The Modern Digital Tradeshow


The Analog to Digital Industry Transformation for Revenue and Growth in the New Customer Experience Marketplace
By: Francis J. Friedman


Over the next 10 years, the critical battle our industry will engage is between our world of in-person face-to-face marketing and the rapidly emerging world of enhanced digital direct-to-customer marketing...for control of the customer experience and sales success. Our industry is a 1X per year event now finding itself having to compete in a 24/7 digital-direct marketplace.  As new advanced communications and digital technologies are brought online, the b-to-b marketing context will change and whoever controls the customer experience...controls the market.

The Page 3 INTRODUCTION of the Forbes Insights report, Customers for Life includes the following insight:

“By 2020 customer experience is expected to surpass product and pricing as the key business differentiator! So it is critical that companies orient themselves now towards creating and keeping customers for life if they expect to remain competitive. ”

Times Change

Thirty five years ago the world operated in the context of the U.S. Postal Service, Bell Telephone Company, three major TV networks and Time, Life and Saturday Evening Post magazines. Travel was booked through a travel agent who hand wrote your tickets.

Thirty five years ago the tradeshow industry was THE center stage in the b-to-b marketing and selling universe. Manufacturers exhibited and buyers attended tradeshows for networking, information sharing, product introductions and order placement because...there were no other viable options available. Time and changes in technology and diverse competition have torn down the protective walls of these once invincible businesses. No more travel agents writing airline tickets. No more Saturday Evening Post or Life Magazine. The U.S. Postal Service is having to learn how to compete for business and the Bell Telephone Company is no more.


Today, the formerly protective walls of the tradeshow venue have also been torn down. The context of the buyer-seller relationship has fundamentally transformed and is now 24/7 and increasingly digital-direct. Today, buyers and sellers can get together anytime they want. The customer is now in charge and with an almost infinite number of 24/7 buying choices....without the need of a tradeshow or a tradeshow organizer.

The tradeshow industry in this larger 24/7 digital customer-direct context of b-to-b marketing:

  • Is being moved off center stage by advanced b-to-b marketing and technology techniques that are delivering information, product knowledge and buyer contacts on a 24/7 basis
  • Is becoming a specialized side stage operating within a larger and more complex marketing environment and direct customer interaction platform

Electronic communications have changed all relationship and all commercial modes. Institutionalized brands and digital brand “marketing systems” have been substituted for a sales person and his/her personal book of accounts and the personal relationships that went with it. For buyers (i.e., attendees), being face-to-face and having to travel to be anywhere in-person for almost anything is now becoming more of an option. Having to be anywhere in-person will become even more of a personal option in the future as advanced technology will bring the world to the individual...rather than the individual having to go to the world.

For the first time, on the evening of Thanksgiving Day 2014, the crowds that traditionally throng shopping centers waiting to rush merchant sales floors at midnight on Black Friday were smaller than they’d been in past years. They were even smaller Thanksgiving Black Friday 2015 and 2016. Many bargain-hunting shoppers were not in those Black Friday lines because merchants moved the bargains on-line to the customer. The customer had the choice to stay home and shop Modern Digital Tradeshow 13 online…rather than “have to” go to the shopping center in-person to get the merchant bargains. Cosmetic maker L’Oreal, for example, has introduced a computer app that enables a woman to apply makeup to her own facial image on her computer screen. Rather than go to a store and visit a cosmetics counter, a shopper can now try cosmetic products “virtually”: Stay home, shop online. No trip to the cosmetics counter for in-person selling.

The context of marketing and selling today has shifted to one in which the buyer determines the context in which he/she will make a purchase because marketers are selling customers directly. This buyer-in-charge trend will accelerate in the future for both b-toc and b-to-b marketing due to advancing technology and the demographic evolution of technologically sophisticated buyers. The tradeshow industry is generally in self-denial today that its relative importance vs. its historical importance is being shifted off center stage into a specialty marketing role. The tradeshow industry has to acknowledge that marketers have spent billions of dollars to date building e-commerce systems to engage customers, capture leads and close sales. Those dollars were not invested in tradeshows.

Virtual reality and augmented reality marketing systems of the future will continue to alter historical marketing and selling approaches across all product and distribution categories. The tradeshow industry today is still a large and important industry that in the short term is enjoying an uptick in business coming off of the 2008 recession. Having said that however, the industry cannot look at this uptick as a reaffirmation that it can continue with its historical management and marketing models and ways of conducting business in an ever-increasing digital world. Some show owners have seen beyond pasting apps on their analog management and marketing systems. They recognize the need for new digital systems in their organizations and have started to implement initial systems and technology changes.

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About The Author

Francis J. Friedman is a 25 year, award winning, veteran of the domestic and international tradeshow industry. He is a branding and face-to-face business-building expert. He is also a recognized futurist in the tradeshow and events industry through his writings, speaking and presentations to both domestic and MICE meetings around the world.  From 2013-2016 Mr. Friedman chaired the International Association for Exhibitions & Events (IAEE) Future Trends Task Force that looked ahead three-five years for the trends and technologies that could affect the domestic and international tradeshow industry. He authored four white papers on the task force findings and has given speeches on the findings to industry professional organizations.  He has also received the prestigious IAEE Chairman’s Award.

Mr. Friedman is President of Time & Place Strategies, a New York City based consultant to the domestic and international tradeshow community. The company provides business building consulting to tradeshow clients in the areas of strategic planning, sales, attendance development,  marketing and advertising, new product launches, organizational development and building highly successful tradeshow and event brands.

Mr. Friedman works with clients to turn around underperforming events, accelerate the growth of existing events and create and launch new events. He works with client teams to build strategic and tactical plans that anticipate the impact of change. He also provides hands-on assistance (and sometimes direct team management) in implementing marketing, promotion and advertising solutions that result in high-value, branded and financially successful tradeshows and events. Prior to entering the tradeshow industry Mr. Friedman was a senior consumer packaged goods marketing executive managing major domestic consumer brands (e.g. Folgers Coffee, Sharp electronics).  He launched over thirty five new products into various consumer markets.

Mr. Friedman’s articles on the tradeshow industry have appeared in every major industry publication. He has contributed two key chapters to the IAEE sponsored college textbook “The Art of the Show” and authored the PCMA research study…”Scenarios for the Future, Convention Exhibits & Tradeshows of 2016“. He has also co-author two books, “Secrets of Exhibiting Success” and “Mastering the Art of Success”.

His new book, “Tradeshow Industry Future, The MODERN DIGITAL TRADESHOW”, is a five year industry view ahead and proscribes both the strategic and tactical digital transformations the tradeshow industry must undertake, starting now, to remain competitive in the new digital customer experience marketplace. Mr. Friedman earned a BS degree in Industrial Relations from San Jose State University; and an MBA degree in Marketing and Manufacturing Management from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University.

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