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November 12, 2021

Are Trade Shows the Ultimate Marketing and Sales Tool? No, They’re Just One Piece of the Puzzle

By Ross Lancaster, Content Specialist

In B2B sales and marketing, trade shows have long been considered an ideal way to generate new leads and gain new business.

Trade shows, regardless of industry or sales cycle length, allow companies to speak about and demonstrate their products and services, communicate with leads at various stages of the buying journey, and make a face-to-face impression on anyone who stops by a booth or session. Additionally, the relatively low barrier to entry for an exhibitor company at a trade show means small- and medium-sized businesses can compete on the same playing field as companies with gargantuan marketing budgets.

But in early 2020, the B2B trade show market changed almost overnight due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The dominos started to fall with the cancellation of that February’s Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona. Within a few weeks of that show’s scheduled Feb. 24-27 date, almost the entire world of in-person trade shows came to a halt amid lockdowns and quarantines around the world. 

While trade shows via Zoom and online breakout rooms and sessions became the norm, the impact on the American B2B trade show market was such that the value of the sector plummeted from $15.6 billion in 2019 to just $5.6 billion in 2020. With COVID-19 still ebbing and flowing in waves and variants, the trade show market isn’t expected to reach 2019 levels until the middle of the decade at the earliest.

Furthermore, a 2021 Ironpaper survey found that while 85% of respondents relied on in-person trade shows to generate demand, just 14.5% found that these events were among the most successful lead generation strategies. B2B companies were also found to be shifting significant portions of their in-person trade show budget to areas like digital marketing and online advertising.

Screen Shot 2021-11-12 at 11.41.04 AMWhile in-person trade shows will still be around, businesses won’t be able to rely on them for lead generation and new business like they once could. Those B2B companies who combine digital practices with in-person events will be best equipped to navigate the modern buyer’s journey — and be prepared for any abrupt market shakeups.

Here are some digital strategies that B2B companies can use to drive demand.

Webinars

Even as trade shows resumed in 2021, webinars skyrocketed in popularity, with data analyses showing a 162% increase in the use of webinars. The same analyses showed that marketers are nearly unanimous in including webinars in their future plans.

This is because webinars are highly effective at delivering leads to businesses. And unlike the all-day nature of trade shows, most webinars should take less than an hour from start to finish as a best practice, with many available on-demand for those who signed up but couldn’t attend live.

Here are some other major benefits of webinars as part of a cross-channel marketing strategy:

  • Webinars get you in front of some of your best audiences by speaking about an important topic.
  • Credentialed speakers who do business with your brand or work for your company give prospective new leads and those already in the funnel reason to trust your authority to speak on the webinar topic.
  • Promoting the webinar on social media and other channels allows you to talk to potential buyers you haven’t reached yet.
  • Attendee and signup contact information allows you to stay in touch with leads via nurture campaigns, newsletters, and new events.

Digital marketing and content marketing — together

Digital marketing and content marketing are very broad brushes that contain many potential elements and strategies that would be impossible to comprehensively cover here. But it’s a best practice for digital strategies like Google pay-per-click, SEO, and LinkedIn campaigns to work together with content.

For example, a LinkedIn campaign tied to a content offer can have the sharpest looking ad campaign under the sun, but a piece of content that’s not relevant to buyers or isn’t written professionally won’t leave a good impression on a lead post-conversion. Conversely, SEO can help inform where buyer-driven search intent is coming from and lend a big hand to a content team that needs to make sure blogs and other website copy is reaching the right audience through organic and paid search.

Improved UX design

You don’t have to have 20 years of digital marketing experience to know that Google changes its search algorithm all the time. And while that fact is the bane of many marketers’ existence, the changes are often for good reasons, like preventing keyword stuffing or spammy backlinks for artificial authority boosts.

In recent years, the algorithm has incorporated machine learning and artificial intelligence to a greater degree for context purposes and prioritized high-quality content. Now, Google is emphasizing user experience through its Page Experience Update. This means that high-quality content will no longer do the job on its own if page designs are confusing and page speeds are subpar. The update has already been pushed to mobile, but Google will have the updates made on desktop in February and March of 2022.

Don’t forget about trade shows altogether

While it may seem as if trade shows will be minimized in the coming years, they’ll still have a place as one piece of a complete sales and marketing puzzle. Trade shows still offer the hard-to-replace connection of face-to-face contact with prospects in the buyer’s journey. But overall strategies B2B marketers will employ for the foreseeable future mix digital and face-to-face marketing tools.

Sources

Business 2 Community, Six Key Benefits Trade Shows Have To Market Your Business, Aug. 12, 2014.

Business Wire/ON24, Global Report Shows Use of Webinars Triples, Driving Digital-First Engagement Across Industries, June 2, 2021.

LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, Webinar Best Practices: An Activation Playbook.

Search Engine Journal, Google Page Experience Update Begins Rolling Out, June 15, 2021.

Statista/PwC, Value of the B2B trade show market in the United States from 2012 to 2024.

Yoast, Page experience: a new Google ranking factor, July 7, 2021.