13 Trade shows in the business marketing
Srinath Gopalakrishna and Gary L. Lilien
Trade shows have long been used as a forum for promoting sales of a variety of products,
dating back to medieval times when artisans and village folk exhibited their wares at local
fairs. Those fairs were a relatively inexpensive, yet convenient, way for local producers
to gain access to large numbers of potential buyers who came to attend the events from
neighboring towns and villages. That avor has essentially remained unchanged as trade
shows continue to occupy a prominent position within the B2B communications mix.
Trade shows also have a characteristic that dierentiates them from personal selling,
the dominant element in the B2B marketing mix: they bring current and prospective
customers to the seller rather than vice versa. Industry surveys during the past decade
repeatedly show that over 80 per cent of the attendees at a typical show have some inu-
ence on the eventual purchase decision and more than 50 per cent of show visitors have
specic plans to buy one or more products exhibited at a show within the next 12 months
(www.exhibitsurveys.com/trends). Such a high concentration of interested buyers and
sellers in a setting that lasts several days, combined with the opportunity for meaningful
face- to- face contact, creates a powerful forum for marketing communications.
Trade shows are big business. In 2009 the trade show industry in North America
attracted over 60 million attendees and 1.5 million exhibitors, generating an estimated
revenue of nearly $11.2 billion (CEIR 2010a). In the United States, Canada and Mexico
more than 14 000 trade shows were held in 2010, totaling over 700 million square feet of
exhibit space. The statistics covering 20 European countries reported by UFI, the Global
Association of the Exhibition Industry (based in Paris), are just as impressive, with an
estimated 112 million visitors and 1.3 million exhibitors attending over 4400 trade fairs
spanning nearly 588 million square feet in 2008 (Euro Fair Statistics 2008). Expenditures
on trade shows make up the largest share of the typical B2B communications budget
(nearly 18.6 per cent), ahead of print advertising (13.8 per cent) and direct mail (10 per
cent) (Stevens 2005). And the US exhibition industry grew substantially over the eight-
year period from 2000 to 2008, with net square feet of exhibit space growing by 21 per
cent and the number of attendees increasing by 10 per cent (CEIR 2010a). While the
2008–09 recession lead to a downturn in exhibitions, industry experts have expressed
cautious optimism in their outlook for the future (Exhibitor Magazine 2010), reinforced
by strong third- quarter statistics for 2010 based on positive growth in net square feet,
number of exhibitors and attendance (Trade Show Executive 2010).
Firms consistently report that lead generation is their most important objective for
exhibiting at a show, followed by the desire to introduce new products and services (CEIR
2006). Other reasons they cite as important include building awareness, recruiting dealers/
distributors, maintaining company image and exposure, discovering new applications for
existing products, monitoring competition and showing support for the sponsoring asso-
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Trade shows in the business marketing communications mix 227
ciation. Wu et al. (2008) conrm work by Kerin and Cron (1987) and Hansen (1999) that
suggests many rms have both short- term selling objectives (more amenable to measure-
ment and value assessment) and longer- term, non- selling objectives (less amenable to value
assessment). However, exhibitor decisions about which shows to attend and the economic
justication for such decisions continue to challenge practitioners and academics alike.
For example there is much folk wisdom but little hard data associated with valuing
the interaction that comes with trade show participation. The nature of the B2B context,
which often involves complex, large dollar transactions involving multiple decision-
makers, seems to suggest a need for face- to- face contact with prospective customers
(Hutt and Speh 2010). Trade shows oer a cost- eective way of making at least the initial
face- to- face contact. (Appendix 13.1 provides an illustrative cost- eectiveness analysis
of trade show exhibiting.) Qualitative support for these observations also comes from
surveys of attendees and exhibitors, more than 75 per cent of whom consider face- to- face
interactions with potential suppliers/customers extremely important (CEIR 2003).
Assessing the non- sales value of trade shows has proven challenging, though. As
Bonoma (1983) and others have noted, non- sales objectives are often imprecise and
thus hard to measure and value. For example what does it mean when a company says
it wants to ‘maintain corporate image’ by exhibiting? The relevant metrics for non- sales
objectives are generally either poorly dened or non- existent, and their relationships to
tangible outcomes are rarely established in a clear manner.
For a trade show to come about and be successful, three sets of actors must be
involved: attendees (mostly prospective short- or long- term buyers), exhibitors (mostly
prospective short- or long- term sellers) and show managers who organize and manage
the event. Show management transacts with exhibitors for the sale of oor space and to
provide other fee- based show services. They want exhibitors to have a successful experi-
ence, such that they will return to exhibit again at a future show. Exhibitors will return to
a show only if the attendees they were able to attract to their booth were of good quality
and the interactions led eventually to successful outcomes. Similarly, attendees will want
to return only if they felt that they had a cost- eective experience that enabled them to
nd products/solutions from alternative suppliers.
In the rest of this chapter we rst provide an overview of the impact of the technologi-
cal revolution on traditional trade show strategies. We then review relevant knowledge
on trade shows along three perspectives, starting with the exhibitor perspective where
we cover issues related to the planning and execution of trade show strategy, followed
by the viewpoints of trade show attendees and show management. We conclude with an
overview of implications and opportunities for academic research in this domain, as well
as lessons for managers.
TRADE SHOWS AND THE TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION
The advent of the Internet and social media has had a dramatic impact on how B2B
customers use and exchange information. A recent study (CEIR 2009a) reports that
more than 75 per cent of show attendees rely on websites as their top source of industry
information, over 50 per cent prefer to receive information about a trade show via email
and nearly 90 per cent report being active on a social media website.
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228 Handbook of business-to-business marketing
These statistics point to the increasingly important role that information technology
(IT) is playing before, during and after the trade show. It is evident that IT has become
an essential tool for eective management: both trade show organizers (show manage-
ment) and exhibitors must develop comprehensive social media strategies to reach and
engage the audiences of today’s marketplace.
Building Communities Through Social Media
A CEIR survey of social media usage shows the increasing use of such media by younger
managers; overall, 88 per cent use a social media website, and younger respondents
are signicantly more likely to use online sites than older respondents (CEIR 2009a).
Facebook is the most frequently used social media site overall. It should come as no
surprise that such tools are becoming increasingly important as complements to the face-
to- face experience that trade shows provide. Hence event organizers and exhibitors are
beginning to integrate Internet and social media strategies into their overall event plan-
ning processes. Two examples are instructive (Exhibitor Magazine 2009):
● Hewlett- Packard added a Twitter- based tactic to its exhibit marketing program
to promote its Procurve business (a line of networking products) at the May 2009
Interop show in Las Vegas. The goal was to capture 400 leads at the show (13
per cent more than the 2008 show). But with expected show attendance down
by more than 20 per cent from the previous year, this was clearly a challenging
goal. The rm set up a Twitter account and recruited 150 initial followers through
its website. Sales reps sent out a tweet once every other day, alerting recipients
about the new Procurve technology to be showcased, the ten partner companies
to be featured and the prizes to be given away. Tweeting increased in frequency
to once or twice daily as the show approached; during the three- day event, the
rm ratcheted its eorts up to ve or six tweets a day, urging followers to come to
the booth, locate one of eight products, nd a specic sta member and mention
a special password to win an iPod or a digital picture frame. Hewlett- Packard
eventually garnered 600 leads, an increase the company attributes largely to its
● The consulting rm Rick Grant and Associates Inc. contacted 75 current and
prospective clients who were not registered to attend the 2009 Technology in
Mortgage Banking Conference & Expo and asked them to sign up for a micro-
blogging medium. During the show, the rm updated Twitter followers about
happenings, such as conference sessions, new oerings on the show oor, gossip
overheard, the show facility, amenities and so on. The rm reported ‘signicantly
enhanced’ post- show relationships with clients who followed it on Twitter com-
pared with those who did not, though the higher response from followers may be
somewhat attributable to self- selection based on interest.
Websites are the most frequently used sources of industry information; it is imperative
that they permit prospective attendees to
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Trade shows in the business marketing communications mix 229
1. register online quickly and with ease;
2. create personalized schedules and download them to a smartphone;
3. access speaker presentations and the program handbook;
4. access all elements of the event.
A recent study examining the quality of trade show websites (Lee et al., 2008) may signal
the start of more systematic empirical research in this area.
Improving Exhibition Marketing Performance Through Better Digital Integration
The exhibition industry is nding digital media, in their many forms, to be excellent
means of increasing reach and improving eciency. Marketers in this space attempt to
enhance the attendee experience and deepen engagement. But there are very few reports
of how to measure the eectiveness of online advertising, the emails sent prior to the
event, the short/multi- media messaging services (SMS/MMS) used during the event,
audio downloads after the event or really simple syndication (RSS). Although such
digital media account for at least 10 per cent of the overall exhibit budget for most mar-
keters, few of them actually measure the impact of these activities (CEIR 2010b).
Virtual Trade Shows
The potential to reduce travel and event management costs signicantly makes virtual
trade shows a potentially valuable complement to, or substitute for, live events (see
Figure 13.1). However, personal engagement, a prime benet of trade shows, is missing
in this domain; a challenge for the industry and for researchers therefore is to assess the
relative benets and costs of online versus oine exhibitions.
Improved Attendee Tracking Technologies
Show attendees may believe their behavior at trade shows is anonymous. But new
attendee tracking technologies are making that belief far from accurate. Barcode and
radio frequency identication (RFID) devices (e.g. http://www.trakkers.com/) and
video- based tracking methods (see http://videomining.com/, as currently applied in retail
environments) capture the minute- by- minute movements of attendees, in much the same
way that clickstream data follow online activities. These data are only beginning to be
mined to help understand trade show dynamics and to assess eectiveness.
Implications for Research
These technological trends suggest that there are signicant research opportunities to (1)
use the new type of data being generated through new tracking technologies and those
accompanying virtual shows to assess what works and why; and (2) determine the cost-
eectiveness and synergies that new media may contribute to trade show performance.
New conceptual and operational models are needed to perform these assessments, and
several experiments conducted by rms and show organizers seem conducive to fruitful
industry–academic research collaborations.
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230 Handbook of business-to-business marketing
TRADE SHOWS: THE EXHIBITOR PERSPECTIVE
We review two elements of an exhibitor’s perspective: planning (role, show selection and
budgeting) and execution (pre- , during and post- show feedback and control).
Role of trade shows
The role of a trade show in the buying and selling process has engaged the attention of
academic researchers (Banting and Blenkhorn 1974; Herbig et al., 1998). Trade shows
can uncover previously unknown or inaccessible buying inuences, project a favorable
corporate image, provide product information, generate qualied leads for salespeople,
handle customer complaints and so on (Hutt and Speh 2010). They also can satisfy
competitive objectives (e.g. intelligence gathering), enhance employee morale and help
support personal selling activities.
Source: Inexpo.com; see http://presentations.inxpo.com/InXpo/Tours/InXpo_Tours/VirtualTradeShows/
player.html for an example of how such shows work
Figure 13.1 Virtual trade shows
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Trade shows in the business marketing communications mix 231
The role of trade shows in the B2B communications mix can be best understood by
investigating their potential role in buying and selling processes. The buying process in
a B2B transaction has been characterized as a series of stages (Wind and Thomas 1994).
Column 1 in Figure 13.2 highlights those stages. Buyers in each stage may have dierent
information needs. Similarly, the marketer faces a multi- stage sales process involving
dierent communication objectives (Column 2) that imply dierent sales tasks (Column
3). Some objectives (e.g. awareness generation) are handled more cost- eectively by
impersonal communication channels, while others (e.g. customization) demand personal
contact; thus most rms employ a mix of both.
Trade shows combine aspects of direct selling (there are almost always some sales-
people at the booth) and advertising (the booth can generate awareness and answer some
questions even without the involvement of salespeople). They may play a cost- eective
role in the communications mix, especially in the early stages of the process; their eec-
tiveness diminishes as the buying process progresses toward evaluation and selection,
though they may be a bit more cost- eective in providing feedback on product/service
performance after the sale (Gopalakrishna and Lilien 1995). Similarly, from the seller’s
perspective trade shows can be eective for prospecting, opening a relationship, qualify-
ing prospects and even presenting the sales message (Churchill et al., 1993).
Objectives for participation
Research on trade show objectives has often been conned to noting their importance
(Cavanaugh 1976) and documenting diering objectives across rms or industries
(Barczyk et al., 1989) and exhibitors or visitors (Hansen 1996; Siskind 2006; Tanner and
Relative Communication Eectiveness
Identify need Arouse interest Prospecting
Develop short list Be selected for short list Presenting sales message
Request proposals Submit winning proposal Presenting sales message
Review proposals Create preference Presenting sales message
Negotiate Preserve margins Presenting sales message
Select vendor Win Closing sale
Install and use Satisfy and support usage Account service Advertising Trade show Personal
Research solutions Be known to research
Upgrade Upsell, cross-sell Build and enhance
Source: Adapted from Gopalakrishna and Lilien (1995) and Stevens (2005).
Figure 13.2 The buying and selling process and the communications mix
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232 Handbook of business-to-business marketing
Chonko 1995). Although large expenditures are involved in exhibiting, CEIR reports
that more than 70 per cent of exhibitors go to a trade show without clearly stated objec-
tives (Stevens 2005). Management may emphasize the importance of dening objectives
and measuring performance for all marketing programs, yet the trade show literature
oers only general suggestions to exhibitors, such as ‘have objectives that are realistic yet
challenging’ or ‘make sure your objectives are measurable’ (Stevens 2005, p. 51).
Kerin and Cron (1987) study the specic articulation and measurement of perform-
ance on eight dierent exhibitor objectives using a survey of exhibit managers in dierent
rms. They measure performance on a seven- point Likert scale and nd that rms with
successful trade show programs tend to exhibit more products, have more customers,
have written objectives for show participation and focus less on horizontal shows. Their
study represents the only reported academic research that formally documents perform-
ance according to objectives, though the measurements employed are subjective ratings
by exhibit managers.
Stevens (2005) suggests linking the objectives with metrics that will allow for the meas-
urement of results. She also suggests a variety of metrics for dierent exhibitor objec-
tives, adding that metrics must reect business reality if the objectives are to be realistic
(for an illustration, see Table 13.1).
Although trade show return on investment (ROI) is a popular discussion topic, a clear
demonstration of those returns in a given setting remains a challenge. The long and
complex buying cycles for most B2B products and the presence of multiple channels for
sales and customer contact create much confusion in sorting out the eects of dierent
media over an extended period. Thus the ROI question often gets transformed into a
discussion of return on objectives (ROO), such that managers set clear (non- nancial)
objectives for a trade show, specify the associated metrics and report how they delivered
against those objectives. By doing so they are able to provide some form of reasonable
justication of the value derived by exhibiting at the show, but they leave the ROI ques-
tion largely unanswered (cf. Gopalakrishna et al., 1995).
Show selection and budgeting
An important element of any trade show strategy is the choice of the specic shows in
which a rm decides to participate. Although literature on trade show practices in this
domain provides various guidelines and rules of thumb, academic research is scant. Most
rms seem to rely on inertia, competitive pressure or some ad hoc process that involves
listing potential shows, then ranking them on the basis of the audience prole for each
show, its net attendance in past years, projected attendance, number of likely exhibitors,
cost of exhibiting and so on (CEIR 1993, 1995; Stevens 2005).
Academic research has addressed the show selection issue at a more general level. For
example, Lilien (1983) shows that a rm is most likely to use trade shows as a commu-
nication medium if the product to be displayed is complex, is carried in inventory, has
high sales levels, has high purchase frequency and involves many people in the purchase
decision. Other research discusses show selection at a conceptual level (Shoham 1992),
and the research by Kijewski et al. (1993) oers a model of the trade show decision
process that involves setting exhibit objectives, developing a show consideration set,
ranking show options, budget evaluation, show selection (Go/No Go), implementation
and post- show audit.
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Trade shows in the business marketing communications mix 233
There is also limited research in the trade show budgeting domain. Lilien (1983) nds
that the level of spending on trade shows is greater for products that have aggressive
plans, high levels of sales and low customer concentration and are early in their life cycle.
Such analyses can be used as norms or guidelines for show budgeting. In practice, setting
trade show budgets is largely based on rules of thumb. For example, an approximate
breakdown of exhibit spending on dierent expense categories appears in Table 13.2.
Another rule of thumb noted by a trade show consulting rm is that the trade show
budget must be at least four times the cost of booth space, plus a 10 per cent add- on for
miscellaneous expenses (Stevens 2005).
The objective of pre- show promotions is to target the highest quality prospects and
invite them to visit the rm’s booth, make an appointment for a conversation or other-
wise establish contact at the trade show (Stevens 2005). An eective pre- show strategy
Table 13.1 Setting specic metrics around objectives
Primary Objective Examples of Associated Metrics Ease of Measurement
Introduce new product Number of demos given
Number of samples ordered
Number of press mentions
Number of booth visitors
Generate sales leads Number of qualied leads
Cost per qualied lead
Enter new market Number of prospects by industry
Number of requests for proposals received
Number of booth visitors
Number of yers distributed
Pre-/post-show awareness levels
Recruit channel partners Number of partners recruited
Competitive research Number of competitors at the show
Competitive analyses done
Retain current customers Customer appointments scheduled and held
New product demos to current customers
Support industry Association events attended
Investment in association sponsorship
Note: The appropriate metrics and their measurements may be known, but it is far more challenging to link
them to bottom-line metrics such as return on investment.
Source: Adapted from Stevens (2005, pp. 54–5).
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234 Handbook of business-to-business marketing
typically has two aspects: qualication (determining which prospective show attendees
represent good opportunities for the exhibitor and are therefore worthy of establishing
contact) and invitation (promoting a visit to the booth for qualied attendees).
Pre- show tactics should align with the exhibiting objectives. For example, if the
goal is to generate sales leads, the pre- show promotion strategy should be to attract
qualied prospects to the booth. Similarly if the goal is to retain current customers,
the strategy would be to maximize customer appointments and convey appreciation
for the customers’ business and their relationships. A 2000 CEIR study identies direct
mail, past show attendance, trade publication ads and word of mouth as the four top
communication channels through which prospects can be reached eectively prior to
the show (Stevens 2005). Attracting attendees to the booth also involves promotion
activity at the show, and exhibitors report the use of email, giveaways, premiums,
samples, print and online advertising and direct mail to great extents to achieve that
objective (CEIR 2009c).
Exhibitors spend about 6 per cent of their entire trade show budget on promotion
(Stevens 2005). Factors such as size of the trade show, type of show (vertical/horizontal)
or the value of sales also inuence the level of pre- show investment, but these issues have
not been explored in a systematic way.
During the show
An exhibiting rm must deal with multiple tactical issues to ensure an eective presence
at the show, including booth location, size, design, stang and at- show promotion.
There are several opinions about the ‘ideal’ location of a booth on the show oor. The
common view holds that because of the sheer advantage of heavy trac volume, locating
near the entrance or exit is preferable to being in the middle of the show oor. Another
view suggests that locating near a competitor or close to a big booth or a well- known
brand name can be an advantage, as opposed to staying far away from competitors.
These conjectures have not been subjected to rigorous empirical analysis and therefore
appear to have little scientic basis. Exhibit Surveys Inc. has examined several trade
shows held at McCormick Place in Chicago and the Houston Astrodome to investigate
Table 13.2 How an exhibit dollar is spent
Expense Category Percentage Spent Amount Spent ($Billion)
Exhibit space 31.1% $7.5
Exhibit design 11.2% $2.7
Show services 20.3% $4.9
Shipping 10.8% $2.6
Travel &entertainment 15.3% $3.7
Promotion 7.5% $1.8
Other 3.8% $0.9
Total 100% $24.1
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Trade shows in the business marketing communications mix 235
the issue of booth location. They report no statistical correlation between booth location
and booth trac or memorability (Trade Show Bureau 1983).
The space rented by a rm on the show oor is the largest single item in the overall
exhibit budget, making up 31 per cent (see Table 13.2). Industry wisdom suggests that
the booth size decision must be based on the rm’s objectives for exhibiting (Stevens
2005). One heuristic considers the size of the target audience to be reached, the exhibit
hall hours and number of possible demos per hour (Appendix 13.2, Part B, describes the
details of one such approach).
Booth type, layout and design
The decision about the type of booth involves options such as standard (within a row,
facing the aisle), island (aisles on four sides, which oer more dimensionality), peninsula
(end of row, with aisles on three sides) and corner (end of row, bordered by two aisles)
booths. Booth layout involves several dimensions, including the attraction strategy, the
nature of the product and the activities planned for the booth (Stevens 2005). The attrac-
tion strategy refers to aspects such as whether the booth should have an open/ inviting
look or a closed/internally focused design, or else a combination. These choices are driven
by the rm’s objectives and the nature of the audience. (For an example of how eective
booth design produced better results for Mattel, see Exhibitor Magazine 2003.) The activi-
ties planned for the booth, such as product demos, video monitors, computer stations,
theaters, space for private meetings or refreshments also have an impact on booth layout.
Booth design and graphics involve decisions about signage, lighting, carpets, color and
images. Research on the impact of all these elements on booth trac is scarce and dicult
to conduct, because data on these variables are not collected or assembled systematically.
Stang involves decisions about the number of salespeople who need to be working
the booth at any given time and adequate training for the booth sta in the set of skills
needed for eective booth results. The business press oers plenty of ad hoc, judicious
guidelines about sta selection, training and booth management. For example, there
are suggestions about selecting booth personnel with characteristics similar to the audi-
ence, choosing neither seasoned salespeople nor rookies, striving for a mix of specialized
product knowledge and technical skills and so on (Stevens 2005).
Giveaways and attention- getting techniques
These tactics are commonly used to draw audiences to the booth and can involve demos
(which attract better quality visitors) or gimmicks, such as oering free pens and key
chains, hosting a magic show or bringing in a celebrity to sign autographs (which typi-
cally draw lower quality visitors). Again these decisions are rarely subject to rigorous
analysis or measurement.
The focus in the post- show phase is collecting relevant data about performance metrics
that correspond to appropriate exhibitor objectives. Much of these data are drawn from
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236 Handbook of business-to-business marketing
post- show surveys of audiences and from visitors who stop at the booth during the show.
The biggest hurdle is tracking sales leads generated at the show to see how many and
which converted into a sale. The long purchase cycles and many intervening inuences in
most B2B sales situations create a measurement and analysis challenge, but such track-
ing is essential to assess the true eectiveness of trade shows.
Evaluation and Control
As noted previously, various ad hoc approaches to trade show planning and strategy
execution have appeared in the trade journals. This aspect is true in the area of perform-
ance evaluation and control as well (Stevens 2005). There is limited documentation in
the business press of the proven value of activities such as comparing post- show meas-
urements with pre- show behaviors or tracking leads to eventual sales. Most practical
managerial suggestions appear based on limited empirical work.
On the academic side, the issue of evaluating trade show eectiveness received only
cursory interest (Bellizzi and Lipps 1984; Carman 1968) before researchers began to
highlight the need for a systematic measurement of outcomes (Herbig et al., 1994).
Some empirical research involving metrics, such as lead eciency (Gopalakrishna and
Williams 1992), has since led to the development of appropriate scales and the validation
of performance metrics (Hansen 2004). Other academic studies, as briey noted next,
oer promise for more advanced empirical research in this domain.
We have developed a three- stage model of trade show performance that relies on dif-
ferent indices of performance at each stage: attraction, contact and conversion eciency
(Gopalakrishna and Lilien 1995). We view the process as a funnel, such that the target
audience for a rm at a trade show is only a subset of total show attendance. A fraction
of the target audience ends up visiting the rm’s booth (attraction eciency), a subset
of those visiting the booth actually make contact with a salesperson (contact eciency)
and only a fraction of those contacted turn into a sales lead (conversion eciency). We
model the impacts of pre- show promotion, booth space, use of attention- getting tech-
niques, competition, and the number and training of booth sta on these three indices,
which we treat as performance outcomes (dependent variables). Our empirical results
show signicant and dierent impacts of the various managerial actions on the three
dependent variables; this work provides a template for rigorously assessing the trade-
os and impact of tactical variables on a rm’s trade show performance.
The value derived by exhibiting at a trade show and its impact on the bottom line is
a subject of intense discussion among managers (Sashi and Perretty 1992). In a study
to assess the ROI of a rm’s participation in a trade show, Gopalakrishna et al. (1995)
track a group of matched show attendees and non- attendees for one exhibiting rm and
report signicant positive economic returns to the rm. Their empirical results are not
generalizable, but their approach can be used as a template to determine both the direct
(sales) eects of show participation and other outcomes, such as greater product aware-
ness and interest (indirect eects).
Smith et al. (2004) investigate the complementary eect of trade shows on personal
selling from an integrated marketing communications perspective. With a eld study
involving a group of industrial distributors, they demonstrate that follow- up sales eorts
can be reduced by about 50 per cent but generate the same level of sales if prospective
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Trade shows in the business marketing communications mix 237
customers have previously seen the product at a trade show. They also demonstrate how
knowledge of a prospect’s exposure to the rm’s product at the trade show can help allo-
cate post- show sales eort across prospective customers more eectively. Other researchers
have acknowledged the leverage oered by trade shows for managing key accounts (Blythe
2002) and, more generally, enhancing the selling aspects (O’Hara 1993; Tanner 1994).
Implications for Research
All of the potentially relevant objectives for show participation are rarely equal in
importance; they may vary across exhibitor rms, and for the same rms, they may vary
across shows. Systematic measurement of these objectives and their antecedents should
provide a foundation for a better understanding of show eectiveness and the role that
managerial actions play in enhancing that eectiveness. For example, given a specic
objective for trade show participation, which pre- show activities are most or least
eective in achieving that objective? Can we determine, in a more scientic way, how
investment in pre- show activity should be allocated across elements of the pre- show mix
to optimize objectives for a specic show? Similar questions might be addressed for at-
show and post- show marketing investments. In particular small rms may nd the show
environment rather challenging as they try to compete against bigger rivals. They face
greater resource constraints and may benet more from a dierent resource deployment
strategy (Tanner 2002; Williams et al. 1993). Similarly, show selection decisions tend
to draw heavily on managerial judgment and experience. Although attempts to reect
the entire trade show process from pre- show invitation to post- show sale have begun to
appear (Lee and Kim 2008; Sridhar et al. 2011), more comprehensive studies are needed
to model and trace the trade show process from end- to- end for dierent customer types,
dierent products and dierent industry settings.
THE ATTENDEE PERSPECTIVE
Attendees represent a vital link in the value chain. Show management and exhibitors
understand that a satisfying, enriching and fun experience for the attendee has a high
likelihood of ensuring repeat visits and building show attendance in the future (Smith et
al., 2003). Thus, gaining deeper insights into attendees’ behavior and activities as they
experience the show is an important and valuable element of organizing a successful
Eorts to understand why attendees visit trade shows appear in prior literature
(Godar and O’Connor 2001). Bello (1992) examines buyer behavior at trade shows with
an adaptive approach and nds that three elements of declarative knowledge, decisions
made, information sought and sources used, vary with the attendee’s role. In a follow- up
study, Bello and Lohtia (1993) demonstrate that show attendees t into two broad roles:
administrative and production. To obtain high quality leads, they suggest that salespeo-
ple should actively try to contact all key members of the attendee rm’s buying team.
For highly qualied booth visitors, salespeople should base their show selling plans
on an analysis of the size and composition of the attendee’s buying center, with larger
(customer) rms sending larger and more diverse teams than smaller rms. Production
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238 Handbook of business-to-business marketing
people appear more interested in technical information, but administrative people are
more interested in transactional information.
Rosson and Seringhaus (1995) report that visitors from smaller rms have direct
inuence over purchasing, but attendees from larger rms are more likely to be middle
managers collecting information that will merely be inputs for purchasing. They also
● multi- person attendance signals an immediate purchase or technology implemen-
● an invitation from a vendor is the most inuential factor in an attendee’s decision
● intensive and special- purpose users carefully map out their visits, using (online)
exhibition directories, exhibitor invitations and discussions with colleagues;
● booths are best remembered if they are large and well- designed, with an eective
sta and a live display.
Berne and Garcia- Uceda (2008) report that attendees consider the same show features
as do potential exhibitors when deciding which shows to visit: the experience of the show
organizer, the breadth and depth of the set of exhibitors, the show’s capacity to attract
visitors, the presence of competitors at the show, sponsorship or endorsement of the
event by public and private associations and the cost/convenience of the place or timing.
Rinallo et al. (2010) use ethnographic methods to study ten shows in the textile
industry and nd that an attendee’s typical visit starts with market leaders, continues
with regular suppliers, and features residual time devoted to other suppliers. Attendees
indicate that a valuable trade show experience provides cognitive stimulation, resulting
in learning and new knowledge and an opportunity to relate to exhibitors and other visi-
tors, which forges a sense of community.
Although most attendee research reported thus far has been survey based, new
advances in technology now permit a ner level of data access and capture. Using data
on booth visits captured with badge swipes across a large number of booths at a specic
show, it is possible to track attendees in terms of the exact booths they visited and the
sequence in which those visits happened. Gopalakrishna et al. (2010) study attendee
behavior on the trade show oor and identify ve distinct shoppers: a basic shopper,
enthusiasts, the niche shopper, brand shoppers and apathetic shoppers. For example,
brand shoppers seek out popular booths but also visit all the booths in which they are
interested; they know what they want to accomplish and are ecient about doing so.
In contrast, apathetic shoppers tend to be newcomers or attendees who have diculty
navigating the trade show oor or are unfamiliar with the trade show environment; their
visits follow no discernible pattern.
Implications for Research
The advent of RFID devices aords opportunities not hitherto seen in this research
domain. RFID enables more accurate tracking of attendee movements on the show
oor or within the connes of a specic booth. It also provides information about how
long a visitor looked at an exhibit. Hui et al. (2009a) propose a framework to analyze
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Trade shows in the business marketing communications mix 239
path data and provide some interesting insights on customer behavior in the context
of grocery shopping (Hui et al., 2009b, 2009c). Similarly new video tracking systems
that digitize video signals (movements) and monitor the trade show oor (videomining.
com) provide a source of customer tracking data that can be used in a similar way to
RFID data. It is exciting to consider the research implications of marrying these forms
THE SHOW MANAGEMENT PERSPECTIVE
Academic research from the exhibitor and attendee perspectives may be scarce, but
research from the trade show management perspective is almost non- existent. Show
organizers are interested in developing (protable) shows that provide high levels of
satisfaction for both exhibitors and attendees. A recent study of exhibition organizers
(CEIR 2009b) showed that more than 80 per cent believe that partnerships with exhibi-
tors are critical to the success of their show. They also believe that using more than one
advertising or promotional vehicle is critical to building a good base of attendees.
According to the study, show organizers are of two types: those who favor online mar-
keting (nearly 40 per cent) and those who favor traditional marketing methods (par-
ticularly direct mail). They believe that online marketing is less expensive but also less
eective than direct mail.
Organizers also assert that traditional methods, such as direct mail, produce more
success with older attendees, whereas new methods like email or social networking tools
(LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) are eective with younger attendees. Some other ndings
from that study reveal that (1) direct mail and email comprise two- thirds of the organ-
izers’ marketing budgets; (2) the average expenditure on attendee marketing for the most
recent exhibition was $247 000; and (3) 72 per cent of corporate event organizers believe
traditional methods are becoming less reliable and plan to promote entirely online within
three years (CEIR 2009b).
Acquiring new attendees remains an ongoing concern for trade show organizers.
Allowing access to pre- and post- show attendee lists and working with exhibitors to
institute new and innovative promotion activities through social networking or virtual
booths represent avenues that potentially generate new revenue stream opportunities.
Many organizers use virtual events (e.g. webcasts/webinars, two- or three- dimensional
simulated trade show environments) to complement live events (see Figure 13.1). And
though social media seem to provide signicant ROI with regard to the promotion of
a trade show, few organizers have the means to measure that impact. Developing an
eective strategy to promote the show to attract prospective exhibitors has become an
important challenge for show management. For example, the National Association of
Broadcasters show (a top digital media industry event) recently hired a vice president of
strategic accounts to help retain and grow its exhibitor base.
Online channels provide greater insight into customers’ preferences, oering audiences
a platform to engage with the brands and their peers on their own terms. This movement
toward a more customer- centric approach aligns closely with the increasingly experi-
ential nature of the exhibition engagement model and marketers’ eorts to build and
nurture communities of interest around their events.
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240 Handbook of business-to-business marketing
Implications for Research
One of the few research articles in this domain, by Wu et al. (2008), models the trade
show formation process. Vertical shows that display a narrow range of products (such
as the Association of Operating Room Nurses show) are more likely to attract partici-
pants with a high degree of interest in purchase transactions (by both buyers and sellers).
Horizontal shows (such as National Manufacturing Week) that feature a broad range of
products are more likely to attract attendees with less immediate interest in buying but
who have a high breadth of product interests, and are likely to be especially prevalent
in highly innovative industries. However, their research is descriptive in nature and says
little about what show organizers should be doing. The link between marketing resources
and exhibitor performance continues to engage and intrigue researchers (Li 2007, 2008).
In particular, the globalization of B2B markets has focused attention on topics such
as exporting products through trade shows (Bello and Barksdale 1986), cross- national
comparisons of trade show performance (Dekimpe et al., 1997; Palumbo et al., 1998),
exploring the value of non- selling activities and interactions at trade shows (Rice 1992;
Sharland and Balogh 1996) and developing a broad research agenda for trade shows in
the global arena (Seringhaus and Rosson 1994). There is a large amount of uncharted
research territory here: what type of shows organizers should develop in dierent types
of markets, how those shows should be marketed to exhibitors and attendees, what is the
best mix of online and oine shows and how show organizers can manage their shows
for the long term by applying customer lifetime value concepts to the equity they have
created by investing in the shows they have organized.
The changing nature of the B2B environment, from both supplier and buyer perspec-
tives, as driven largely by the technological revolution, is also changing the nature of the
traditional trade show environment. That change, combined with increasing insistence
on accountability, will provide incentives for exciting and relevant academic research in
the years to come.
Our review has identied several templates for rms trying to determine which shows to
attend; how much to spend on pre- show, at- show and post- show activities; and which
promotional and measurement methods are appropriate. Our review also indicates that
though some useful templates exist, their application is limited largely because managers
do not understand or lack the discipline to develop the associated measurements or track
the relevant metrics. The perfect may be the enemy of the good here. Even a simple, dis-
ciplined approach to setting and weighting specic objectives; determining appropriate
metrics for those objectives; determining which shows to attend and what to do in terms
of pre- , at- , and post- show activity; measuring the impact of those actions using the
appropriate metrics; and updating show evaluation and eectiveness models can turn the
trade show decision process into a business investment, rather than a business expense.
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Trade shows in the business marketing communications mix 241
The technological revolution has forced retailers and shopping malls to evolve rapidly
when sales functions that previously could only take place there moved online. And con-
sumers now communicate with retailers and with one another in new ways. But shopping
malls do not appear to be in any danger of disappearing; customers still want to touch
products, talk to other buyers face- to- face and talk to real salespeople. So it is with trade
shows: the technological revolution is changing the landscape drastically, but trade shows
are in no danger of going away. However, they are evolving rapidly. The need for better
measurement and accountability is converging with more cost- eective and unobtrusive
attendee measurement methods, providing many of the exciting research opportunities
we have noted. Trade shows will be around and thrive, both o- and online, in the years
to come. And if these new data sources are used appropriately, show exhibitors should
be able to justify show attendance as an investment rather than as an expense. Attendees
will have better tools and information sources to plan their trade show visits and maxi-
mize their personal ROI. Trade show organizers will be able to provide a broader, deeper
and more protable range of oerings, on- and oine, for attendees and exhibitors alike.
The authors thank Skip Cox, CEO and President, Exhibit Surveys, Inc., and Christophe
Van den Bulte for their valuable suggestions. They also thank Stephen Hampton and
Vamsi Kanuri, doctoral students in Marketing at University of Missouri, for their help
in organizing the literature.
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Trade shows in the business marketing communications mix 243
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APPENDIX 13.1: COST- EFFECTIVENESS OF TRADE SHOWS
In 2009, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) conducted a telephone
survey among sales and marketing managers across various industry sectors. Annual
sales for the rms in the study were greater than $50 million. Respondents answered
several questions pertaining to sales eort, costs and so on, such as: ‘Prior to a sales
call, what is the average cost of identifying a prospect through means other than a trade
show?’ A summary of the ndings from the survey reveals the following:
Therefore, closing a sale with a potential customer from a trade show, versus one found
in the eld, saves an organization nearly $914 per new customer.
Cost of identifying a prospect at a trade show $96
Cost of identifying a prospect through means other than a trade show $443
Cost of making a face-to-face contact with a prospect in the eld (sales call) $596
Number of calls to close a sale starting with a trade show lead 3.5
Number of calls to close a sale without a trade show lead 4.5
Total cost to close the sale with a trade show lead $2188
Total cost to close the sale without a trade show lead $3102*
Sample size was 214. The average annual cost of exhibiting reported by respondents, based on an average of
6.8 shows a year, was $153 763.
* Computed as follows: $596 3 4.5 1 443 5 $3125. Numbers dier slightly due to rounding.
Source: CEIR 2009d.
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Trade shows in the business marketing communications mix 245
APPENDIX 13.2: LINKING METRICS TO REALISTIC GOALS
This example highlights the idea that the metrics employed for assessment must reect
the marketplace realities. Say a rm that manufactures pneumatic seals wants to intro-
duce its product to a new industry segment (plastics) at a forthcoming show. It is impor-
tant to research the trade show attendance, read the exhibitor guide and talk to show
management. Say last year’s attendance at the same show was 5000, of which 15 per
cent represented the plastics industry. Of the 750 potential targets, show management
suggests that approximately 50 per cent are likely to pass by the rm’s booth during the
exhibit hall hours. So, the metric may be:
Give a demo to as many of 375 prospects as possible.
Next, the rm must ensure that is a realistic goal, given the resources at its disposal.
If a one- to- one demo takes 15 minutes and the plan is to have three salespeople at demo
stations, it is possible to perform 12 demos per hour. With 375 likely prospects, the rm
needs 31.25 hours of demos. But what if the exhibit hall is open for only 25 hours? The
rm will need either to add more salespeople or reduce the number of possible demos it
can realistically hope to make at the show.
Such analysis can help assess the viability of the metrics being used. The idea is to
employ metrics that are aggressive yet attainable, given the realities of the trade show,
the audience and the resources available at the rm’s disposal.
If the target is 375 demos during the 25 exhibit hall hours and one rep can accomplish 4
demos per hour, the number of salespeople needed is as follows:
Number of salespeople 5 375/(25 3 4) 5 3.75 (rounded to 4).
Typically, about 50 square feet of space is needed for one demo station. Thus, the rm
will need at least 200 square feet of booth space (possibly a 10 3 20 foot booth). This
illustration is adapted from Stevens (2005, pp. 55–6).
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