Trade shows have existed for centuries to facilitate the promotion of products in one location. In 1851, London’s Great Exhibition – the first international exposition of manufactured products – displayed over 13,000 items ranging from jewelry to daguerreotypes to kitchen appliances. Today, companies of all sorts continue to leverage industry-specific trade shows to promote their products and services to current customers and prospective buyers. However, exhibitors and buyers are not the only groups that can benefit from modern trade shows. Competitive Intelligence (CI) professionals can use these exhibitions as an opportunity for data collection, analysis, and networking to keep their stakeholders informed about factors that may impact their businesses.
Efficient Data Collection
The trade show provides a venue for industry employees, customers, suppliers, and subject matter experts (SMEs) to collaborate under one roof. A gathering of industry participants in one physical location is a gold mine for CI professionals as it reduces the need to email or cold call interviewees. Face-to-face interactions foster organic conversations when analysts visit competitor booths or presentation podiums, and improve research efficiency by allowing collection of data from multiple sources at one location. A large number of findings gathered through a variety of sources produces high quality, corroborated data. In the end, CI professionals can aggregate the results and deliver tactical and strategic insights directly to stakeholders to help them gain competitive advantage. Since most trade shows last a few days, stakeholders can receive a wealth of actionable information from CI professionals in a very quick time frame.
Product and Service Details
Companies use trade shows to promote new launches and currently marketed products through booth demos and collateral. Unlike stakeholders who are unable to gain rich findings directly from their competitors, external CI professionals can visit competitor booths and obtain primary data by asking targeted questions. Product and service specific insights help stakeholders understand the nuances of how their brands compare with competitors’ offerings, which then informs tactical changes to products, marketing plans, and sales strategies to create better differentiation in their markets. Companies also use trade shows to host corporate-sponsored events, present innovations or research through symposia, or lead industry-specific breakout sessions. These events allow CI professionals to learn about launch timelines, channel and distribution strategies, marketing messages and promotions, R&D, and other topics that are important to their stakeholders’ businesses. Stakeholders are also able to attend these events to learn high-level information. However, they generally cannot approach the presenters with targeted questions about specific brand plans and strategies if they work for direct competitors. This task is often best left to the external CI professional.
In addition to talks focused on specific competitors and brands, many of the larger group presentations delivered through the corporate events and symposia discuss industry-wide trends. Topics include issues such as industry laws and regulations, product approval criteria, evolving pricing strategies, and industry benchmarks and best practices. By attending these sessions, CI professionals can learn about broad industry issues across multiple presenters, which is a reliable way to confirm assessments of market dynamics. Drawing on the data, CI professionals can create insights that help educate stakeholders on how market trends may affect their businesses over time. This enables stakeholders to make short-term and long-term business decisions so they can achieve competitive advantage.
Since employees across all business functions attend trade shows, CI professionals can leave exhibitions with long lists of names and contact information to add to their information source databases. A solid network of information sources within specific industries and market segments allows CI professionals to gather information quickly when stakeholders have similar research requests down the road. Networking at trade shows can also cultivate long-lasting relationships for knowledge sharing. CI professionals can contact competitor employees and SMEs from their networks to learn about new brand developments and can keep their sources abreast of industry trends so that their collective knowledge is up-to-date. Ultimately, these mutually beneficial relationships are the fuel that allows CI professionals to obtain the information needed to advise stakeholders over time as key research questions arise.
-Holly McClelland, Director of Marketing & Senior Analyst, Fletcher/CSI