The secret to success lies in… the wookie?

By Susan Richter, Marketing Communications Manager

Trade shows have been around in one form or another since the market economy developed hundreds of years ago. In medieval times the ruling monarchs of regions would allow travelling merchants and traders to participate in trade fairs in their towns and cities to boost income. The first modern trade shows began in Europe during and following the First World War and are focused on an area of speciality, such as cars, manufactured products, technology, food, travel, and design.

As a fairly old marketing medium, just how effective is the modern trade show?

With a spate of shows coming up – BVE, NAB and RBTE to name a few – I found myself pondering that exact question by looking back at the last exhibition I attended.

It was an IT-focused event and the show floor was packed with exhibitors, each one stocked up with free pens, endless business cards and product brochures. Although the audience is somewhat captive, exhibitors still need a way to differentiate themselves from their competitors and attract the attention of potential customers.

Many gimmicks were standard – free sweets and chocolates, branded pens, lanyards, key rings, t-shirts and scantily clad women handing out pamphlets. However, some were truly imaginative, amusing and memorable.

Starting on the walk up to the venue, I saw a bright red sports car parked just outside the doors, together with a sign advertising a flash drive.

Once inside I bumped into a large yellow dragon walking the aisles, branded of course; two cowgirls; a life sized bumblebee; The Stig (maybe not the real one though it’s difficult to tell); and, my personal favourite, the Wookie from Star Wars, all seven-foot of him.

Alongside the more memorable giveaways – red stuffed dragons and small teddy bears with dedicated Facebook pages, boxing gloves, Star Wars Lego, puzzles, cookies (a nice pun), and puzzles – were the stands themselves. Some featured hi-tech design elements, and gimmicks, such as games, that encouraged participation, while others used coffee bars and HD screens to attract attention.

According to research conducted by a US company, CEIR, in 2011 B2B expos accounted for almost 40 per cent of marketing budgets. And this figure was up from previous years. CEIR also found that 99 per cent of marketers stated that trade shows delivered value that could not be derived from other marketing sources.

Based on the continuing popularity of these exhibitions and shows, I’d say that yes, they are effective. But it can’t be these gimmicks alone that make trade shows so successful – business customers are not that superficial. Instead, I think that success lies in a combination of good old-fashioned face-to-face interactions and networking, and the ability to meet several vendors in the same place.

And while the gimmicks and giveaways don’t sway decision-making, they certainly make companies more memorable and the time spent in the exhibition hall a little more entertaining. Yes, I’m talking about the Wookie.