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Exhibitors spend too much on trade shows : How to maximize the ROI

Marketing & new consumption

publication date 17 / 05 / 2017

Trade shows are important marketing tools, particularly for b2b companies as they absorb a significant part of b2b promotional investments, and for national and local governments, as trade show organizers and exhibitors receive significant support in the context of export promotion programs.

The paper looks at work separately developed in industrial marketing and economic geography, in the spirit of cross-fertilization between disciplines, and by critically contrasting work in these areas provides new insights on how to make the most of trade show-related investments. By adopting a knowledge-based view of these events, we go being the limit of current literature and suggest several counter-intuitive ways to manage trade shows activities.

  • First, emphasis on the promotional role of trade shows neglects the fact that through these events firms can learn from the market. Firms exhibiting at trade shows obtain crucial experiential knowledge about how to adapt their core productive competencies to the heterogeneous needs of customers in different industries and geographical markets. This learning aspect should be incorporated in the metrics employed to evaluate exhibitor results from trade show participation.
  • Second, trade shows are typically not conceived as collective marketing tools. Some typologies of trade shows can be employed to affirm nation brands (e.g., made in France for fashion, made in Germany for technology) and help smaller firms interact with and learn from foreign customers. By adopting a knowledge-based perspective, the article provides insight on how trade shows can be employed by entrepreneurial associations and other industry actors as collective marketing platforms and thus help the internationalization of local and national industries.
  • Third, a knowledge-based view of trade shows provides a new look at how national or regional export promotion authorities can manage collective trade show participations more effectively. So far, these initiatives were run with a collective stand logic in mind that is by renting from trade show organizers a large space within the exhibition venue to be sublet to local exhibitors at a subsidized price. With the adoption of a collective marketing approach, this traditional logic should be abandoned in favor of one based on the design of persuasive experience for buyers building on appropriate contents and stand designs, the selection of representative exhibitors (especially market leaders, who are typically absent from collective initiatives), and the organization of complementary leisure and cultural events promoting the nation brand. 
Learn more

Rinallo, D., Bathelt, H. & Golfetto, F. (2017) Economic Geography and Industrial Marketing Views on Trade Shows: Collective Marketing and Knowledge Circulation. Industrial Marketing Management, Vol 61, pp. 93-103.

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