If there is one aspect of marketing that is always hotly debated, it's that of trade shows and other similar events. I know of no other single topic that draws such polarized views from marketing and sales professionals.
Some feel that events are a critical part of the marketing mix and go-to-market strategy. It's where the company goes head-to-head with its competitors to tell the most compelling story and get the most visitors. It's also where your company experts can speak and influence potential partners and customers with the depth of their domain knowledge and insight. Finally, these events are a great forum for salespeople to arrange meetings with customers and prospects alike. I recently had a senior executive tell me that these events are also a great timesaver... "Ordinarily, I'd have to schedule separate trips to Minneapolis, Phoenix and Atlanta to meet all of the key influencers on this deal. However, they're all at this show so I can meet them all here - in fact, this is the only time all year they even seen each other!"
On the other hand, lots of people feel that tradeshows are useless because:
They very expensive
We end talking to the same people every year
The people who come to our booth are only looking for giveaways
The ROI on the tradeshow expense is awful
The fact is, all of these points are true. Yes, they can be a useful meeting ground and can be an important part of the marketing mix, if properly and carefully selected and executed. However, all too often, tradeshow attendance isn't well planned and the results are often awful.
Finally, accounting for trade shows requires a little creativity. Is the purpose of attending the tradeshow to generate leads and opportunities? Yes. But isn't part of attending related to the awareness of the company's brand? Yes. And isn't speaking at the show related to your branding and thought leadership goals? Yes. Finally, isn't there an aspect of customer retention regarding tradeshow attendance? Yes. So, the cost of attending a tradeshow shouldn't be allocated to a single line-item like "awareness" or "demand gen". Instead, marketers should sit down with their CEO and CFO and agree on an allocation model so that the true ROI of the show can be calculated.
For every tradeshow that disappears, it seems two more takes its place. When properly planned and executed, tradeshows can still play an important role in the overall marketing strategy.