Tradeshow and Exhibit Thoughtleaders
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Tradeshow Trends and Fads – Is the trend your friend?


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Conventional marketing wisdom holds that one should pay close attention to trends and be suspicious of fads. This is probably sound advice, except that in real time it can be hard to ascertain if what appears to be a fad will develop stamina and morph into a trend.  And what appears to be a trend can in fact be a fad that took a bit longer than is typical to fade away.

The long planning period required to prepare for a major trade show has to make one particularly cautious about incorporating an attraction that has the earmarks of a fad. Few things are more easily dismissed than yesterday’s news. And because social media has an enormous appetite for anything novel, fads have a shorter shelf life than in the past. Had the Pet Rock or the Beanie Baby been introduced in 2016, they would have come and gone in about a week.  For all of the attention that Pokémon Go generated, it was only newsworthy for about a month.     

But if Pokémon Go was the fad, augmented reality is the trend.  Pokémon provided an exciting insight into augmented reality’s capabilities that will inspire designers, and marketing professionals, to invent means of working it into their programs. That is what creates a trend.   

Regarding trends, most of the significant trends currently attributed to trade show exhibits are related to technology. Examples are mobile apps, projection mapping, social media walls and touch screen graphic displays. In a sense, they are not so much trends as they are developments. The technology has developed to the point where it can be useful in a trade show setting, and exhibitors are adapting it to their requirements. 

But there is a challenge in adapting any trending technology in such a way that its use doesn’t have the feel of a fad. Large touchscreens provide an example.  As touchscreen displays became common on mobile devices exhibitors began to use large versions as attractions, and as demonstration vehicles.  A challenge is that large touch screens are expensive, and are difficult to create. They have to have layers of information to be of any interest.  All of us have been subjected to less than exciting product demonstrations on large touch screens that exhibitors created at great cost. 

Not to say that touch screens are not useful in exhibits. They are.  The point is that the early adaption of the trending technology was more towards novelty, to create attention, than it was towards utility. But novelty wears off and the trend only sets in when the underlying utility is recognized. 

The use of a new technology in a novel, faddish way is always tempting.  And it is not necessarily a bad thing to do.  Just recognize that the novelty will be short lived and that it is important to know when to pack up and move on. Nobody planned to be the last person to buy a Pet Rock, but somebody did.                                                                                                            

© 2016 by David Hardbarger