The Next 12 Months of Trade Show Trends: What You Need to Know Now

How technology, brand messaging, and personalisation will come together in 2018. 

Attendees come to trade shows for the wow factor: immersive, personalised, and cutting-edge experiences. Of course, knowing this and delivering on this are two different things. But with a new year fast approaching, it’s helpful to pause, reflect on the past, and look ahead to the bold new trends that will transform the very nature of the trade show experience.

Our experts at Freeman weigh in on key changes to expect in the coming year — along with tips to make it your best year ever. Be sure to read all the way to the end, where you'll be able to cast your vote for the trade show trend most likely to take off next year! 

Rethink the message

Every event aims to drive home key messages about the organisation and its purpose. Here are two ways this could be achieved in 2018.

Organised storytelling
Parul Shah, Strategy Director, FreemanXP

More organisations will start to leverage the power of stories to connect with their attendees and generate the emotion necessary to take action. Be sure to offer organised, structured storytelling with a beginning, middle, and end.

Focus on purpose
Jeff Chase, VP, Sustainability, Freeman

Many organisations are starting to stand for something bigger than their products, and consumers are seeking those that make a positive difference in society. Ensure the brand experience adheres to this higher purpose by providing social, economic, and environmental transparency and accountability.  

Get personal

Attendees want to feel as if the event is just for them, fulfilling their needs and interests. But creating these personalised experiences requires strategic planning, which will become even more important in the year to come.

Lead attendees on a journey
Julie Krueger, International Business Development Director, Freeman AV

Journey mapping outlines the experiential path participants will follow in order to leave an event with a specific message, feeling, or connection to a brand. Personalise the approach as much as possible by making each journey touchpoint relevant for each individual delegate.

Put attendees in the driver’s seat
Katie O’Brien, VP, Group Creative, FreemanXP

We are seeing more experiences that put audiences in control, such as automatic registration with bracelets (instead of badges) that allow attendees to walk right in. The same bracelets can act as a digital briefcase, enabling attendees to tap in to find specific information, resulting in more qualified leads for exhibitors. Also, matchmaking experiences are a great opportunity to allow attendees to pick whom they want to talk to, based on what they want to learn more about.

Take engagement further

To create memorable audience experiences in the new year, the same-old simply won’t cut it. Instead, show organisers will need to get creative about how they choose to engage their audiences.

Change the layout
Mark Fein, SVP, Strategy, FreemanXP; and Parul Shah, Strategy Director, FreemanXP

Break out beyond the walls of the show floor. People are now accustomed to comfortable workspaces that mimic lounges and cafes. Transform the standard convention hall by providing an open format that facilitates interaction and immersion by bringing sessions, content, and exhibitors together in a single space.

Let sponsors engage directly
Cori Prasifka, Senior Strategist, FreemanXP

New digital opportunities will enable sponsors to go far beyond traditional banners, bags, and signage. Increasingly, sponsorships will be interactive, directly connecting sponsors with attendees to engage them through targeted, customised experiences. The result? More meaningful metrics and better engagement.

Make learning active

People learn best by doing. Attendees will seek out more opportunities to participate in hands-on experiences that allow them to internalize the message.

Offer hands-on education
Mark Fein, SVP, Strategy, FreemanXP

Education has evolved significantly over the last several years, and these changes are finally starting to impact the conference and event realm. Hands-on, lab-like learning environments will allow attendees to not only engage in educational content, but also help solve problems that are relevant to the people who have all come together in the moment.

Tap into digital technology
Madeleine Bart, Marketing Director, Freeman AV Canada

General and educational sessions are being transformed by second-screen technology that enables app-driven polling and live audience feedback. What’s more, general sessions are being shortened so attendees can spend more time in experiential exhibit areas for customised learning and more interactive, personalised experiences.

Make data transparent

Attendees are aware their data is a precious resource to marketers. Keeping their data secure, and being transparent in how their data is used, will become a priority in 2018.

Know the impact of GDPR
Laura Tythcott, Client Solutions Director, Freeman EMEA; and Julie Krueger, International Business Development Director, Freeman AV

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into effect in the EU in May, will place more focused regulations on how consumer data is used, stored, and deleted. Because the new law is aimed at providing greater data protection for members of the EU no matter where they travel in the world, implementing GDPR will impact event professionals globally.

Integrate tech and measure success

As incorporating digital and understanding ROI grows in importance, 2018 will see new ways to collect data and better ways to harness the insights that data generates.

Focus on adding value
Adam Butman, Director, Business Development, Freeman AV; Cori Prasifka, Senior Strategist, FreemanXP; and Mike Bruley, SVP, Territory Leader, Freeman

Integrate technology that drives real value and enhances audience engagement. Focus will specifically shift to digital integrations that influence the event experience and reach broader audiences before, during, and after the show.

Merge digital and live experiences
Pip Fann, Director of Client Services, FreemanXP EMEA 

People are communicating virtually more and more, causing them to crave face-to-face interactions. Organisers will be expected to provide digital technologies that enable connected live and online experiences and that improve pre-event communications, facilitate immersive product on-site demos, and generate post-event insights about attendee behaviour.

Metrics with meaning
Katherine Zimoulis, VP, Content Marketing, Freeman  

To compete for a greater share of an exhibitor or sponsor’s budget, show organisers must be prepared to deliver meaningful metrics. Thankfully, the rise and integration of digital throughout all aspects of an event’s life cycle will make that easier and more effective than ever.

Trade shows are experiencing an exciting transformation that will continue building momentum in 2018, allowing for greater engagement with attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors. By tapping into these latest trends and technology, trade show organisers will be well positioned to make their events more successful than ever.



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