High-Lights: Our Tech PR POV

Analyst Trade Shows Standout in an Increasingly Digital World

For all the talk about marketing’s digital transformation, a heck of a lot of people are still attending physical trade shows. More than 42K attended the largest B2B security show, RSA Conference, in March 2019. More than 180K were in Las Vegas in January 2018 for CES, the massive consumer electronics show.

Many years ago, I believed that trade show popularity followed an inverted arc curve. At the apex of the curve– when a given show reached the peak of its popularity– is marketing saturation. Attendees would realize that a given show’s vendors all said the same thing, or, even worse, that the only people attending were non-practitioners. The show’s popularity would then see a precipitous decline.

My theory is easily disproved, given the longevity of certain shows I have attended for the majority of my career. But also disproven is a belief conditioned deep in my mind that the importance of physical trade shows will ultimately wane, given 1:1 marketing and the internet.

In truth, the concept of the trade show is amorphous and resilient. Alongside horizontal trade shows, such as CES, are a variety of other types of shows, such as user conferences. They commence as gatherings of peers to learn best practices for a specific solution but morph into living, breathing communities of their own.

A similar morphing might be underway among events run by industry analyst firms, which often prove to be wise investments by my clients. Incorporating industry analyst trade shows into a marketing mix is important for any B2B technology company, as long as those companies ponder a few key questions:

What’s the objective of your attendance? For companies interested in branding, a larger horizontal show avails you to a wide audience. Sponsoring trade show happenings, such as receptions or parties, creates buzz. Vertical and industry-analyst-driven events are more precise in their audience, and they should be considered if the objective is equally more narrow, such as driving customer acquisition.

One reason for attending an industry analyst event is to earn an audience with the analysts themselves. Regular communication with them is key to understanding the conditioning of the market and to teach the analyst as to why a given solution is ideal for where an industry is headed.

What is the target audience for the organization running the event? Certainly it’s important to know who is attending a given show, but a better way to look at this is to evaluate the audience that the show’s organizers care about. The more zeroed-in an organizer is on a target audience, the more zeroed-in that organization’s event is on that audience.

Evaluating the audiences an analyst firm cares about is not hard—simply review published research. However, organizations sometimes are misled by the credibility of a given firm and blindly sign up for that firm’s events, even if the firm doesn’t write for the correct end-user audience and has not defined a research area for those users. Most analyst firms place tech vendors in categories; if a given firm doesn’t have a category for you, it’s probably a wasted investment to attend that firm’s events.

Are there desirable outcomes beyond visibility and high-level lead generation? The right analyst trade shows gather a targeted list of influencers that matter to marketing efforts. Today’s digital world presents wide-ranging opportunities to leverage them.

Influencer dinners during the events are an informal setting to discuss trends. If they are positioned as such they have long-tail benefits. Dinner guests are more likely in the future to engage with the host’s content, act as a reference for marketing campaigns, or, obviously, mention the company in online comments or stories.

On-site social efforts by an exhibitor demonstrate that company’s commitment to the target audience. Visuals and short YouTube-quality videos from the events drive better engagement numbers than general thought leadership content.

Physical trade shows remain an important part of an organization’s marketing mix. And increasing the investment in shows run by analysts can deliver a nice return, as long as the audience and potential impact of such an investment are carefully weighed.