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Letter to the editor: why do people visit trade shows?

by Martin Fullard

In a follow-up to EN guest editor Phil Soar’s recent article, Why do People Visit Trade Shows, reader Trevor Punt writes that it boils down to knowing your market.

Dear editor,

I was reading Exhibition News guest editor Phil Soar’s latest article and the question he posed: “why do people visit trade shows, and would they still do so if it wasn’t marketed at all…” and it prompted me to pen a response.

Why do people go to trade shows?

Recently Phil Soar pondered the question: “why do people visit a trade show, and would they still do so if it wasn’t marketed at all”.

In his EN article, he outlined a couple of scenarios, both of which entailed enticing exhibitors and visitors to participate by giving cash incentives. The result, predictably, was that exhibitors weren’t interested in “free”, and visitors were suspicious of “bribes”.


Potentially there are a lot of reasons. Yes, your event might be rubbish, yes there might be a competitive event in your industry, and yes there are excuses why participants don’t want to participate in your event. The question should be, why do visitors attend a competitive show rather than mine?

Most often it comes down to knowing your market. Phil says that online research through registration doesn’t work; he’s right. Face-to-face done right, does work, though there is a tendency to overthink things and effective research means asking the right questions. I’d guess that any organiser can predict what the reasons are why people participate, it’s not rocket science.

If you don’t, you shouldn’t be running events. (A little harsh perhaps but go around your office and ask people to give you a reason people participate in shows; I’d put good money on them not knowing).

In my opinion, there are only four things that make participants take part in an event:

  1. The market – if your show doesn’t address a market, or there is no market, your show is doomed to fail.
  2. What you’re going to see – the exhibits – if your exhibitor profile isn’t of interest, you’ll never attract other exhibitors nor visitors.
  3. Who you’re going to see – the visitors – if you’re not attracting the right type of attendee i.e., those who buy or contribute to the narrative, your show isn’t going to be an effective use of time?
  4. Cost – free doesn’t work, free cheapens your product – anyone looking for quality expects to pay. That’s why subscription services thrive, and some handbags go for thousands of pounds.

Get these right and produce a product that people want to ‘buy’, and exhibitor numbers will rise, visitors will want to attend, exhibitor retention rates will increase, and attendees will return year after year.

Do you need to market a trade show? Effective, in-depth market research and targeted, plausible marketing are essential to building an event with legs. If it’s niche or new, yes. If it’s long-standing and enduring, not so much. In either case, beware complacency.


Trevor Punt

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