Trade shows: their importance and predicted changes during and post COVID-19

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In a time where sales are at a historic low due to COVID-19, it becomes especially important to focus on supporting small and medium enterprises (SMEs), who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s setbacks. One of the ways in which SMEs have been harmed is with the complete dissolution of physical trade shows because of social distancing measures. 

Trade shows are exhibitions which bring together manufacturers, who present their products or describe their services, to current or potential customers, suppliers, and the media. While COVID-19 expedited the decline in trade shows, the truth remains that the number of attendees and cancellations has been falling before the pandemic. With this in mind, one should assess the importance of trade shows and the severe implications on SMEs if they ceased to exist. 

For decades, trade shows have served as a vital marketing tool due to the wide visibility and exposure they offer. They also enable sellers to test new products in the market, gather insights about consumers and competitors, and get unmatched access to buyers. Taking these benefits into account, it can be seen why SMEs rely heavily on the attendance of trade shows.

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The COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020 has dramatically changed how the world operates, with most in-person activities now being held virtually. For this reason, marketers have started looking into holding virtual trade shows as a substitute in order to acclimate to this unprecedented time and similar disruptive events in the future.

Virtual trade shows can range from simple online directories to complex 3D simulations. Relevant engagement tools to use are webinars, which allow direct communication with attendees, as well as demonstration videos, social media platforms, and live chat tools. By holding trade shows virtually, SMEs can reap benefits like the elimination of travel costs, reduction in the carbon footprint, higher exposure, and providing better reporting through online databases and analytics that hold vital customer information. 

In order to host a virtual show, there are a series of steps to undertake. Initially, a set of goals and objectives must be clearly outlined, followed by an estimated number of registrations and hosted exhibitions. Further, hosts must reach out to SMEs who will provide valuable content to attendees through individual booths. Following this, a platform that incorporates virtual exhibitor booths, chat features, live streaming, and additional sessions must be chosen in order to provide as close to an authentic show experience as possible. Finally, hosts should employ promotional tactics to increase event exposure through building an event website and utilizing social media and email marketing tools.

The Jordanian Action for the Development of Enterprises (JADE), co-funded by the European Union, aims at supporting SMEs with strong growth and job creation potential. One of JADE’s mandates is to develop market linkages for SMEs across value chains through their participation in local and international trade shows, making it pertinent to assess their future and consider alternative ways in which they could be held. In the past, JADE supported numerous SMEs to exhibit or perform business-to-business visits in 11 trade shows. Under the new climate, JADE has hosted its first virtual trade show on the 21st of October with the aim of supporting tourism in Jordan.

Taking all these factors into consideration, SMEs can continue their development and growth through trade shows while navigating the novel circumstances imposed by COVID-19.