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The Future of Exhibiting: The experts’ best prediction on what the trade show floor will look like after COVID-19

By Natalka Antoniuk|22nd Apr 2020
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We are doing it. We are winning this war against a virus that didn’t exist until very recently. And we are all preparing ourselves to get back to normal. Well done to those of you who listened to the government advice. Well done for staying at home. And well done for displaying your rainbows and clapping every Thursday to support our NHS. 

A month ago we wouldn’t have been able to predict the future of any industry. Particularly the events industries that, up until now, has relied upon mass gatherings and huge audiences.

Today, we have predictions. Assumptions that we have made to tell everybody how the exhibition industry will move past this terrible thing. It has been a long and bumpy ride, but things will get better. Here are our predictions on how the trade show industry will adapt to the changing circumstances. 

Exhibition Stand


Capped Capacity

With mass gatherings a thing of the past, event planners are likely to feel pressured to reduce the capacity of their events. This appears problematic for the exhibition industry, as one of the selling points of each trade show is the volume of people coming through the hall.

Event organisers may struggle with the capped capacity, but exhibitors will thrive in these conditions. With fewer people crammed into the hall, you’ll have more opportunity to interact with each prospect. 

Not only that, but with a strict capped capacity event organisers will be forced to vet everyone who applies for a free ticket. There would be no benefit to exhibitors if the trade show floor was full of school trips and interns. Event organisers will prioritise those with a genuine interest in your industry. Individuals with buying power, or in decision making positions, will be the ones who are allowed in. 

More interaction with a genuinely interested audience is key to generating more hot leads. Treat capped capacity as what it is - a huge potential for your business to grow. 

Different USP

The change in consumerist behaviour has been one of the most noticeable differences throughout the lockdown. There has been a massive increase in items with a long shelf life, such as toilet paper, soap and UHT milk. On the other hand, sales of fresh items have decreased.

The reason for this is obvious. People want their commodities to last so that they can follow government guidelines and stay at home wherever possible. But behavioural changes don’t happen overnight and we are likely to see this pattern continue once the lockdown has been lifted. 

This means that you might have to find a new way to sell your product. Before the lockdown, sustainability was a huge selling point. Now, you might pitch your product to be long-lasting or reusable to adapt to this new wave of long shelf life consumerism.

One Way System

As we have already seen in national supermarkets, places with large groups of people in attendance are putting measures in place to allow for regimented social distancing. Social distancing requires people to keep a 2m distance between themselves and others.

As well as marking the 2m spaces out on the floor, supermarkets have also opted for a one-way system through their aisles. This is to create order and ensure everyone inside is able to abide by the social distancing policy.

As trade shows attract large groups of people, it is likely that one way systems will be put in place. Is that a bad thing? No, not at all. By knowing which way visitors will be walking, you’ll be able to position your branding strategy to attract more attention and increase footfall on your exhibition stand. 

This protocol will help you improve your return on investment (ROI). Your sales team can be positioned in the right spots to engage with an audience. Your exhibition stand can be designed to capture the attention of the one-way audience. You’ll generate more leads and close deals.

Digital Training

Although it’s always been possible to hold virtual meetings and even screen sharing, this is about to become a major tool for the exhibition industry. We’ve already seen some suppliers kick start this trend.

Leading exhibition stand design and manufacturers, Quadrant2Design, have been offering digital training sessions to teach exhibitors how to build their own exhibition stand. The short videos tell you everything you need to know to construct a complete stand, with integrated audiovisual elements and bespoke product showcases.

They’ve taken more than training online. You can ask for a live tour of your exhibition stand before your event takes place as they prebuild every element in their design studio and factory. Other companies are likely to follow this trend in the coming months as transport options will be limited to essential travel only whilst you’re in the planning stages of your exhibition. Don’t worry, that will be lifted long before your show!

Virtual Environments

Technology is going to have a huge role to play in the future of trade shows. As well as the intensive training, meetings and demonstrations offered by suppliers, many event organisers are likely to move their entire event online.

This has been done before and proven to be a hugely popular and successful method. For exhibitors, the cost of showcasing your product or service at a virtual event is significantly lower than having a physical presence in an exhibition venue. There are no transport or accommodation costs, you don’t need a sales team on the ground and you won’t need to hire or purchase any of the equipment you usually take.

Visitors also benefit from virtual events. All the keynote speakers will be live-streamed and there will be just as many exhibitors displaying new innovations in the industry. An entire office of people could participate in virtual events.

The downfall is the effect that this could have on suppliers. The game is about to change. No exhibitors will require pop-up banner displays or exhibition stand game rentals. Instead, they’ll be looking for new and creative products that can bring their virtual exhibition stand to life. This is likely to be a huge year of creativity and innovation for those involved in the exhibition supply chain. 

More Comfortable Environment

Event organisers demonstrate their success by having large numbers of visitors and exhibitors. This can create a fairly chaotic atmosphere, with attendees unable to sit down for some lunch and exhibitors being ignored due to the volume of the passing crowds. With the capped capacity limits and one way systems, this will all change.

By creating a more comfortable environment for everyone, exhibitors will have more control over the people that they engage with. There will be opportunities to build solid relationships, without sifting through mass crowds and getting shoved out of the way. This type of environment will improve your chances of closing deals.

Extension of the BREXIT Deadline

This is all still up in the air, but it is looking likely that Boris Johnson will be requesting another extension on the BREXIT deadline in light of the current situation. This won’t mean much in the long term, but in the immediate months once the lockdown has been lifted it will be business (and trade) as usual.

As we are still uncertain of the effects of BREXIT on trading standards, it is impossible to say what might happen until a deal has been agreed. For now, we can all relax knowing that when the exhibition industry is back up and running things will all remain as they were.

PPE for Everyone

Watching the travel, tourism and hospitality industries adapt has been a key indicator into the changes we can expect on the trade show floor. One of the most notable differences, for staff in these industries at least, is the increased regulation for Personal Protective Equipment to become uniform.

Gloves were already an industry standard for individuals serving and preparing food. This will remain an essential part of a uniform, and staff in other people facing positions will notice a change. As well as gloves, the staff at exhibition venues may be asked to wear masks and gloves to protect themselves, exhibitors and visitors from any diseases.

Conclusion

If these guesses are anything to go off, it’s looking like a hugely successful year for the exhibition industry and any recurring exhibitors. The trade show floor is definitely not one to shy away from any time soon.

Start thinking about how you could use these changes to your advantage now, they may even help you get a competitive edge. If we all club together and work towards a better future for the exhibition industry, there is no stopping us.

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