The Social Effect's Trade Show Marketing Insights Report 2019


February, 2020

Trade show marketing is in a constant state of flux thanks to the rapid advancement of technology and the changing behaviours of exhibitors and visitors. It's incredible how different things are from even a year ago. We recently ran a survey in association with Feathr to get an idea of the trade show marketing landscape and these are the results.

Although we would have liked to include a greater variation of trade show marketing professionals, we were happy with the breadth and depth of the survey participants.

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Survey participants came from most continents (the ones with trade shows of course) and represent large organisations such as Reed, UBM/Informa, Clarion & Messe Frankfurt as well as smaller associations that put on one show per year.

VisProm vs ExProm: Where do budgets go?

There always seems to be a tug of war between visitor promotion and exhibitor promotion efforts. One brings in revenue while the other provides value to exhibitors and bragging rights to the organiser.

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Disclaimer - when reviewing the survey results we realised that the question asking about the split between VisProm and ExProm budgets wasn't as clear as it could have been, so take the above percentages with a pinch of salt. Despite the lack of clarity in the question, it's still interesting to note that budget seems to be relatively evenly split between VisProm & ExProm.

How does your marketing support your exhibitor promotion?

While digital marketing proactively supports exhibitor promotion, there's very little consistency in what form that support takes - this in itself is surprising. Here's how trade show marketers are supporting their ExProm efforts.

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Surprisingly, less than half of all respondents (40%) use social media to announce new exhibitor signings and even less (33%) use it to amplify exhibitor success stories and testimonials. Only 31% of respondents use paid media tactics to drive exhibitor enquiries, yet 42% have great inbound lead-generation strategies.

If you have a strong inbound lead-generating website, then using paid media to increase traffic (visitor prospects) to your website would perfectly complement your strategy. The most surprising result is that only 40% of respondents are using LinkedIn for social selling to support exhibitor marketing. This is a MASSIVE missed opportunity.

What are your biggest marketing challenges for growing your trade show visitor attendance?

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At 52%, reaching their target audience is clearly the biggest marketing challenge according to our survey recipients, followed closely at 45% by 'competition from other events'.

Organisers need to put 'reaching your target audience into two distinct buckets. First, there's reaching a 'new audience', which is made up of event prospects that have never heard of their event. Second, is reaching previous visitors. Each audience bucket needs its own unique strategy.

What marketing tools / channels do you currently use?

We purposefully didn't include email marketing in the survey answers as we wanted to explore the use of less common tools and channels and, let's face it, every trade show marketer uses email.

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With exhibitor invite programs (69%), paid social advertising (68%) and remarking (60%), we get a strong indication of where the majority of survey participants are focusing their trade show marketing efforts.

We were pleasantly surprised that 'exhibitor invite programs' came in at number one. Marketing programs designed to leverage your exhibitor's existing customer network is undoubtedly an effective way to market your event.

What marketing channels did you implement for the first time last year?

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With 60% of our survey participants implementing a retargeting strategy for the first time in 2019, it's clear that there's a strong focus on trying to re engage event traffic that didn't convert on their previous visits to their trade show website. I predict that this will skyrocket in 2020 as trade show marketers realise that websites often don't convert on first (or even second) visit.

What marketing tools / channels do you plan to implement this year?

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In 2020, some trade show marketing plans will include geofencing (42%), marketing automation (38%) and paid social (36%).

What's most interesting about geofencing is that it can be used to target event attendees while attending competing events (geo contesting), and also as a way to generate additional revenue from your exhibitors.

What areas of your trade show marketing have the most room for improvement?

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We can segment 'room for improvement' into two categories:

First, and in line with the top challenges listed earlier in the blog, we have 'targeting' (58%), analysis & attribution (47%) and website design & optimisation (also 47%).

The second is the selection (42%) and implementation (49%) of new marketing technology. With so many trade show marketing technology options available, and the complexities involved in implementing them, this is clearly a challenge and focus area for improvement for many trade show organisers.

What are the most effective tools for your trade show marketing?

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It's no surprise that email (71%), website (67%) and social media (46%) are the top three trade show marketing tools for event marketers.

What is a little surprising is the 'bespoke landing pages' is second to last at 8%. As trade show audiences are generally broad and contain multiple persona groups, bespoke or persona-based landing pages greatly improve time-on-site and conversions, as well as reduce bounce rates.

Do you use website analytics to track which channels are sending you the most registrations?

Prepare yourself to be shocked. This is the question that really surprised me.

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Only 50% of our survey participants are using analytics to understand which channels are producing registrations. This is incredibly counterintuitive when our survey respondents also find 'reaching their target audience' and 'converting digital traffic to pre-registrations' as major challenges.

Without robust analytics, it's impossible to spend marketing budget smartly or even start a discussion on ROI.

Where does most of your website traffic come from?

Obviously, with only 50% of our survey respondents actually using analytics to track where their traffic is coming from, I would take these results with a big pinch of salt.

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No surprise with the top four answers: email (56%), social media (27%), search engines (26%) and paid advertising (23%).

What is a surprise is that as digital marketers we know that 'I don't know' likely includes 'direct traffic', which often makes up 20% to 40% of total traffic.

Do you do your trade show marketing in-house, through an agency, or through a selection of different providers?

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The majority of participants (65%) do their marketing in-house.

Three of the top four trade show marketing challenges are 'reaching their target audience', 'converting digital traffic to registrations' and 'not having enough resources (staff, skills, funding)'. With this in mind, it's imperative that trade show organisers start investing in their teams or start using specialist agencies and providers.

What were your biggest challenges last year?

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In 2019, trade show marketers number one challenge was the amount of marketing budget they were working with (54%), followed by achieving attendee targets (46%).

As trade show marketing budgets and attendee targets go hand-in-hand, it's clear that organisers need to be as smart as possible with how they spend their budgets.

Contact The Social Effect to make your next event a career-defining one.

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Matt Green

Head of Marketing


Matt is on a mission to help Event Profs excel at marketing their events. It’s his job to delve deep into every aspect of pre event marketing to help event marketers streamline & optimise their B2B event marketing.

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