2022: Setting the Trade Show Stage

The new year is upon us and with it comes renewed, [tentative] optimism. It’s certainly needed as the past two years have shaken up the trade show industry. But as we slowly rebound, what are we expecting in 2022, and beyond?

We asked our account executives, leadership team and industry partners at EXHIBITOR Magazine to share their expectations for the future of the industry. Their responses covered everything from new marketing tactics to a renewed focus on sustainability and everything in between. Those responses lead us to compile our top five trends that we’re expecting in 2022.

We’re categorizing them into two buckets: “New Approaches” and “Marketing Matters.”

Let’s dig in. 

Trends to Expect

New Approaches

Quality Over Quantity

As you are intimately aware, the exhibition industry has been hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic. With most shows in 2020 and 2021 canceled or postponed, many companies have slashed marketing budgets across the board and event marketing budgets even more significantly. This is prompting companies to go back to the basics and reevaluate their programs; including what shows to go to and how to get the most benefit from every dollar spent.

“The trade show environment is changing and because of that exhibit houses are playing a greater role in planning, implementation and strategy.”

This begins with fewer shows on calendars. Marketers will be tasked with strategically choosing which shows bring the best opportunities for lead generation and brand awareness. Shows with fewer opportunities will likely be skipped in favor of shows that have a proven historical track record of success. Additionally, to reduce travel, you can expect marketers to opt for shows closer to home. That means a potential decline in international and national presence while regional, more targeted, expos grow in popularity.

In addition to fewer shows on the calendar, a change in physical booth structures will also be on the horizon. More scalability with a greater focus on attendee impact will become an industry standard. Displays will yield to more customizable, flexible options that provide greater adaptability on the show floor. 

"The "quality over quantity" theme also extends to sales leads captured at trade shows and events. For years, many marketers have focused too heavily on the number of "leads" collected inside their exhibits. With attendance down at most events, they'll have to shift their focus. As such, I expect a long-overdue transition to strategies and objectives that focus less on attracting as many attendees as possible, and more on targeting the right attendees and ensuring substantive engagement with them."

Going Green

The ongoing pandemic continues to plague the supply chain, bringing with it rising costs. Show services and freight costs will be among the first line items to increase. Material costs will also remain in flux causing uncertainty for many bottom lines.

But the cost increases will come with a bit of a silver lining. Sustainability will move to the forefront of the industry. The pandemic has led to a push for authenticity and change; meaning that the glitz and glamor of yesteryear will become a thing of the past. You’ll notice more responsibly sourced materials and lighter building options that will aim to increase savings. Interest in rentals will also spike as companies look to eliminate waste, and hard costs, all to help offset dwindling budgets. 

“Life has changed for all of us over the past few years and so have our values and outlooks. 2022 will bring with it a new sense of authenticity and responsibility for our everyday lives.”

Creating (and Rekindling) Connections 

With in-person events returning, face-to-face marketing will once again play a pivotal role in 2022.

In the 2021 Omnichannel Marketing Insights by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, 96% of exhibitors placed high importance on maintaining relationships through face-to-face interaction.

Following the furloughs and layoffs of the pandemic, fresh faces in new roles will help shape the future of trade shows and bring new, innovative ideas.

Meanwhile, word of mouth and referrals will remain an important part of growing new business as companies return to show floors and look to restart their marketing campaigns.

"Building, maintaining, and nurturing relationships is one thing virtual events have not been able to adequately replicate. So as we return to in-person trade shows and events, we must prioritize meaningful connections. Doing so will not only enhance existing relationships (while building new ones), but also put you two steps ahead of competitors who may opt out of live events for the foreseeable future."

For these reasons, building strong, understanding relationships will be more important than ever in 2022 as last-minute show decisions will remain a necessary part of our lives. Companies will still face challenges in adapting to changing guidelines and safety protocols and flexibility within the industry will remain key.

“We’re seeing unprecedent turnover and change; 2022 will welcome a new generation of talent to exhibit floors. This is both exciting and challenging, but I look forward to the potential for growth and development across the industry.”

Marketing Matters

Engaging Audiences

Are you reading this on your computer? Your tablet? Your phone? For years, the digital world has been seeping into every aspect of our lives and 2022 will be no different. As they say, content is king and delivering that content to users will continue to evolve in the new year. Whether it is augmented reality, virtual reality, podcasts, social media or another medium, capturing your audience’s attention will continue to become an ever-changing, yet critical, creative endeavor. We will see an increase in screens on the exhibit floor. LED displays with QR codes will drive users to microsites with targeted messages.

With the embrace of digital, you can expect pandemic-fueled hybrid and virtual approaches to continue for years to come. While face-to-face will likely always be preferred, bringing exhibition experiences into the digital world will remain a top priority for content creators. 

“It’s obvious that virtual and hybrid events don’t replace in-person events; but offering dynamic, engaging, and on demand content online allows brands to extend experiences for visitors.”

Omnichannel Marketing

With screen times on the rise, marketers will also shift their focus to communication channels aimed at targeting customers before, during and after shows. These methods will range from traditional email campaigns to new and emerging social media messages. If you didn’t know, last year TikTok beat Google  as the most visited website. These hyper-focused communication efforts will allow brands to provide a consistent, dedicated approach to capturing audiences. 

Here’s to 2022!

As you embark on the new year and face new challenges, Exhibit Concepts is here to help guide you through these changing times in the trade show industry. Whether you are interested in “Going Green” or ”Engaging Audiences,” let our more than 40 years of experience take your brand to the next level and make your exhibit experience truly unforgettable. Be sure to check out our work and connect with us. We’re always here to help. 


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