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After reading the title of this post you are probably thinking – so there is only one problem with tradeshows?  Of course, there are a number of problems with tradeshows.  Many companies continue to have an overemphasis on tradeshows in their marketing strategy, neglecting web-based marketing activities that generate much higher returns.  Perhaps, Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shaw put it best in their book, Inbound Marketing, stating that tradeshows at most companies are a sacred cow.  These types of conferences have to be funded because “everyone” goes to them.  Of course the “everyone” being referenced “includes competitors and job-seekers, but not potential customers.” 

So what is the one problem that I am referencing in the title of this post?  For me, the most frustrating aspect of tradeshows is that people tend to plan their work efforts around them.  We have a tradeshow coming up in May so need to update all of our collateral, prepare a press release and launch a new initiative for the opening day of the show.  As a result, nothing of substance is completed or released in March or April.  Great content that could be released in March will be held for two months to be timed with the event.  A new sales tool could be completed and delivered to the field by April, but the owner decides it would be more impactful to wait until the show.  New product announcements or customer wins that would generate attention in March are held so we have something to announce at the event.  In fact, unless you are IBM tradeshows are probably the worst possible time and place to issue an announcement, because there is a 99% certainty that it will be lost in the noise surrounding the event.

Tradeshows often promote the wrong type of behavior and thinking amongst marketing professionals.  Deliverables and work efforts are all directed at obtaining a “big bang” effect during just a few weeks of the year.  However, much greater benefits can be derived with a continuous stream of content and messaging being released to the market every week.  Prospects in a buying cycle are not timing their research and vendor analysis with the tradeshow calendar.  Nor should you be organizing your marketing plan around these arbitrary dates.

I am not anti-tradeshows.  I continue to believe they are an important part of the marketing mix that can help to build brand awareness or move deals through the pipeline.  However, a tradeshow-centric approach to planning and deliverables is a fatal flaw in today’s multi-channel buying process.

Steve Keifer

Steve Keifer has led marketing and product management teams at seven different SaaS and cloud providers ranging from venture-backed, early-stage startups to multi-billion, publicly traded companies - including several that experienced hypergrowth, filed IPOs, and reached unicorn status. In Bantrr, Steve shares many of the best practices and lessons learned from building and scaling marketing organizations. Topics include new category creation, brand development, and demand generation.


  • Couldn’t agree more. Tradeshows do have their place, but they are no longer the “big bet” and it is all too easy to burn marketing budgets on a few trade shows, to the detriment of all the other marketing channels available today.

  • Tim Johnson says:


    Agree whole-heartedly. I think here are too many people stuck in the myth of shows gone by, like the 12 foot mound of shrimp at the Microsoft hospitality suite at COMDEX, or running into Sammy Haggar at a game booth at Electronics Entertainment Expo, etc. The days of the over-the-top trade show and going because you had to are loooong gone.

    And for shows that also have technical or learning content, the draw to the expo floor is even less interesting. Organizers now have to plan meals or booze fests on the show floor to help drive traffic.

    Shows should simply be just another tool in the kit that is used for the right job and in the right proportion. It’s better to present significant industry-expanding content in one of the sessions than to do a major launch.


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