What’s the purpose of marketing? I’ve got my definition of marketing at the top of this page under the Two Hat Marketing title, but what’s marketing’s purpose? I believe it’s very simple:

The PURPOSE of marketing is to be on the mind of
the prospect when the prospect is ready to buy.

I personally think it’s important to understand this. Jay Abraham put it succinctly when he posed the question, "If you were to build a hamburger stand in your town, what would be the most important factor in your success?" His answer? Hungry customers!

Makes sense to me. You see, when we exhibit at a trade show, send out a direct mail campaign, advertise in a trade journal or newspaper, send out press releases, even when we design our websites, our very best prospects are those people who have already determined in their own minds that they have a need for our type of product or service.

I bring this up now because of a big trade show research project I recently completed for the Association for Manufacturing Technology and Society of Manufacturing Engineers. They wanted to learn about attitudes and perceptions of both exhibitors and attendees regarding the future of trade shows.

We did focus groups across the US and online surveys. I’m not at liberty to share all the results, but suffice it to say, they had a 99% confidence factor with a 2.2% margin of error.

One particular statistic jumped right out. When asked, "Will trade shows play an important role in your business in the future?":

84.1% of attendees said YES

55.8% of exhibitors said YES

Attendees say absolutely YES trade shows will continue to play an important role in the future. Exhibitors say absolutely MAYBE. That’s a big perception gap. What’s going on here? (Oh, and before you exhibitors start hooting that younger people wouldn’t agree, we filtered out the Under 35 crowd to see what they thought. 85.0% said YES. So there.)

I’ll be blunt. Trade shows used to be easy pickings for exhibiting companies. Twenty years ago they could get away with cheap. They didn’t have to do preshow promotions. They didn’t have to get super aggressive on the show floor. They could show up at the event just before it opened, flip up the booth, and then stand around with order forms on clip boards and wait for the orders to roll in. Exhibitors determined the success of their show by the total number of orders and dollars written at the event.

For the most part, it ain’t that way today. I say for the most part because, of course, there is always an exception to the rule. But for most exhibitors at most shows, the days of easy money are gone. Now you have to work hard for your money (cue Donna Summer).

Attendees are still going to do business as a result of what they saw, learned, and demoed while attending a show. They just probably aren’t going to write those orders on the show floor. They’re going wait. Smart attendees today gather information at a show. They gather information to address immediate needs and they gather information to address possible future needs.

Exhibitors howl that trade shows are diminishing in value because they don’t understand the purpose of marketing. Just because you don’t write an order TODAY doesn’t mean the show has no value.

If you’re an exhibitor, think about it this way. One month, two months, six months after a show, when the lightening bolt comes down out of the sky, hits an attendee on the head and they think, "I NEED that type of product or service right now!"… do they think of you FIRST? Do they think of you SECOND? Do they think of you AT ALL?

Attendees say trade shows will continue to have value in the future. My advice to exhibitors is this: BELIEVE THEM.