January 11, 2023

Talking Trade Shows

Marketing Topics

The State of Trade Shows in the B2B Space

Exhibiting at trade shows has been a marketing strategy staple for building materials brands for decades: showcasing products, building relationships with new and existing prospects and customers, and giving the industry a peek behind the curtain into what is new and innovative at your organization. In the building materials industry where relationship building is often a precursor to sales and long-term business, it is easy to understand why so many organizations dedicate a significant portion of their marketing budgets to them. What is the right number of shows to attend? How much should you be investing? How much different is the trade show landscape in 2023 compared to pre-pandemic 2019?

The COVID Effect

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down all in-person trade shows in 2020, which had lasting effects for planned events all throughout 2021 and into 2022. However, 2022 served as a turning point for the return of significant in-person attendance.

According to GES, a global exhibition management company, exhibitors were optimistic and excited about in-person events leading into 2022. When compared to virtual, 95% of trade exhibitors said they prefer in-person events. Their wishes came true as the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic began to wane and gatherings could commence as attendees felt comfortable enough to do so.

Still, the paradigm had unavoidably shifted. Manufacturers needed to move to a more digital mindset over that two-year span to attract prospects, nurture leads, and keep things humming. Those methods are still heavily relied upon even as trade shows come back into the fold.

Now is the critical time to consider where your organization invests its marketing dollars. The industry has been able to measure the impact of a lack of in-person trade shows. Some businesses feel they missed out. Others capitalized on enriching their digital marketing ecosystem and have witnessed its payoff going on three years now.

Regardless of how you approached the inevitable shutdown, experts point to even stronger trade show attendance in 2023. The lessons learned along the way – taking advantage of other means of prospecting or rethinking your trade show commitments – are critical components of your 2023 marketing strategy and beyond.

Current Trade Show Landscape

Despite an obvious dip in trade show participation in recent years, studies are indicating that trade shows are rebounding, showing how important many organizations feel trade shows are for relationship building, brand recognition, and sales. In fact, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) predicted the trade show market was expected to grow by 54.7% in 2022.

However, EXHIBITOR Magazine reports that many organizations are still hesitant about investing as heavily into trade shows. In fact, 39% of businesses surveyed still planned to exhibit at fewer events in 2022 than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an article by Cision PR Newswire, “Trade Show Trends of 2022 and Tips for Covering Events in 2023,” shows are indeed rebounding, but they will likely look different than they did back in 2019.

Another key finding by Cision: The persistence of staffing shortages and rising costs will continue to shape trade shows and affect exhibitors’ and attendees’ positions on participating. This remains an ongoing consideration for your building materials brand given the time and resources necessary to support a comprehensive, in-person trade show commitment. Taking staff off the grid to travel to a trade show for the better part of a week limits how you can allocate your people, making it even more important to demonstrate a return on your trade show investment.

A Virtual Reality

While in-person shows are back in full capacity in some instances, virtual options are now often a part of the program. Since March 2020, professionals off all kinds across the industry have become “remote-minded,” getting accustomed to working from home and attending events virtually. Consider that during peak phases of the pandemic, happy hours through a phone or laptop screen became the norm, and these tendencies made no exceptions for businesses either.

As far as the trade show experience is concerned, exhibitors and attendees both agree that in-person attendance is the more favorable method. In fact, in the building materials industry, many organizations have expressed disappointment in both attendance and effectiveness of virtual shows. However, some showgoers in the B2B space in general find that the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of virtual attendance make this option worthwhile. Plus, organizations can register entire teams for a virtual trade show without having to allocate dollars to travel and meals. This also eliminates the need for employees to dedicate multiple days out of the office and virtual shows can still offer a lot of the same education for attendees. Moving forward, we anticipate the most opportunity for remote shows being those that resemble webinars or another learning format to ultimately generate more participation and engagement.

Trade Offs

According to the 2022 PwC report, it will take trade shows another five years to fully recover to pre-pandemic levels in the B2B space. In the meantime, what other important marketing initiatives can your business prioritize? Here are some ideas:

  • Fortifying key assets on your website.
  • Bolstering your content marketing ecosystem.
  • Honing your social media presence and activating organic and paid social strategies.
  • Investing in email marketing campaigns and landing pages as appropriate, paired with proper list hygiene and cleaning up your CRM database.
  • Augmenting efforts with a strategic, targeted paid media program to reach the right customers.
  • Developing informed SEO and SEM programs that marry your brand and your online presence with key search terms.

Your organization will benefit from strengthening and fostering the growth of your digital marketing ecosystem. In an increasingly digital world – with options to “attend” trade shows that did not exist three years ago – building material manufacturers should remain flexible with how they allocate their annual budget. The changing trade show landscape presents a new set of circumstances, and a carefully crafted digital ecosystem gives you more trackability, measurability, and better results. Therefore, when you do attend trade shows, your ecosystem can pave the way for proper follow-up and lead nurturing after the show.

Our recommendation? Focus on building relationships with the right people at a select number of the right shows for your business. Then, rely on a well-built holistic digital environment and established processes to move leads through the funnel. As you prioritize which shows to attend, make sure to have a stronger purpose at each show as opposed to just focusing on awareness generation. Choosing to invest into shows when you have a product or service launch can help you maximize ROI and overall performance.

Others even suggest seriously cutting back on trade show investment entirely, including an article on Follow Your Buyer that lists a number of reasons to reconsider trade show participation:

  • Trade shows reach a finite audience.
  • They offer a short window of opportunity.
  • They do not reach a buyer’s entire decision-making group.
  • They make it expensive to win the “brand awareness battle.”

Designating Dollars

It is clear that the trade show landscape has shifted, and it will be a number of years until the B2B space fully catches back up to pre-pandemic levels.

In the meantime, consider how you can maximize your marketing investments to make your dollars work smarter. At the end of the day, are trade shows providing the type of ROI you are expecting? Before the pandemic, many organizations were spending 30% to 40% of their marketing budgets on trade shows. With overall attendance and sentiment toward trade shows dipping in the building materials industry, shifting some of those dollars to an investment in your digital ecosystem can pay real dividends.

Where to start?

Reach out to BLD Marketing, experts in the building materials industry with the know-how to create a well-oiled digital ecosystem primed for a smooth customer journey.

Let’s talk.

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