In today’s marketing world, there have never been more options as to how you communicate with potential clients and try to generate new business opportunities. The world is now almost completely online. 82%* of adults in Great Britain used the internet daily in 2016 with 70%* accessing the internet through mobile devices. Even 6-year-olds find FaceTime, Skype and other video calling services almost second nature; the future of traditional marketing activities such as face-to-face exhibitions must surely be dying?

A recent survey carried out by Business Leader Magazine during the second half of 2016 looked to find out whether UK business owners felt exhibitions were still a relevant marketing activity.

The survey questioned 16,000 marketing professionals and business directors. The headline results were as follows:

  • almost 85% stated they attend up to 10 shows per year
  • 75% said that they were considering exhibiting at more shows in 2017
  • 42% said that they spend most of their marketing budget on attending shows
  • 8% said that they spend over £75k on exhibition stands every year

So, why do these results seem to contradict so directly the current trend for online interaction?

It seems that despite all the advancements of technology, there will simply never be any substitute for seeing a product in the flesh. You can raise awareness and create interest through emails, websites, video demos, conference calls and even 3D printing or augmented reality, but you can’t feel the quality of a product that way. When you are able to hold and touch a product, as you are at an exhibition, the quality speaks for itself without any smoke and mirror effects that can be delivered online. If your product really is as good as you say it is, then the best thing you can possibly do is take it to an exhibition. Let the audience see with their own eyes and the product can sell itself. Exhibitions ensure that seeing really is believing.

Exhibitions aren’t just about showing off product. A huge number of service companies also get great return from attending exhibitions. Whatever a product may deliver and regardless of the promises that are made about it, the single biggest motivator for people looking to choose a new supplier remains the trust in that company and the people you’re working with to deliver for you. The most direct and easiest way to build trust with a potential client is by dealing with them in person. Exhibitions remain the only marketing solution where potential clients physically come to see your company, come onto your stand space and give you the opportunity to show them how your product or service and staff can add real value to their company.

Some people who haven’t exhibited before are wary of the situation. They feel nervous that all of their competitors will be standing right next to them. They’re absolutely right. The trouble is, if you’re not there then that doesn’t mean your competitors suddenly won’t be. Exhibitions are a time to stand toe to toe with your competitors and show the marketplace why you are the ones they should choose.

Others considering exhibiting are concerned about the cost. They feel their budget won’t be able to stretch to the size or impact of their competitors. However, at exhibitions, bigger is not always best. A small space, with a clearly thought out and a delivered message that will resonate with visitors is always better than a huge space with fancy logos and taglines that mean nothing to anyone. The last three ‘Best Stand at Show’ awards that clients of ours have won have been for stand spaces less than 12sqm. When done well, exhibitions really are a great way for the smaller budgets and companies to punch with the big guys.

It seems that regardless of the current online trends, exhibitions not only remain a highly effective and viable marketing activity, they are actually becoming more popular. When you take a deeper look at the statistics associated with exhibition visitors, you can see why 75% of those questioned in 2016 are looking to exhibit at more shows in 2017. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) revealed the following numbers following an extensive survey of exhibition visitors:

  • 88% of exhibition visitors have not been seen by a member of their company’s sales staff in the preceding 12 months
  • 70% of exhibition visitors are in a current purchasing process for at least one product on view at the exhibition
  • 76% of exhibition visitors asked for quotes and 26% signed purchase orders at the exhibition
  • 72% of exhibition visitors say the show directly influenced their buying decision
  • 87% of exhibition visitors will share some of the information obtained at an exhibition
  • 64% of exhibition visitors tell at least six other people about the event
  • 58% attend only the show in which you are exhibiting
  • 40% are first-time attendees
  • It costs 22% less to contact a potential buyer at a show than it does through traditional field sales calls

In a time when everyone is used to online banking, video calling, social media noise and virtual reality, the stats really do prove that there is no substitute for the results that face-to-face, touch it and feel it experiences that exhibitions continue to deliver.

*Office for National Statistics, Home internet and social media usage report