TLDR: B2B brands will be far more considerate about just how much real ROI a huge trade show floor space can generate in the coming years and deeply consider whether this money is better spent on creating value through content, building owned communities and investing in brand.
Last week was my first in-person industry conference since September 2019.
For four days I stood dutifully ready on an exhibition booth to take customer questions, scan business cards and document the whole shebang on our corporate Instagram account.
It was a lot of fun. 🙂
But it was also very different from pre-pandemic shows. And what I experienced will certainly influence my approach to B2B events across 2022 and beyond.
Here’s what I learned.
Let me quickly set the scene by sharing some details on this particular event to frame my takeaway. This particular event was:
- A well-established conference that has run for 25+ years and counting
- Historically classed as a networking/deal-making event with mid-sized exhibition component of vendors on booth and small content agenda
- Typically target senior-level decision-makers within the target market (e.g. C-suite)
Not everything I share below will be applicable to every type of event. Companies will (and should!) approach an intimate conference differently to a big-booth exhibition or networking do, for example.
Future of Booths
Honestly, I’m conflicted.
On one hand, I can see the value in a company hiring a dedicated space within an exhibition hall that can be branded and serve as a central hub of activity.
On the other hand, I can’t help but feel that the usual high expense that comes with owning a booth would be better spent on other channels for far better results in a post-COVID world.
Look at it like this.
When budgeting for a booth you have to consider:
- Cost of renting the space
- Cost of set-up and break-down
- Cost of designing/building the structure
- Cost of transport to and from the event
- Cost of on-stand materials (devices, literature, WiFI, etc.)
This can account for up to 40% of your total event budget. And for what?
Sure, you can host meetings. But can you not do that at a nearby cafe? Or rent a private meeting room on-site at a fraction of the booth cost?
Yes, a potential client may stumble on your stand as they’re walking around. But isn’t it better to target your ideal buyers online pre-event with great content instead of relying on fate?
And OK – you control your messaging and story on a stand. But you can do the same during a keynote at the same event and probably get more eyeballs to boot.
There was a record low number of brands exhibiting with a booth at my event.
Perhaps this is just a case of the jitters on spending big booth bucks while the pandemic still influences attendee numbers due to travel restrictions.
But maybe it’s a case of brands beginning to realise that they don’t need the trade show stand to get in front of their target buyers anymore.
That OWNING an audience rather than RENTING one can yield far greater results over the long-term.
Booth Activation in 2022 and Beyond
Like a comfortable pair of socks that you can’t bear to throw away despite the growing hole that your big toe now calls home, most brands I saw stuck with the familiar for their booth activation… hosting meetings.
This is fine! But it represents a missed opportunity.
Over the last 20 months, existing trends around buyer behaviour have accelerated.
In the face of lower barriers to entry across many B2B markets enabling a startup to form every minute, brand building has never been more important to grab the attention of your prospective customers.
You need to not only convince a buyer you can solve their problem. You have to be top of their mind when they need that problem to be solved.
This won’t happen if you publish tech specs and feature lists into the void like every other B2B company out there. It’ll just be more white noise amongst a sea of the stuff.
You have to be memorable.
And if you are going to invest in a booth, surely it makes sense to use it as an opportunity to do just that?
Here are some general activation ideas that can elevate what is otherwise simply a meeting space into something noteworthy.
- Host a ‘mini-conference’ on your stand and livestream to your database for folks who can’t make the in-person event. Invite ‘celebrity’ guests.
- Create an Instagram-able moment attendees can’t resist taking a snap with on your booth – maybe a graffiti wall created by a local artist?
- Foster some kind of friendly competition and opportunity to show off – shooting hoops or taking soccer penalties. Include a leaderboard + prize for the highest score.
- Have baristas on stand making free specialty coffees that can be enjoyed on some uber comfortable sofas. Be ‘the place’ to unwind in between meetings.
- I’ve even heard of brands having a ‘puppy pen’ on stand. Yes, you read it right – actual puppies available for a quick cuddle. Imagine the serotonin blast!
Of course, these ideas can work on their own or be styled to fit your specific industry or sector.
If you’re targeting developers, promote and host a micro hackathon pre-event with the results on display during the event.
Work in packaging? Build your stand out of recycled cardboard.
Imagine the queues of people that would form if you were offering personalised bobbleheads created in your company’s 3D printer in exchange for their contact details?
Your aim should be to make a booth people are still talking about at next years’ show.
B2B brands will be far more considerate about just how much real ROI a huge trade show floor space can generate in the coming years and deeply consider whether this money is better spent on creating value through content, building owned communities and investing in brand.
Where marketers do choose to invest in a physical event presence, the winners will be the ones who aim to create meaningful brand experiences versus just simply a place to hold meetings.