For decades, trade shows have been an important lead generation, sales, and exhibition platform for brands across industries, and they remain so today for many businesses.

The nature of the trade show is changing, however, as buyers walk onto the floor more informed than ever, and brands seek to create impactful experiences that connect with and engage attendees. Here are some of the biggest ways trade shows are evolving with the times.

Trade Show Trends

1. Buyers are coming more prepared.

The modern buyer is an educated buyer. The days in which prospective customers would come to a trade show simply to “see what’s out there” may be over. Attendees are well-informed, and brands and sales reps are no longer their main source of product or brand information.

Before arriving at a show, attendees may already be familiar with a brand’s product line, brand identity, target customer, etc. Simply by trolling the internet to look at your website, past press, and customer reviews, a buyer can get a good idea of what your brand is about, and how it’s perceived in the marketplace.

The effects of this are varied. First of all, brands must have an established, strong online presence. In other words, keep information readily available online for the retail buyers searching for it. Building brand awareness before the show is key, as many trade show attendees will already have formed a list of brands that they plan on visiting at the show.

2. Technology is changing the playing field.

Technology is increasingly becoming a necessary component of any brand’s trade show marketing and sales strategy. It’s affecting every aspect of the trade show experience, from how exhibitors build their booths and engage prospects, to how attendees interact with brands. Here are a few examples of how technology is improving the trade show experience:

  • Digital marketing collateral

According to Global Experience Specialists, 75% of trade show brochures and product pamphlets end up in the garbage. In order to provide attendees with the content they’re actually interested in, brands are using electronic collateral/literature, allowing attendees to select what they want and have it sent instantaneously to their inboxes.

  • Virtual/Augmented reality experiences

Virtual reality is becoming one of the most popular ways to engage trade show attendees. Oculus Rift VR technology, for example, is helping wholesale brands present innovative virtual product experiences that keep people engaged with the booth and brand. Augmented reality experiences are easier to create, as they allow attendees to use their smartphones or tablets to see graphics and other sensory stimuli superimposed on their physical environment.

  • Drones

According to Global Experience Specialists’ 2015 Trend Tracker, “drones are here, and they are being put to use….providing new touchpoints [at events].” Drones with cameras mounted on them can live-stream video, analyze foot traffic, or even provide a way for brands to deliver delightful experiences to attendees. In one example cited by GES, Pepto-Bismol launched a campaign at Six Flags Theme Parks, where people could “Tweet for Relief” and have Pepto-Bismol delivered by drone drop.

  • Digital Order Writing Technology

In addition to the bells and whistles that improve the way brands market products to prospects, it is even more key to have a streamlined method of writing a basic order. Brands using mobile order writing technology are able to display products on a digital catalog, write orders, and send emailed order confirmations with just a few taps. There’s nothing worse than creating a modern, innovative brand experience, only to have it downgraded by a paper order form and a 2-week wait for an order confirmation.

3. Social media interaction is becoming more of an important success indicator.

Social media engagement is running high on the priority list for many exhibitors, and brands are finding innovative ways to encourage valuable social media engagement with buyers before they even step into the exhibition hall––81% of whom having purchasing power, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

Some marketers are using solutions like Sprinklr to identify influencers, view their past interactions with the brand, and begin targeting them before a show even begins. Others are using solutions like InGo to find new potential event attendees via social networks.

Social media engagement is also becoming an ROI success metric. Bloomberg Businessweek even ranked exhibitors at the Detroit Auto Show by number of Twitter interactions, with Ford coming out on top.

It’s becoming clear that those brands who’ve built more social engagement in their pre-show marketing strategy will have a major competitive advantage when a trade show begins. Expanding social media engagement beyond pre-show marketing and into an ongoing year-round strategy is the strongest way to engage attendees when the event rolls around.

4. Data is driving business.

Trade show exhibitors are taking advantage of real-time data to measure performance. Those who have just a foggy, experience-based idea on how they “did” at a recent show are becoming the exception rather than the norm.

With sales order management software, for instance, brands can get real-time reports on total sales, sales per rep, and what products are selling best. Likewise, trade show exhibitors are getting better at measuring trade show ROI, evaluating which trade shows are worth attending, and making any necessary improvements or adjustments to strategy for future events.

Despite (or perhaps because of) these changes, trade shows will continue to be key selling events for many wholesalers. Questions about any of the trade show trends we talked about here? Let us know in the comments below. Want to know more about how technology can boost your sales at trade shows? Click here to find out.