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Exhibiting: Bucking the Digital Trend

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Exhibiting events have been around for over 160 years. Believe it or not, it was London’s very own Hyde Park that housed the very first trade show: The Great Exhibition. The reason for these type of events? To get all of the best products in front of a likely audience.  

 Since then, the exhibiting world has developed and become increasingly popular B2B and B2C marketing strategy amongst SMEs as well as larger businesses. The events have now been tailored towards certain industries and consumers.


Brands are using exhibitions to launch new products, gain leads, increase visibility, and build relationships. Trade shows remain the number one face-to-face marketing strategy, but how have technological developments impacted the exhibition industry? 

Digital marketing, however, appears to be thriving. Can our interaction with screens take the place of face-to-face communication? What does this mean for the future of marketing? And should you still allocate a percentage of your marketing budget to exhibitions? 

Digital Take Over

Introducing Technology Services

We started with commodities. Particular items that were deemed of value and therefore worth money. Then we moved onto goods or convenience commodities. From there we developed services, making life easier for us and introducing a digital element to the mix.

technology was never intended to take the place of humans, but it did offer us efficient alternatives to make our lives easier

A great analogy of this is pizza. Originally, the only way to eat a pizza was to purchase the ingredients (commodities) and make one. Supermarkets made our lives much easier by supplying premade pizzas (goods). Finally, Tom and James Monaghan launched Domino’s in the 1960s turning pizza delivery into a service. 

Digitalise Domino’s service and you have online ordering, an app that tracks your pizza’s arrival, and self-driving delivery bots. The technology was never intended to take the place of humans, but it did offer us efficient alternatives to make our lives easier. 

Digitalisation Today

Internet shopping has almost wiped out the high street. Uber has made itself the number one taxi service in the world. Airbnb has given more than 260 million people a bed for the night. People choose convenience. The most simple, cost-effective, and time-effective option is more than likely the one with a digital element. 

One hotel in Japan replaced all their staff with robots in an attempt to utilise technology and develop efficient business practice. 

According to Forbes, technology has already taken over 90% of the jobs that humans used to do. The unemployment rate among young people in the UK currently sits at 11.2%. Will we see that increase as technology takes the place of more workers, or will the younger generation benefit from growing up in the digital age?

Digitalisation of Marketing

Technology is merging into most industries, whether it’s self-check-outs, self-driving cars or digital boarding passes. If you haven’t heard of digital marketing by now then you must have been living under a rock.

In the UK, Smartphone screen time is up to 3 hours and 23 minutes per day

Gone are the days of pop up ads and jarring banners introduced by online advertising. Digital marketing encompasses web design, content creation, social media marketing, influencer marketing, SEO optimisation, email marketing and more. It is so far removed from exhibiting because the element of communication has been removed.

In the UK, Smartphone screen time is up to 3 hours and 23 minutes per day and office workers are spending 1,700 hours a year in front of computer screens. Businesses want their advertising in front of their customers and for a very long time, it has felt like digital marketing is the best way to achieve this. 

Falling Out of Love with Digital 

Losing Trust in Digital

It soon became clear that technology isn’t the immediate answer when it comes to improving business efficiency. The Japanese hotel ended up sacking half of their robot employees because they kept breaking down. 

The problem is that technology has caused us problems in the sense that people have lost jobs, but as a product, we just can’t trust it yet. People are not able to convey tone, emotion, or attitude, which is an essential tool for building relationships. 

What about Digital Marketing?

Only one-quarter of companies using online advertising are satisfied with their conversion rates, however, digital ad spend increased in 2019. 63% listed generating traffic and leads as their biggest struggle concerning digital marketing so brands and agencies have been working harder than ever.

53% of individuals admit to using ad-blocking software

Professionals were disappointed with the return on investment of their digital campaigns, but the general public hated the platform equally. 53% of individuals admit to using ad-blocking software. People think that online ads are too targeted and borderline creepy. Digital is the least trusted media channel among consumers.

The Need for Human Connection

Building Relationships

According to Maslow, humans have an inbuilt need to belong. The rise in technology is slowly destroying the human interactions that we, as a species, need. 

It is for this reason that the rise of digital marketing did not impact exhibitions and trade shows in the same way that other marketing strategies were affected. 

More than 90% of communication consists of body language, which simply cannot be replaced by caps lock or an emoji. Modern technology has made it difficult for us to create lasting relationships. It’s made it harder for individuals to trust each other and to trust brands. Studies show that the more Facebook friends we have, the less real-life connections we make.

Social media and digital communication were once thought of as platforms to gain social satisfaction and fulfil our need to belong. In 2018, the University of Pennsylvania proved that was not the case. The findings of their study identified excessive social media usage (over 30 minutes per day) to increase your risk of feeling lonely and developing depression.

More than 90% of communication consists of body language

The Experience Economy

Technology hasn’t killed commodities, but consumerism is declining. 75% of millennials admit to valuing experiences over things, therefore they are spending their money on services rather than material goods. 

Millennials have fuelled the growth of the experience economy. They want to attend events, engage, collect stories, and participate. Going forward, the most successful companies will be the ones who can become more experience-focussed. 

Exhibiting is adapting to this trend, creating immersive brand experiences for highly concentrated target audiences to enjoy. 77% of marketers already use experiential marketing as part of their brand’s marketing mix.

Face-to-Face Marketing

The rise of the experience economy has shifted the focus away from digital advertising (at least until virtual reality becomes more accessible). Experiential marketing has become a crucial part of advertising strategy. 70% of individuals become regular customers after an experiential event.

Touchpoints and Branding

It is important to consider all of the touchpoints when developing your marketing strategy. You aim to portray a consistent message across each aspect of your brand so that potential customers know whom they are interacting with. 


Essentially, this means that everything from your website and social media to your employees and traditional marketing needs to communicate one brand personality. As discussed previously, technology can make this difficult. People can’t build relationships with robots which is why face-to-face marketing must be an integral component of your advertising mix.

Face-to-face interactions, or human touchpoints, are the only way to convey the emotion, tone, and attitude that turns your business into a brand. Attending trade shows gives you a prime opportunity to express who you are as a business, to a room full of people who care.

Benefits of a Face-to-face Marketing Strategy

Utilising face-to-face platforms, such as exhibitions, has several benefits for your brand. Firstly, it builds trust between the company and its customers. Trust, which the digital uprising quickly stripped away, can be restored with human interaction. Face-to-face communication is the best way to avoid misunderstandings and correct problems, a logical explanation as to why customers have confidence in it. 

Secondly, face-to-face marketing builds visibility. Over half of all people use ad-blocking software, meaning they will not see any online advertising you invest in.

Utilising human interaction puts you and your employees at the forefront of your advertising campaign. Studies have also shown that face-to-face marketing increases the likelihood of your customers spreading positive word of mouth. 

The Ultimate Face-to-Face Marketing Strategy

What is Exhibiting?

The literal definition of exhibit is to present for inspection. In this example, it is much less clinical. Exhibiting allows you to present your business, product, or service to a relevant audience.

The purpose of the stand is to catch people’s attention and attract an audience

At the trade show, you will have space on the floor to place a strategically designed exhibition stand. The purpose of the stand is to catch people’s attention and attract an audience. There are so many different features you can include in your stand design to make it eye-catching.

Once you have attracted people over to your exhibition stand, the face-to-face marketing begins. Trained staff are on hand to talk to about your business or product and collect information from those who are interested. 

Why should you Exhibit?

Anyone who is looking to boost brand awareness, launch a new product, gain leads or leverage marketing results should include expos in their marketing mix. The main reason for this is the unique audience that attends these events. Leading exhibition designers, Quadrant2Design, state that “trade shows are unique in that they attract a highly-targeted audience”.

Every year there are hundreds of consumer and trade shows. Many of these are industry-specific, including specialised exhibitions for food through to stationery. If you have a stand at an industry-specific trade show you are guaranteed exposure in a relevant environment. There are also smaller trade shows which should not be pushed aside as they have their benefits.

93% of people claim that live events have a greater influence on them than TV adverts. Exhibiting at consumer and trade shows should be considered whatever your business objectives are. Attending an event allows you to:

  • Reach out to an international market
  • Meet new buyers
  • Increase Sales
  • Demonstrate your products and services
  • Show products in action in their real environment
  • Provide a launch event for new products and innovation
  • Strengthen business relationships in a face-to-face environment
  • First-hand research and understanding of your marketplace
  • Network and make new industry contacts

Bucking the Digital Trend

Active over Passive

Exhibiting is becoming more popular among marketers and business decision-makers. The benefits of being at a trade show, surrounded by your target audience, is too much for most managing directors to resist. 

The increasing desire for connection, engagement, and experience is expected to grow as people lose interest in consumerism culture. We can assume that the demand for digitalisation will steadily decrease whilst demand for exhibitions and face-to-face marketing events continues to rise. The trend is over, but don’t say goodbye to digital strategy just yet.

You still get a Virtual Presence

Exhibitions don’t stop your business from having an online presence. 98% of attendees create digital or social content at exhibitions. 48% of millennials admit to attending an event solely to gather social media and digital content.

By exhibiting at trade shows you can gain electronic word of mouth (eWOM). People trust people more than machines. By getting people to talk about you, you are effectively marketing your business both utilising a face-to-face strategy and an eWOM strategy. 

48% of millennials admit to attending an event solely to gather social media and digital content

And Technology Plays a Key Role

Without digitalisation, exhibitions would not be as effective as they are. People book tickets and register their interest online. During the event, technology allows you to scan their barcode to instantly get their details. Finally, it is the advancing technology built into the stand and the design process that makes exhibiting so valuable.

Digital plays an important role in face-to-face marketing, particularly when looking at trade shows. The digital elements of your exhibition can be the difference between your business gaining hundreds of leads or being completely forgotten.

The Future of Exhibiting

What does this mean for the future? By looking at the history of digital marketing and exhibitions we can make some certain assumptions about what the expos of the future will look like.

Immersive Story Telling

Attendees have been very clear about what they want: memorable experiences. Moving forward, businesses and designers are going to have to work together to ensure the audience is captivated in their fairy tale. Introducing technology means that you can make this experience completely immersive, guaranteeing that each delegate is going away talking about you.


Beacon Technology

If you weren’t already excited about the future of exhibiting, this is sure to wow you. Currently, in its development stages, beacon technology promises to track delegates as they move around a trade show. 

With this advancement, you will know whom you are talking to now and who is coming around the corner. This type of technology will help you to adapt your sales pitch to create a more immersive storytelling experience for your audience.

Expo 2020

We’ve been hearing about Expo 2020 Dubai since they won the bid for the world expo back in 2013. Every five years one country is chosen to host a six-month expo showcasing food, music, creativity, technology, and culture just to name a few. 

Dubai has gone all out for this event. They have built new conference centres along with a metro station, all located on the apt name Expo Street. It is more than likely we are going to witness the impossible at this event and the future of exhibitions will come alive before our eyes.

Exhibitions: Backing the Digital Trend

Digital had its moment in the sun and it is obvious people are losing interest in the platform. Face-to-face and experiential marketing are on the rise again as individuals display their need to belong. 

Consumerism is on a sharp decline as people choose to spend their money on experiences rather than things

There is no denying that technology has massively improved huge aspects of our lives. The services available to us now make things easier and more efficient. This has left us with more time for experiences.

Consumerism is on a sharp decline as people choose to spend their money on experiences rather than things. They are looking for live events that engage them and encourage interaction. Encompassing digital elements into trade shows allows us to do just that, immersing delegates in a brand storytelling experience.

Exhibitors are making the most out of the available technology; including design features such as built-in iPads, artificial intelligence chatbots, wearables tech, and more within their exhibit. It seems like exhibiting and digital have joined forces to become the ultimate marketing mix.

By Quadrant2Design


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