Sunday, August 20, 2017

Stirred, Not Shaken

An angel investor and a tradeshow producer, Marco Giberti and Jay Weintraub, have pooled their considerable talents to write the 185-page book The Face of Digital, a look-see into the turbulent tradeshow industry and the changes that will be wrought by technology in the coming five years―a time they agree "will redefine the way we think of digital media in connection with live events."

Tradeshows, "the original social networks," can stand a stirring, the authors insist. Exhibitors, who foot the bills, cannot calculate ROI; and attendees, shows' raisons d'etre, can barely navigate them.

But the improvements wrought by tech will be gentle, the authors say.

"The events industry is not ripe for a disruption, in the mold of Uber or Airbnb," they write. "Instead, it's more likely that hundreds, even thousands, of small players will emerge to solve individual problems."

Among the problems solved by digital technology:
  • No attendee will ever again stand in a line to get in; apps will let them buy their badges weeks in advance, in seconds.
  • No attendee will ever again feel lost in a crowd; apps will signal when friends are nearby.
  • No one will waste time scrutinizing inscrutable signs; apps will recommend the best path to the next booth you want to visit.
  • No attendee will ever miss a speaker's session; livestreaming will let her watch it on demand.
  • No attendee will ever go home empty-handed; matchmaking apps will connect her to other attendees and exhibitors even after the show.
  • Exhibitors will no longer pay a penny for drayage; products will be demonstrated in virtual reality.
  • Follow-up will no longer be dismal; CRM systems will automate and personalize the activity.
  • Exhibitors will no longer grouse about foot-traffic; beacons will smooth crowd-flows.
  • Rainforests will no longer fear tradeshows; digital will replace paper exchanges 100%.
The solutions to these problems aren't imaginary, the authors point out: they exist now. 

Tradeshow producers just don't know it―or care much.

"Like the newspaper industry," they write, "the events industry is still very much in transition between the predigital age and an era in which digital integration will become commonplace in every aspect of our lives and businesses."

But competition against digital marketing for exhibitors' dollars will wake complacent producers up, just in time for "the Cambrian explosion of digital tools for events."

Giberti and Weintraub's book is a must-read for every tradeshow producer and exhibitor, as well as anyone whose livelihood is derived from face-to-face. Their viewpoints are sensible and admirably realistic.

My own is that the changes ahead will be less incremental; that the tradeshow business is less like the newspaper business and more like the apartment-rental one; and that an Airbnd-ish "disruptor" lurks just over the horizon.

Yes, tradeshow producers have a lock on things for the moment.

But, as James Bond might say, the industry's about to be "shaken, not stirred."
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