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Trade Show Trends: 21 Occasionally Silly Predictions for 2011

December 11, 2010 | | Comments 8

Trade show predictions for 2011You’re probably aware of the major trends about trade shows:  More exhibitors measuring their ROI; doing more with less, perceived competition from virtual trade shows; the shift to fabric graphics and custom modular exhibits , more interactive technology in booths, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Yeah, we know those big trends.  But what other trends are happening that will affect the trade show world?  Trends that are perhaps less obvious and hopefully less serious?  Gaze along with me into my crystal ball and we’ll see:

  1. SHOWS GROW: United States trade shows will return to growth for the entire 2011 for multiple reasons:
  • Exhibitors will be past their smaller 2010 budgets set during the harsh 2009 conditions, and will have their replenished 2011 budgets ready to go.
  • Companies awash in cash will invest in marketing to compete with aggressive competitors and spur growth.
  • Larger number of new products developed during the less scary 2010 need to be introduced at 2011 shows.
  • The weaker U.S. dollar (“quantitative easing”) will boost U.S. manufacturing sales (who are most of the larger exhibitors), and also make travel and exhibiting at U.S. shows less expensive for foreigners.
  • B2B marketers impatient with their inability to demonstratedly drive enough sales volume with harder-than-it-looks social media will re-allocate more dollars back to proven trade shows.
  • Recently hired entry-level professionals will be sent to get training at industry shows.
  1. PICTURE THIS: Almost all exhibitors will finally have attention-getting mural graphics on their 10-foot pop-up displays because Front Runner fabric (that carpet-like fabric popular in the 1980s and 1990s) has been discontinued.
  2. GREEN WITH ENVY: Sustainable exhibiting will be the trend of the future … again.
  3. WHADDYA INK? Booth staffers will start favoring pens that write with blue ink over pens that write with black ink.  You saw it here first.
  4. COLOR ME FASHIONABLE: Lime green and bright orange on trade show exhibits will start to go out of style.
  5. I WANT IT NOW! Literally waiting to the last minute, a disorganized exhibitor will demand from an exhibit house a spec design for a 30 foot by 40 foot exhibit…for a show happening later that day.
  6. SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY: Rather than fear social media, almost all show producers will embrace it to get more attendees to their events.  And it will work, increasing attendance and interactivity.
  7. CRACKING THE CODE: QR Code use by exhibitors on their trade show graphics will multiply fourfold … going from .25% of exhibitors up to 1%.  (Yes, I made those numbers up.)
  8. CHOICES, CHOICES: More new shows will launch as show producers feel confident enough in the economy to experiment with growing niches.
  9. I AM NOT A CROOK: Exhibitors will stop saying “Can I swipe your badge?” and instead say, “Can I scan your badge?”
  10. TRASH CHIC: Grey plastic wastebaskets will become so last season.  In 2011, stainless steel wastebaskets will be all the rage.
  11. FLOWER POWER: Trade show floral trends for 2011: Mum’s the word!
  12. NI HAO: U.S. exhibitors will be more attentive to international trade show attendees who visit their booth, because their foreign economies are growing faster, and more U.S. exhibitors will exhibit internationally.
  13. SWEET TWEET: For the first time, an attendee will converse strictly through Twitter with a booth staffer — while they are both standing in the very same tradeshow booth.
  14. NO-GROPE ZONE: Regional trade shows will get an unexpected boost from people who drive to shows closer than their national conventions to avoid TSA body scanners and aggressive pat-downs at airport check in.
  15. SMARTER THAN SMART PHONES: Conference presentations will improve as presenters create more interactivity to better compete with attendees’ ever-present smart phones.
  16. TECHNICALLY SPEAKING: Thanks to their portable size and touch screens, I-Pad use in booths will explode, used for presentations, lead retrieval, demos, and catching up on the latest Justin Bieber videos.
  17. WHILE YOU’RE HERE: More exhibitors will shift their budgets from pre-show to at-show promotions.
  18. EXHIBITING 2.0: More exhibitors will effectively use social media for trade show promotions.
  19. FREE PRIZE INSIDE: The iPad will replace the iPod as the most offered trade show contest giveaway prize.
  20. HAVE WE MET? At the world’s most micro-targeted regional trade show, an exhibitor will sit in front of a mirror and talk to himself.

What do you predict will happen in the world of trade shows in 2011?  Gaze into your own crystal ball, read the tea leaves, deal yourself a hand of Tarot cards, and let us know in the comment box below.

Evolving Role of Exhibit Marketers: free white paperAll these trade show changes mean your exhibit marketing job has changed, too.  Find out how in The Evolving Role of Exhibit Marketers, a free white paper you can lay your hands on by clicking here.

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About the Author: Mike Thimmesch is Skyline Exhibits' Director of Customer Engagement, with over 25 years of Marketing and Trade Show Display Marketing experience.

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  1. Traci Browne says:

    So glad to see lime green and orange trending out! No one looks good surrounded by those colors…no Snookie, not even you.

    Perhaps with the increase of foreign visitors we could “profile” them instead of scan their badges? What? Too soon?

    I am curious to see what happens this year with the lead systems. Seems like the days of expensive software are soon behind us for these types of applications. Now we’re used to downloading apps that do just about anything for $5 or less. Even getting our own credit card swiper that plugs into our iPhone. For how long can show producers pass along registration system fees on to the exhibitor through lead retrieval fees?

    • Hello Traci,

      I think we will see lime green and orange for years to come. But perhaps not so many new builds, but on booths build over the last few years as they keep going. And mind you, this is just my opinion.

      Agreed, any visitor, foreign or not, should be talked to for a while before a badge is scanned. Unless they are entering a contest in your booth and that’s the starting point.

      I am also curious about the lead systems. While I don’t like paying for the show’s lead retrieval system, I do like getting a print out of their contact info and perhaps even their budget info that you get when you “scan” the attendee’s badge. If that data comes along with the smart phone lead retrieval system, then it’s halfway home.

  2. Alex says:

    Great predictions, especially number 15 NO-GROPE ZONE, this one is a keeper…

    Totally agree with the at show promotion and even more so with I-Pad technology, this is going to set a tone for the next decade as the technology and tools only get better and more interactive…

    • Thanks, Alex, for you comments. You can see that so many of the trends that affect trade shows start with big changes that happen outside of them, but end up having consequences on trade shows anyhow.

  3. D. Brown says:

    Great article. I especially think the QR codes will definitely explode in the coming months and as for the lime green and orange, well we have just see about that one. My organization just had a major rebrand campaign and those are two of the colors we included. :)

    • Yup, we’ve started getting a few more questions about QR codes for exhibit graphics ourselves.

      Nice use of orange and the lime green (and red and blue) on your rebrand — it looks good on your website!

  4. Sr. Mary David apparently was not in your educational life.
    Item # 10
    We know that you “can” scan our card!
    The question should be:
    “MAY” I SCAN YOUR CARD

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