Will digital marketing take over trade shows? Expert Opinion

Stanley Tan (pictured below), digital marketing manager at Selby’s, examines whether the trade show is at risk in the era of digital marketing.


In recent years, the amount of interest for digital marketing has skyrocketed, while trade shows have been declining.

With digital marketing, you can reach millions of people with Facebook, and by spending 10% of your TV advertising budget, you can reach the same amount of people and send highly targeted email campaigns to your leads.

So are trade shows going extinct? As a digital marketer for a company that sells exhibition stands, my answer is no.

In the marketing world, we all know there are multiple marketing channels to target, and trade shows are just one of them. Digital marketing is divided into multiple marketing channels in itself, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Let’s not forget, there are sponsorships, TV, radio, billboard, etc.

All marketing channels are not created equal. Each marketing channels serve different purposes and targets a different set of your audience.

For example, if you want to target 9-11 year olds, TV might not be the best channel because today 9-11 year olds don’t watch TV. They are on YouTube.



Are more companies exhibiting at trade shows?

In 2016, 20.77 million sqm of exhibition space was sold globally. That is a 5.5% increase compared to the previous year.

In China, the growth in space sold increased by 7.7%. However, China isn’t the fastest growing country in Asia- that would be the Philippines at 9.6% growth. Data source

“Globally, the exhibition industry is growing at a healthy rate,” said Kai Hattendorf, UFI’s managing director and CEO.

Why do companies exhibit at trade shows?

So where do trade shows fit into a company’s marketing strategy? A company usually exhibits at a trade show for a few reasons:

1.) They have a new product that they want to showcase to decision makers and journalists.

2.) They have an existing product that requires a significant investment and your sales team need to talk to a high profile decision maker to close the sale.

3.) You want to market to people in a specific industry.

For example, if you are Boeing and you are launching the new Boeing 797, you are most likely not going to use SEO or Snapchat to market it. A trade show is one of the most suitable channels to market the new Boeing 797 because:

1.) You need to talk to a decision maker to close the sale. Talking to an employee in a company you are targeting who is browsing through Facebook isn’t going to close the deal.

2.) You need to meet and talk to people in your target industries and trade shows are your best bet because trade shows gather these people in one central location.

A few examples of Aviation trade shows are:

  • ILA Berlin Airshow – attracts nearly 250,000 attendees ever year.
  • Farnborough International Airshow – $72 billion worth of aircraft sales were sold in the 2012 event.
  • Singapore Airshow – attracts nearly 100,000 attendees every year.


When will trade shows become irrelevant in a marketer’s strategy playbook?

A trade show will become extinct when…

1.) A new technology emerges which gives us the ability to meet face-to-face and build that human connection. No, Skype or any form of video conferencing doesn’t count.

2.) Secondly, when a new marketing channel is built which gathers decision makers from around the globe into one location. No, Facebook and LinkedIn groups don’t count because they don’t consist of decision makers.


About the author

Stan Tan is the digital marketing manager at Selby’s, a company that specialises in exhibition stands and display systems. One of their best-selling exhibition system is TRIGA which is a modular exhibition display system which allows their clients to build booths of any shapes and sizes.

Stuart Wood