What is a Trade Show?

Scrapbook Update has been receiving a campaign of emails and tweets encouraging us to write about and promote an upcoming “virtual trade show” event in the scrapbook industry. We will not be doing so, and I am here now as editor to explain why.

It is tempting, as society is taken over by technology, to think that everything can be replaced and even made better by technology. That is not always the case. To learn why that is not the case with a trade show, you have to first consider: What is a trade show?

A trade show is not a shopping mall.

A trade show is not a place for buyers to run through with list in hand, checking off items and getting in and out as fast as possible like a frantic last-minute holiday shopper with presents still to wrap and dinner to cook.

There are many different ways for crafts industry buyers to view and order products: reps, distributors, buying groups, vendor websites. A trade show (in any format) simply isn’t necessary just to facilitate actual commerce transactions like it was 20 years ago. The limited perception of trade-show-as-shopping-mall sets everyone involved up for failure, because it then colors the choices that the participants (both vendors and buyers) make on-site about how to spend their time and how to spend their resources. Ultimately, the tight focus on buying and selling – which all involve recognize can be completed other ways – leaves everyone afterwards feeling unfulfilled and wondering what the point of the event was.

So if the point of a trade show is not buying and selling, what is it?

A trade show is about people, about relationships, about sharing the knowledge that is inside all of the attendees’ heads, and about building on all of that together as a group.

The real value of a trade show is in the conversation struck up with a fellow attendee that leads to learning something unexpected that helps your business, or even leads to a relationship that creates a new business. The value of a trade show is in confidential one-on-one conversations (not ones that are broadcast over the internet and even recorded). The value of a trade show is in the booth you only notice because it has attracted a crowd, or the lunch line chat that sends you somewhere you’d never have made time to go. The value of a trade show is in sitting in a class and turning to the person next to you to see what they are doing when you miss something, or being able to get a helpful prompt from a teacher’s assistant. It’s being able to get a quick replacement for a piece of paper that you mess up using, or for a defective class kit item, so that it doesn’t derail your whole class experience.

I could, literally, go on and on about the value in an on-site trade show. It’s there for the taking…if you reach for it. If you ask the questions, look hard at the samples (and notice details), attend the seminars and demos, and notice the people around you and engage them, you create the value and get out of the show experience what you put into it. The value of a trade show is in…presence. It is spontaneity, interaction, and physically touching items. The value of a trade show is in the unexpected, the unplanned.

And despite my statements about them not being shopping malls, the internet hasn’t made trade shows completely redundant for purchasing craft products. Anyone who has ever shopped online knows that color display on a computer is very inaccurate. Seeing a product in person is the only real way to know its true color, and lots of other details like paper weight and texture don’t convey well online either. Just watching a demo of a tool is very different from having the demonstrator hand it you and say “try it!”. Getting touchy-feely with product definitely has its advantages.

Believe it or not, I learned this value of in-person events in an ironic place that you might least expect: the tech world. While it might seem that the technology industry, where people are quick to adopt and become heavy users of new technologies, would be first to abandon the concept of  “old school” in-person events, I found the exact opposite to be true. That industry downright treasures the handshake, understanding the value of sitting down over a cup of coffee to bat ideas around or share information, or of a group discussion in a seminar room.

That’s not to say that the tech industry is a trade show dinosaur. Instead, they’ve adapted their events to the new modern era. Their few “old school” style trade shows with aisles of booth displays aren’t put on for buyers as much as for marketing to press, to create word-of-mouth marketing, and to provide education to the industry’s top echelon of participants. In many instances the products on display are prototypes that aren’t even going to be on sale in the near future. (For a comparison in the crafts industry, reference what Craftwell did by exhibiting at several CHA shows before the release of the e-craft machine). The majority of the tech industry’s events are conference-style, focusing on seminars and speeches and roundtable discussions. The focus is on ideas and making connections, not on commerce.

One of my favorite tech events, Photoshop World, is a kind of hybrid of the old and new formats. Staged to educate professional photographers and designers about Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom products and help improve their photography skills, the event includes both a vendor floor and a heavy concentration on classroom sessions. However – unlike most such traditional events – the classroom sessions and the vendor floor do not take place at the same time. The classroom sessions take place in the morning and evening, and the vendor floor is open in the afternoon. This way, vendors can attend the sessions themselves, and do not have to compete with the sessions for the attention of the attendees. I’ve found it greatly enhances my event experience to not feel pulled in multiple directions – do I attend this session, or see more of the vendor floor?

Trade-show-as-shopping-mall was the 20th century way of doing business. We all need to start taking on the 21st century perspective on doing business at shows, an emphasis on people. The Craft & Hobby Association has begun to make that shift in its format and offerings this year with the introduction of the conference format, but ultimately, the change in philosophy has to take root in the psyche of the show attendees for it to be successful. We all have to decide what it is that we want out of the experience. Are we willing to settle for a shopping mall? Or do we want the chance to learn, to create opportunity, and work to take our businesses to the next level? Do we want the opportunity to really do business? Or do we want to sit on our couches and shop over the internet?

One last thing…if you think you aren’t interested in “doing business”, that you are content to stay quietly at home and do your shopping and watch a few seminars online, there is something that you need to remember. It is innovation and new ideas and change and cooperation – people – that keep an industry developing and healthy. If everyone stays home, none of those things happen, leading to stagnation and decline in the industry. If people do come together and build something, and you weren’t part of the building of it, you will soon be left behind.

Simply put: Getting a group of people from an industry together in one place to discuss and do business cannot be replaced by a series of video broadcasts. Face-to-face meetings are critical not only to the development of individual businesses, but to the health of the industry as a whole.

Thinking in this new way about trade shows requires stepping outside our comfort zones for most of us. It requires undoing years or even decades of lessons about what a trade show is and how a successful one works. We have to stop thinking about trade shows in terms of dollars of product bought and sold. We have to start judging them in terms of things like the cementing of customer relationships, advancing marketing goals, professional education, and building networks. We need to stop thinking in terms of the quantity of the attendees and focus on the quality of the attendees and the quality of our interactions with them.

Take responsibility for your business’s future and your industry’s future. Don’t do the usual. Challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone and make your trade show experience something that is productive for you and your business.

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27 Responses to What is a Trade Show?

  1. Katrina Hunt July 12, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    Great post Nancy! This is my first CHA and I am looking forward to the INTERACTION in person with everyone!

  2. Martha Richardson July 12, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    My 1st CHA and that is exactly why I am so excited…to be able to meet artists & designers, bloggers & online retailers, manufacturers that I know through the virtual world of the net, to meet them face to face, in person!

  3. Caroline July 12, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    What an excellently written article. Sadly I cannot attend CHA and will have to make do with what is made available online… My experience of the event will be the poorer because of that! But I completely agree that we mustn’t lose sight of the value of “face time”. I think one of the signs of maturity in the tech world is in discerning what is, and isn’t, appropriately translated onto the internet. There is certainly a place for online meetings and e-commerce, but it’s refreshing to read how “progress” does not simply mean “put it online”. Internet is no substitution for interaction.

  4. Candy July 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    I am in a different line of business but I have manned booths at trade shows. And I am a professional trainer so I know how important it is to have the opportunity to give and take feedback and answer questions. Your editorial is terrific. Having said that though, I asked a local LSS business owner if she was headed to CHA. She said ‘no way’. She can order through a rep and that is just fine with her. I understand that. Trade shows disrupt lives and are exhausting. Perhaps having all methods available to promote trade is in our future. And I say that because I do not rely on her for my inspiration, rather just for the product. You have the big picture in mind and we need you to continue with that. Go Nancy!

  5. Belinda Basson July 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    Wow, this is so well written, I must say that I tend to gloss over most long wordy blogs, but I read and enjoyed your entire article and agree wholeheartedly with you. The net has its place but will never take the place of a face to face meeting of like minded people.

  6. Deb V. July 12, 2011 at 11:13 pm #

    In some ways, I do agree with your posting, but in alot of ways, i disagree. I am a small store owner who is definately not able to attend a CHA event. (both in time and money). Of course in face meetings are always the best, but for those of us not able to, why not do the next best thing by visiting virtually….think facebook, twitter, Yahoo groups, etc.. I do my best to keep up with news in the industry. and am a bit disappointed that you will not talk more about the virtual trade show. Any and all information is always helpful, both about CHA, and alternative events. To include one, and not the other is a dis-service. Although I only own a small store in rural Canada, I do my best to keep extremely current… I network with other store owners, I have visited my local wholesaler in Canada (two provinces away) for a small trade show event, I have met “scrapbook celebs” such as Tim Holtz, Becky Higgins, etc. I have talked with company owners and designers about products, ideas, etc. I have been published in scrapbook magazines, develop classes, organize and run scrapbook events, I take my store on the road to local crops, all this plus I am raising a young family. Don’t think any less of me because I can’t get to CHA…I visit blogs like this one to get as much information about the industry as possible. I think you are making a mistake by not giving all the information about both types of show…CHA and virtual. Lastly, I believe that the vendors attend trade shows to SELL! Of course they give information, classes, etc, but the bottom line is that they need to SELL THEIR PRODUCTS. I hope this does not offend, as that is not my intent, but to rather explain that alot of us smaller store owners have different ideas. Sometimes, it feels like no-one can relate to our struggles.

    • Trina B July 13, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

      I agree with Deb V! I too can not even entertain the thought of going to CHA for both time and cost reasons, but take as many opportunities as I can to learn and network and help grow my business! Well put Deb! 🙂

  7. Mary Kay July 13, 2011 at 3:41 am #

    I have to disagree, too, Nancy. You haven’t mentioned the main reason that a virtual tradeshow is even being considered by buyers or by vendors: MONEY. Tradeshows are ridiculously expensive for vendors, and pretty dear for buyers, too. None of my retailer friends are going to Chicago next week, because they can’t afford to. They’ll have to stay home and click through the emails and check out the blogs and wait for their reps to get home from the show with samples. Would they rather be there in person? Absolutely. But in most cases it’s not an option.

    As for electronic communication being a poor substitute for face time, I’m not sure that ‘s always the case. Yes, many times I’ve made excellent discoveries or heard about business strategies in the lunch line or waiting for a class to start. But the very best source of information and ideas I’ve ever had access to is a small, private board for retailers that I belong to. I gained mountains of knowledge from the other owners before I ever met a single one in person.

    But back to the expense: Imagine what those vendors could do with the money saved from the show. There are already a number of “big” companies skipping it this summer– BasicGrey, Fiskars, Making Memories among them. The virtual tradeshow includes “tradeshow in a box,” a way for the vendors to get samples in front of retailers (and for retailers to get product with which to make their own samples, a critical benefit of buying at a show).

    I’m not sure whom you were addressing when you said this: “Take responsibility for your business’s future and your industry’s future. Don’t do the usual. Challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone and make your trade show experience something that is productive for you and your business.” It seems to me that you are making an argument in FAVOR of a virtual tradeshow. We have to be willing to try things we haven’t tried to make things change; I think this virtual tradeshow idea is a great start.

    If there were no more live shows, would I miss seeing all my industry friends? Would I miss the giveaways, the make-n-takes (which are actually part of the virtual show, too), handling product and getting to try tools? Absolutely. Would I trade all of that for a more viable industry, one where vendors didn’t need to constantly cut into retailers’ margins for “promotions,” or one where vendors could actually afford to do what Scrapbook Business has suggested, and sell to the independents first and make the big boxes wait three months? You better believe it. SOMETHING has to give in this industry; a way to save retailers AND manufacturers money has got to be a good thing.

    The papercrafting industry depends on it.

    • Trina B July 13, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

      Agree! Well put! 🙂

    • Nancy Nally July 13, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

      Absolutely trade shows need to be more affordable but if they are done correctly the ROI is there and attendees of all types will make back more than they spent attending. IF the show is designed right and taken advantage of well.

      When I asked people to step outside their comfort zones I meant for them to stop doing the on-site trade show the same old way that they always have. They have to look at it a new way to be able to get what they need out of it. These events still have immense value but people are so stuck in the old way of doing things that they can’t access it.

      A retailer board is certainly a valuable resource…but you are missing out on input and knowledge from so many more participants in the industry than just that segment. And where are you getting education about how to effectively run your business, on topics like marketing?

  8. LindaBabe July 13, 2011 at 6:19 am #

    Nancy, that was a very well written and insightful editorial. I think the points you state are good reasons for people to attend conventions in their field and for consumers to attend consumer shows such as the Creating Keepsakes Conventions. I’ve always been inspired and come home totally energized from the events I’ve attended.

    Like so many issues, though, I can see both sides.

    The “other” side is – that funding isn’t always available. The few LSS remaining in my region of the country are struggling to survive. They are often one or two woman operations. They flat can’t afford to close the shop and go to Chicago or LA to shop OR enrich themselves.

    The same for consumers – I know I personally would attend classes every week if there was an LSS within 100 miles – and I could afford them. But on a retiree’s income that’s not going to happen. I’d go to a convention every quarter if it was in my budget. But overnight stays in distant cities are pricey.

    I would rather buy my suppies where I can touch, see and smell them in person. I’d rather learn in person from a real live teacher where I can examine the detail and ask questions.. But here in scrappy wasteland, I only get to do that on a road trip. Otherwise, I must depend on what I can learn and see on the internet.

    • Nancy Nally July 13, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

      The point of this piece is that that money will return itself – and then some – if attendees at the show take advantage of the show correctly. They’ll learn things that will earn them back more money than they spent at the show.

      • Mary Kay July 13, 2011 at 3:53 pm #


        I was going to keep my mouth shut (no small feat for me!), but I have to object to the idea that retailers or vendors are failing (or not getting the most out of the show, or whatever your measure is) because we’re not “doing it right.”

        I don’t disagree for one minute that there are enormous benefits to be had beyond the obvious buying or even the classes and make-n-takes and seeing the product in person. I have realized many of those benefits myself. But retailers and manufacturers have got to partner more strategically if we’re all to survive, and that can be done without the enormous expense of a show. You contend that retailers will ” learn things that will earn them back more money than they spent at the show,” but I don’t think that’s likely in an atmosphere where, despite employing every strategy they learn from other retailers, consultants like K&B, seminars and conversations with vendors, most retailers can’t make rent.

        CHA membership is about $150 (for most independents); a cheap flight (being very optimistic) might be $250; hotel, at best, would be $140/night, and let’s assume you find a roommate and split that to $70/night. (If you take a staffer with you and have to pay for her flight and room, double those numbers.) A badge is $25. You come Sunday night to take classes on Monday, you leave on Wednesday before the show’s even over, and you have spent over $600. There’s no amount of learning that could make that back for most retailers right now.

        Reading this back, I realize I sound like I’m condemning CHA– and tradeshows in general– to obsolescence. That isn’t my intent; I am merely suggesting that, despite your dismissal of it, a virtual tradeshow could be of tremendous value to vendors and buyers in this environment.

  9. Gab July 13, 2011 at 8:18 am #

    Great article Nancy. I’d love to be able to attend CHA at some point

  10. Stacey McElyea July 13, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

    I really appreciate you article Nancy, but like Mary Kay, what it comes down to is MONEY. CHA is out of touch with both the buyer and vendor. None of us can afford the ridiculous amounts of $$$ that we are forced to spend. As a vendor at CHA summer last year, we had to “rent” a piece of carpet (the floor must be covered) for a 10×20 booth and paid $500.00. Then another $300.00 for a power strip, and don’t get me started on drayage fees. I have to sell a lot of product just to pay those fees, and there is no getting around it. As much as I would like to join in the “experience”, as a business owner, it has to be a good and wise investment of my time and a LOT of money. Unfortunately, CHA is no longer a wise investment of those resources. My business can’t survive on experience. It has to have cash flow, and if buyers can’t afford to come. . . .I’m foolish to waste those resources on shaking hands and making friends.
    Now don’t get me wrong. Even though I have a self proclaimed “bad attitude” towards CHA, if they were to REALLY listen and make changes that were good for everyone. . . I would get behind it and be supportive. They need to cut the fluff. Hold the show in a NON-UNION state. Realize that the floors don’t have to be covered. This industry isn’t about $500 worth of carpet on the floor. It’s about creativity. It’s time for CHA to be creative and listen to it’s members. If they don’t. . . they just might not be around. The economy won’t support the current CHA model.
    Now given the decision of participating in a virtual show and CHA. . . at this point. . . .I would have to go with the virtual show. Yes, you do loose that one on one experience, but time is money and we have to be efficient. If I can get my product seen my buyers at a fraction of the cost and can submit a class video for the buyer to watch at their convenience. . . .it’s just makes sense for me to participate in that. Look at what Facebook has done for this industry. We can share so much talent, get so many ideas, share videos, and encourage each other in multiple ways. To me. . . .that is priceless! So the idea of a virtual trade show excites me. It saves time and money and buyers can order in their jammies if they choose. It’s a win. . . win.

    • Mary Kay Seckinger July 13, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

      Stacey, I hope you WILL bring Shimmerz to the virtual tradeshow. Both buyers and vendors must make a leap of faith– fortunately it’s a much cheaper one than a traditional show.

    • Nancy Nally July 13, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

      I didn’t say that I didn’t think the existing system didn’t have problems. I completely recognize that things need to be made more affordable, especially for vendors, and I think some of the more modern approach to shows actually helps do that when fully adopted because it can do things like reduce booth and staff expenses for a company. That said, I think completely abandoning the on-site show for a virtual show is throwing out the baby with the bath water, so to speak. It’s bulldozing a house because it needs new carpet and a paint job.

      The entire point of this article is that if a trade show is done correctly by all parties involved, the money spent is not thrown away. It is a financial investment that is then returned in various ways so that the net ends up being a gain long term.

  11. Janis July 13, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    As a small store in a small town, and in particular this economy, going to CHA is cost prohibitive. The expenses of getting there have already been mentioned – plus the cost of staffing the store while gone. And we little independent retailers are also competing with the big box stores…even at CHA. And don’t get me started about the laxness that allows way too many consumers in.

    Definitely an in-person trade show such as CHA is much preferred to a virtual trade show. However, I think it’s absolutely fabulous that this option is being offered. For those vendors and retailers who can’t attend CHA, what a smart way to “meet up” and learn about new products.

    You made many valid points, Nancy; but I do disagree with your decision to not cover the virtual trade show. I think you’ll be missing out on an important aspect of this industry that should be covered.

  12. Debby July 13, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    I agree with Nancy on the point that nothing in the virtual world will replace face to face “doing business”. It is the very same argument I have made for why people should support their local independent stores rather than shop online! However, by the same token, for many the expense of attending a show (or shopping at an independent) is prohibitive. That is why online stores are successful and why a Virtual Trade Show has its merit as well. It is also why I think you are wrong to choose not to cover an important development in the industry. Would you also choose not to report on online stores like many of your sponsors?

  13. scrappin2boys July 14, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    This was very well written, Nancy. I used to be a contoller, and one thing that a trade show does is add goodwill to your business. The more people know about you and your innovation, or what makes your business unique, the more goodwill your company will have. I know it is just an accounting term to many, and many don’t understand why it is on the books, but it does help for loans, mergers, and eventually sales of a company, if that becomes necessary. As a customer of these companies, I firmly believe that what happens behind the scenes at these shows directly effect my purchases. A tweak to an idea to make it better, makes it more desirable in the market. A new idea that a company comes up with as a result of a class or talking to other artists at the trade show, makes my scrapbooking easier and more exciting to me. I hope CHA continues for a long time

  14. L July 16, 2011 at 12:44 am #

    I wish that I could attend CHA, but as a small independent retailer I cannot even think about spending that money. A CHA membership, flight, hotel, food…. All of that could be spent on product for my customers which in turn means sales for our shop. I do enjoy trade shows because of the interaction with vendors and the classes offered, but there is no CHA on the East Coast and for us it is just totally unrealistic to spend $1500.00 – by the time I got to CHA I wouldn’t have money to buy collections – With the money I don’t spend at CHA, I can purchase 5-6 collections.

  15. Sandy July 16, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    This is my first CHA – and I cannot tell you how excited I am. The online experience never matches what real life can do…and I plan to run my little feet ragged chatting with people all over the place. A lot of people think I’m going to get free samples of stuff – that’s what they think of as CHA, a place to get swag – and seriously, if I come home with a suitcase full, someone slap me. Instead I want to come home with lots of new friends tucked into my iphone, ready to chat about more opportunities later.

    • Nancy Nally July 16, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

      Looking forward to meeting you and getting the chance to talk with you Sandy! See you at CHA!

  16. Karen Poirier-Brode July 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

    I believe you are correct about the trade show experience Nancy. Hard to imagine how exhausting it would be to even go through all the presentations of a virtual trade show. There is a place for highlights for consumers like HGTV does at the kitchen and bath show and other trade shows, and even for CHA with the presentations for consumers by the live streaming of the event for charity by charitywings,org. The amount of time needed to edit and present each booth in a way that craft business folk would get to assess quickly what is being offered and then get the in depth they needed might be more costly to produce and present than even a live show costs. Virtual is not free.

  17. James / Founder of Scrapbook Trade Expo July 29, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    Nancy you have a great website here and I agree with most of your positions, but this post really seems out of touch with the social empowerment of the web. Face book and YouTube have done more to build relationships and help people stay in touch than all the tradeshows, school reunions and family reunions combined. The web is all about relationships and the convenience of education and information. Here is are some interesting statistics about the web and social networking

    Many Vendors just paid tens of thousands of dollars to merely speak to 20% of the industry buyers. The question isn’t whether or not you like CHA, the real question is how are the vendors going to speak to the remaining 80% that didn’t attend the show?

    This isn’t a CHA issues, this is a worldwide issues affecting every industry out there. We are just following what we see other industries doing. When CNN, Wall Street Journal and other noted agencies say that Virtual shows are the future based on what they see happening out there, who are we to say otherwise. Love CHA, Hate CHA doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is that attendance by exhibitors and buyers is at an all time low.

    Vendors cannot continue to pay 80% or their marketing budget to discover that only 20% of the buyers showed up. It just doesn’t make sense any more

    A virtual show can deliver the buyers because it’s affordable, we do deliver the face to face relationship and we are able to offer data and other search tools that were never possible with traditional shows. Store owners are tired of wasting 2 to 3 thousand on airplanes, hotels, taxi’s and food when they know their money is better spent on product. In three weeks we signed up more buyers than what attended CHA and their combined purchasing budget is more than 2.6 million dollars. 80% of our buyers stated that they did not attend CHA. We can debate this issue all we want but the proof is in the facts. I’m sure there will always be trade shows to attend but when a virtual show can deliver more buyers at a 95% savings to exhibitors what do you think is going to happen. It’s actually happening.

    I think time will prove that most everyone is ready for a change.

    • Nancy Nally July 29, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

      This article only even mentions the CHA shows once, James…and in a context where it mentions that they are in the process of needed change. This article is NOT about CHA. It is about the concept of trade shows IN GENERAL. There are other in person trade events that take place in this industry besides CHA. They are all important.

      I find your definition of “face to face” relationships to be confusing because to me “face to face” entails being in the same room. A video conference is nothing but a glorified phone call. That is most certainly NOT a face-to-face relationship of the sort that I am speaking about. I feel sorry for you if you cannot tell the difference.

      The entire point of my article is that the expense of attending an in person event is not a waste because value is received to the business for the expense in the form of education and business opportunities that results in that money being earned back. It is an investment that then shows a return. It is not just throwing money down a hole that will never be seen again.

      It’s rather disingenuous of you to claim that institutions like CNN and the Wall Street Journal say that virtual trade shows “are the future”. News organizations such as those absolutely do NOT take positions on matters such as that – it would be a serious violation of their impartial mission as a news institution to do so. They may have done stories on what are virtual trade shows or even run commentary pieces contributed by individuals who believe in them (the same as letters to the editor in a local newspaper, basically) – but news institutions absolutely DO NOT take official positions on matters like that. Do you consider the news stories about crime where you live to be an endorsement of crime by that publication? I didn’t think so. Please stop misleading people about the “opinions” of major institutions.

      You misstated the entire point of my article – which is that trade shows need to change but still remain in person events – because it doesn’t fit with your business goals. I never said the current events didn’t have problems that needed to be addressed. I just said chucking the entire system out the window isn’t the correct solution.

      Did you read my section about how the tech industry – the most heavy users of social media – are also heavily devoted to attending in person events? That is because they realize that social media is A TOOL that should be used to supplement and enhance those events, not replace them. Of course social media is valuable. But would you stop visiting grandma’s house because you can just Skype her instead? NO. Relationships can only be fully nurtured through in-person interaction.

      You quote a lot of statistics about your virtual trade show buyers’ budgets. Did you read the part about a trade show not being a shopping mall? Budgets aren’t the important part. Buyers don’t need a virtual trade show if all they want to do is buy. They can do that on their own. A trade show is so much more than that – or is supposed to be – and the virtual experience simply can’t offer that. By its very nature a virtual experience lacks spontaneity, depth, and confidentiality. You have to put people in a room, without a computer between them, to get that.

      To be blunt, who is going to have a candid, even confidential, conversation with another attendee or vendor when they are using a proprietary electronic medium that can be being recorded, or even just monitored by someone else?

  18. Sheila August 15, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    Hi Nancy,
    Great post! I agree. You are absolutely right that trade shows still matter. I think people who say that “virtual trade shows” can replace them are absolutely wrong! I think online or “virtual” interaction can COMPLIMENT real trade shows, but shouldn’t REPLACE them. There is something unique and valuable about meeting people face-to-face and in person, and being able to hold a product in your hands and feel it. Now all that said, in this economy, we do need to find ways to make trade shows more cost effective, but they certainly shouldn’t be relegated to the history books!

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