And yet there are more and more shows of all shapes and sizes all over the world. Regardless of the industry, you can easily go to a trade show at least once a month and probably a lot more if you what you do crosses technology disciplines.
So why are trade shows obsolete? Here are a few reasons from both the manufacturer's and end-user's viewpoint.
1) The customer can get all the information he needs off the Internet. Once upon a time, all new product releases and announcements were planned around a few trade shows since that was the best time to get the word out since you had most of your customers and factory reps in one place. With mailing lists, social media and a good website, product releases can now come any time. And if a customer needs info, it's now usually just a few clicks away instead of waiting for the trade show to collect a brochure or 1-sheet. And perhaps the most disappointing for veteran trade show goers is that with everything being more and more software based, there's no advantage to seeing a product in person since it'll probably look the same as on your computer at home.
2) Dealer networks are now easily reached. For a manufacturer, a trade show used to be the perfect place to see many of your existing dealers and find new ones. With fewer and fewer dealers in a distribution network because most business is done with "big box" stores, speaking with or find new dealers is far less important that it used to be. Again, thanks to the Internet, Chat and teleconferencing, it's now possible to effectively communicate with your dealers without seeing them face to face. From the dealer or rep perspective, a trade show is the perfect place to find new products or replacements for old ones (this still holds true actually), but again, just a few clicks and the dealer can have all the info he'll ever need.
3) Trade Shows have become too expensive. The return on investment has reached the breaking point for trade show attendance. Yes, they've always been expensive, but now, thanks to the recession, it's gone beyond what many companies large and small can afford. And it's not so much the travel expenses for personnel (which are really high but tempered by the economy) but the union costs, drayage, and booth costs. Apparently, trade associations and unions haven't gotten the message that there's not as much money available and have done what the government is so good at doing - when there's not enough business, they raise their rates to cover the shortfall instead of lowering prices or adding value to attract new customers or keep existing customers from leaving.
4) The stigma of not being there has been lifted. Once upon a time, if your company wasn't at a major trade show, dealers, reps and customers began to question the health of the company as a result. No more. The formidable Apple Computer has been one of the leaders in shunning trade shows, starting with NAB a few years ago and even extending it to trade shows built specifically around it's brand like MacWorld. This starts a snowball slowly rolling down the hill with other manufacturers thinking, "If Apple doesn't feel they need to attend, then neither do we." We're seeing it starting to happen at trade shows all over the world as the booth space dwindles.
5) Let's face it, trade shows are boring. The biggest problem I see with all trade shows these days is that the products are evolutionary instead of revolutionary. It used to be that there'd be not one, but as many as 3 or 4 new products that just had everyone buzzing. In these days of mostly software, what we see are products that seem to have a few new features, or run faster, or have a different user interface, but nothing that you'd truly call truly new and innovative. As a result, there's even less incentive for an end-user to attend. There's just no excitement anymore. And with a general lack of money around, there are no lavish parties or gatherings to go to, no blockbuster presentations that you haven't seen before, and very little "wow factor."
For all these reasons, we're seeing more and more companies look at the bottom line and feel that the cost of attending a trade show just doesn't justify the return. And now that the stigma of not being there is lifted, they don't feel forced to do so either.
Tomorrow - The Trouble With Conferences. What's wrong with them, how to fix them, and which ones are actually worth attending and why.