick and choose individual booth concepts to rent and use repeatedly, rather than design whole-cloth booths for just one use (or, at most, several).
  • Social Media Synergies: Pretty much every nParallel client uses social media to promote, curate, and follow up on their tradeshow activities. Get those tweeting thumbs ready!
  • Beyond the Table: These days, it’s all about the un-booth. Discerning tradeshow visitors gravitate to experiential displays — booths that feel like actual places, not marketing organs. The sky’s the limit here: “nParallel has built conference rooms, lounges, bars, snack areas and many other kinds of relaxing features like waterfalls and scent tunnels into exhibits,” says Gonse.

Bottom line? If you really want your prospects to remember your name, swap out that campy jingle (or annoying pop-up ad) for something they can actually touch, feel, and talk about with a real live human.