If you’re reading KitPlus you probably don’t need us to tell you that, each year, the IBC Show attracts 1,700 exhibitors, each parting with a significant sum of money for the privilege of touting their wares from the darkened halls for five whole days. For the last eight years Blue Lucy has been one of these exhibitors and the show has always more than paid for itself in generating new business, as well as the less directly-tangible benefits from partnerships and networking opportunities.
But, as the cloud has come of age for the industry, we’ve become increasingly reluctant exhibitors and our ‘cloud in the RAI’ balloon exhibit last year was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the question of whether products like ours actually need to exhibit at trade shows.
For starters, trade shows are more than a bit of a charade for some companies. Often the most ostentatious stands belie the biggest debts and smaller companies (which are often actually more financially healthy) struggle to even exhibit at all. It is not an exaggeration to describe many exhibitors’ stands as the emperor’s new clothes. There are numerous recent examples of companies with huge exhibition stands demonstrating their apparent success only for those same companies to be acquired for a fraction of their supposed value only a few months later. In some cases, the business value has been equal to the previous year’s marketing spend. This is, frankly, a ridiculous state of affairs and does the whole industry a disservice.
Secondly, the biggest cost of exhibiting at shows like IBC is actually time – time spent organising the logistics, preparing the marketing campaigns, creating the content and, obviously, the five solid days on the stand while continuing to support your current clients. For those without the benefit of a big staff contingent, the time it takes to successfully exhibit at a trade show may be more than they can afford. But neither financial nor manpower costs are the main reason why we’re questioning the value of exhibiting at trade shows.
Our cloud exhibit last year was deliberately ironic, but the reason we could build a stand out of balloons was because we didn’t need to store hardware in cabinets or worry about cable management and demo pods for multiple systems, all we needed to showcase our product and services was a couple of laptops and a comfy place to sit. If your products are hardware-based or you’re trying to show multiple solutions then having a stand possibly makes some sense, but for cloud-based solutions of the future like ours, we’re not so sure.
Marketeers assert that there is value in attracting visitors to the brand with eye-catching design and marketing campaigns. But, according to the IBC organisers, the average visitor has 50 meetings at the show, only three of which are unplanned. So, while stand design and innovative marketing at the RAI can certainly boost your brand awareness, you shouldn’t rely entirely on these methods of attracting attention at the show to secure meetings. Why not ditch the stand, relax, attend the show as a visitor and arrange to meet with prospects over coffee or something stronger?
We decided not to exhibit at IBC Show 2019, but to attend as a “visiting vendor” and test the viability of this approach to trade shows for cloud solutions like BLAM. And while we weren’t the first company to do so, our experience of doing demonstrations and meeting with potential clients at IBC without having a stand was, in all honesty, mixed.
The facilities provided by the IABM were fantastic and their Wi-Fi was good enough for us to do full cloud demos from the lounge floor. The 4G was unusable, though, so demonstrating our access-anywhere platform anywhere near the RAI was impossible. Doing demos on a laptop is not ideal and we could have done with a second, larger monitor - hiring one of the IABM meeting rooms might solve this problem for future shows. The real compromise, though, is not having a base to meet people at. Having said that, we’re not convinced that it’s worth the cost and effort of exhibiting and, while we’ve had business come in from walk-ups, this conversion rate is very low, so the stand is not necessarily a requirement.
Overall the facilities and approach taken by the IABM were spot-on, and it would be great if these were expanded - or if the IBC directly offered a similar capability. But the organisers seem to be turning a deliberate blind eye to the increasing number of visiting vendors – probably because the show would fail if there was a significant reduction in the number of exhibitors – but I think they’re missing an opportunity here.
IBC might not be the biggest industry exhibition in the world, but it’s already impossible for one person to see everything that the fifteen halls have to offer, so instead of trying to sell more stands, what if the IBC Show expanded their offering to support this group of vendors visiting IBC without a stand? Instead of trying to sell floorspace to reluctant exhibitors, they could provide and rent out meeting rooms with high-speed broadband connections by the hour or by the day. Instead of selling theatre sponsorship packages and dressing sales pitches up as case study presentations, they could provide a platform where vendors pay to present their solutions to interested audiences. This way, rather than losing the revenue from vendors who no longer need a stand to do business at the show, the IBC show could become an exhibition that provides opportunities for every kind of business without impacting their own revenue.
The rate of change in our industry is infamously slow, but we have finally (probably) reached the inflection point in cloud-based business operations and we predict that this will bring about sudden and far-reaching changes affecting not only the technology at trade shows like IBC, but the very nature of this type of exhibition.