The Death Of Trade Shows As We Know Them: 5 Insights

By Tom Schramski, PhD, CMAA

Volume 2 Issue 23, November 10, 2015

tt152-d1841199-acfc-456b-acf2-61464df36861-v2Professional trade shows, with their exhibition halls and rows of service and ware booths, are in the midst of profound change.  Attendance is dropping dramatically at many of these national events as we enter a new age of marketing, especially in the healthcare arena.  Why is this happening and where are we headed?

Here are a few insights based on our international experience:

  • The Great Recession, especially in the US, so severely affected many healthcare businesses that they had to create a new business model to survive.  In the process of these changes many discerned that trade show exhibiting returned very small value for the expense compared to other forms of advertising.
  • A new set of marketing opportunities has been created by our expanding digital world, including virtual exhibitions floors, such as McKnight’s Marketplace, where thousands of products and services are available 24/7.  They even offer free shipping.
  • Traditional conferences and exhibitions are often created to provide significant income streams to the trade associations first, before the goals of the exhibitors, who are also their customers, are considered.  This is becoming painfully evident to the product and service companies that typically spend thousands of dollars to attend, with little attention paid them by conference organizers.  These companies are now looking for a better way to spend their valuable resources to reach decision makers.
  • As healthcare companies carefully re-examine their value proposition, they are also going more local, much as microbreweries are challenging Budweiser.  The result has been the emergence of new local networks and the expansion of existing regional groups.  These offer considerable savings as well as the option to involve more company employees in the marketing effort.
  • Long-term relationships, not the speed dating-like exchange of business cards, are the commerce of sustainable marketing and sales.  These relationships are built in many ways through contact in more intimate settings than trade show floors. Today’s enlightened healthcare marketers are increasingly looking to engage customers in affiliations outside of the trade association’s control.

The growing beliefs that time is more precious than ever, that value depends on transparent data for efficacy, and that personal decision-maker contact is the key to successful transaction are fueling a re-thinking of marketing in the healthcare field.  This is amplified by the innovation and disruption currently underway.

Forward-looking trade associations and conference organizers are embracing this truth and responding to it with new opportunities for their exhibitor customers.  Those who don’t will become the dinosaurs of our generation in the natural evolution of the healthcare marketplace.