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Exhibition Research Uncovers Surprising Trends

The Center for Exhibition and Industry Research (CEIR) conducts regular research on exhibiting trends.  Business exhibitions’ relevance has been questioned in the past eight to ten years as the business environment continues to change as a result of emerging technologies and economic pressures that compel business professionals to measure and question every expense.

Face to face meeting

Surprising facts uncovered by CEIR during their 2016 Changing Environment of Exhibitions Study:

  • Business-to-business exhibitions ranked 2nd among the most popular primary Marcom and Sales tactic following company website. This was when they were given twenty possible marketing communications and sales tactics and asked which they used primarily. The rank for business-to-business exhibitions was the same as it was in 2011.
  • 77% of respondents indicated that Business-to-business exhibitions’ was their primary tactic.
  • Social media jumped significantly in importance from 2011, 9th to 5th most important in 2016.
  • In-person visits to existing customers ranked 3rd as the top tactic for 60% of respondents followed very closely by in-person visits to prospective customers.
  • In-person corporate events are more popular for larger companies with 67% of companies with revenues over $100 Million to $499.9 Million using them
  • While 41% of respondents indicated they plan to use more in-person corporate events, only 25% plan to exhibit at more business-to-consumer exhibitions and 20% plan to exhibit at more business-to-business exhibitions. However, 63% plan to keep their participation the same at b2b events, 56% of plan to stay at B2C events and 51% plan to stay the course for in-person corporate events.


Top Fifteen Primary Marketing Communications and Sales Tactics

Rank MarCom / Sales Tactic Primary Methods Used Today
1 Company Website 84%
2 Exhibiting at business-to-business exhibitions 77%
3 In-person visits to existing customers 60%
4 In-person visits to prospective customers 60%
5 Social Media Outlets 59%
6 Direct email 45%
7 Telephone calls to existing customers 44%
8 In-person corporate events (seminar, road shows, etc.) 44%
9 Print advertisements 40%
10 Telephone calls to prospective customers 38%
11 Online advertisements/ e-media 36%
12 Sponsorships 33%
13 E-newsletters 32%
14 Exhibiting at business-to-consumer exhibitions 31%
15 Public relations 25%


One unsurprising aspect the study uncovered is how some digital marketing strategies are now considered standard.  Tactics such as social media, online meetings or forums, digital advertising and e-newsletters may be considered new to some marketers, but to others, these tactics have become another tool in the marketing toolbox.

Ultimately, I think the key takeaway is that marketing is always changing.

Face-to-face interactions are still important, but now we have the advantage of new tools to help us become more effective at communicating so we can get to that very important moment of developing a business relationship.  Digital marketing, such as websites and social media, are great at getting basic information across, but in the end, your company is best represented by the type of people you hire. Whether it is at a trade show, a consumer or business event or an in-person visit, getting to shake someone’s hand and talk to them about your problems is irreplaceable.


About the Author

Sofia Troutman was the Manager of Digital Marketing & Product Innovation for Skyline Exhibits in St. Paul, MInnesota.

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