The Future of Trade Shows: Why NPE2021 Will Be More Important Than Ever

Read Time: 6 minutesProviding the opportunity to raise brand awareness, showcase new products and connect with a targeted audience of potential customers and other industry experts, it’s no wonder that trade shows have long been a popular staple in a marketing and sales team’s arsenal. Though the digital age continues to ramp up our screen time and expand digital marketing efforts, the value of face-to-face marketing remains strong. Most would agree that making a personal connection with a company creates more willingness to do business down the line. Supporting this, 91 percent of consumers stated that they have more positive feelings about a brand after a live event, according to a recent study by Event Marketer. Trade shows continue to hold value, but given the current circumstances in 2020, trying to predict the future of them is difficult.

The Current State of Trade Shows

Between canceled events, social distancing and safer at home initiatives, COVID-19 has quickly disrupted our marketing strategies and daily lives. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a lot of uncertainty surrounding large gatherings, including trade shows, and what the new normal will be.

While some trade shows have been canceled or postponed indefinitely, others are looking to adapt to the current circumstances, moving to a virtual format. Whether this format gains popularity or not with attendees and exhibitors, it is wise to expect some change to occur as a result of COVID-19.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Trade Shows – Welcome to the New Normal

Trade shows are known for highlighting the latest innovations in the industry, but following COVID-19, trade shows as a whole will be forced to innovate. Understanding if that will be virtual or in-person, remains to be seen, but we can expect this to be a highly debated topic.

Virtual trade shows offer several benefits, as they are:

  • Accessible
  • Cost-effective
  • Customizable
  • Easy to measure
  • Flexible

Without the costs of travel, hotel rooms or social events, virtual trade shows offer a more budget-friendly alternative than traditional trade shows while still providing branding and lead-generation opportunities. This format is accessible, attracting more attendees that would otherwise not be able to attend  and is far more flexible, offering an “on-demand” experience. Visitors can choose when to attend your booth on their own time, and they don’t have the pressure of trying to visit multiple booths in a short amount of time. Virtual trade shows also allow each company to customize its booths to not only look visually appealing but also by adding interactive content or webinars to supplement standard company information and marketing collateral. Having photos, videos and downloadable content provides an added way to share information and raise brand awareness. Finally, virtual trade shows allow for easier ROI tracking with data that measures how many people visited, what visitors downloaded and how many interactions you had with customers via live chat.

While many expect virtual trade shows to gain popularity as the preferred style moving forward, there is a movement known as “revenge attendance” that is quickly gaining traction in the industry. This idea is built on the principle that people crave social interactions in a face-to-face setting, and after being restricted for months, there will be a surge in attendance at events.

In-person trade shows offer a different dynamic that is vital for many industries. In a recent blog from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), industry veteran Doug Ducate highlighted this.

“Engineering, scientific and health care events are the source of innovation, new products, practices, and procedures. Ideas require examination and challenges from those qualified to evaluate them and question the originators’ logic and assumptions. This is best done in a face-to-face environment. Peer review is the path to acceptance, testing, and prototypes. These events also provide continuing education units for various certification requirements.”

In the same blog, Ducate shared that trade shows, among other things, were forced to change the way they operated following the events of 9/11. COVID-19 will have a similar effect, and as the definition of what the new normal looks like continues to take shape, we can predict there will certainly be change as a result.

Why NPE2021 Will Be More Important Than Ever

As one of the biggest events in the plastics industry, NPE: The Plastics Show, produced by the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS), provides the opportunity to position your company as a leader in the market. NPE2021 will offer the chance for brands to tell a new story, one of stability and flexibility, as companies highlight their proven success in adding new capabilities during the response to COVID-19. The hard work that companies are doing right now will go a long way toward telling that story effectively.

The timing of NPE2021 is particularly important. As mentioned, NPE is one of the largest gatherings of plastics professionals, and this time around, it could be one of the first events to operate without restrictions. To answer what to expect for NPE2021, Vive reached out to Daniele Fresca, President and CEO of LeadIn Logistics, the official concierge services consultant for NPE. Working officially with NPE for the last two cycles and having been around NPE for nearly two decades, Daniele has a great feel for what differences we may see when next May rolls around.

“Attendance is the number one difference that immediately comes to mind, simply based on the current circumstances we face,” said Fresca. “Many trade shows gauge the success by the number of people that walk through the door, and while that was a good indicator in the past, social distancing and new rules of personal engagement are likely to be on the minds of some – even though the event is a year away. With that said, I do believe people will attend. My inclination is that the attendance numbers themselves will be down, but the quality of those with purchasing power will be up.”

The quality of attendees is a large factor in deciding whether or not to attend. Measuring typical trade shows, a study by CEIR found that 46 percent of attendees serve in an executive or upper management position, and 82 percent of attendees have buying authority. NPE2021 could see increases in both of those categories. Finally, following the economic downturn caused by COVID-19, NPE2021 provides a bounce-back opportunity for many companies that need it, making all leads more valuable than ever.

Fresca also made mention of the potential rising importance of NPE2021 and the possibility of revenge attendance.

“If this lockdown situation has taught us anything, it’s that humans require socialization and face-to-face contact; we want a sense of routine back,” said Fresca. “NPE, a tradition in the plastics manufacturing industry, is one of those staples.”

What You Can Do Right Now to Prepare for NPE2021

As NPE2021 quickly approaches, it’s important to understand the preparation you can do right now to have success come next May. In marketing, it is vital to be over-prepared, as you can never fully anticipate what the outcome will be. Planning now, while others are waiting, is a great way to get a jump on having a successful NPE.

The companies that map out contingency plans are the ones that will find success in any event format, virtual or in-person. Taking the time now to produce blogs, promotional videos and informative webinars will help in the immediate, and this content can be utilized again in a virtual trade show setting. For more tips on how to execute these, read our blog – Seven Marketing Initiatives to Focus on When Sales are Slow.

On the logistics side of planning, Fresca documented two factors that separate a company in terms of preparation. First, considering who is handling the preparation. While some companies have teams focused solely on trade shows and events, others will assign these duties to one person. The responsibilities of planning for all the logistics can be tough to balance in addition to the person’s typical role, meaning important little details can be missed. Second, understand the scale of your booth. All booths share similar makeup and requirements in logistics for shipping and setting up, but thinking ahead and mapping out any booth extras or large machines will help in the planning process.

NPE2021 will be here before you know it. The time is now to start the critical planning and preparation to be successful.

Looking for a place to start? Vive has previously highlighted some best practices on effective planning, how to maximize your booth and how to follow up after the trade show. Click below to read the three-part series:

Need help getting the most out of NPE2021? Vive can help! Contact us today.

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Based out of Milwaukee, Vive has provided B2B marketing services for 70 manufacturers across the United States and Canada since 2007.