Are Tradeshows Coming Back in 2021?

This question seems to be on everyone’s mind these days. While some are craving face-to-face interactions and are eager for the return of in-person events, others remain hesitant.

A recent GlobalSpec research report, “Industrial Marketing in 2021,” found that 57 percent of marketers are not planning to attend in-person tradeshows in 2021, despite the fact tradeshows were once one of a marketer’s top strategies.

Twenty-nine percent of marketers have decided not to budget for in-person tradeshows in 2021 and 38 percent have a smaller tradeshow budget than in the past. Only 12 percent have restored their budget back to normal levels.

This hesitancy to return to tradeshows and cutting back of tradeshow budgets may signal concerns about how quickly the industry will return to its former state.

Other industry experts tend to agree. The Wall Street Journal reported, “The roughly $11 billion U.S. trade-show and exhibition industry is slowly coming back to life after a largely lost year due to coronavirus.” However, industry executives say a full recovery isn’t expected for about two years.

Industry analyst PwC expects the U.S. B2B tradeshow market, which was one of the fastest-growing B2B markets, to shrink by 64.3% to $5.56 billion. Their report forecasts a rebound next year, followed by growth in the coming years.

The PwC report states that by 2021, the market is expected to grow to $8.62 billion and by 2024, it should be $14.5 billion. However, that would leave it shy of pre-pandemic levels. PwC doesn’t see this market recovering to last year’s size until sometime after 2024.

Forbes noted that many companies’ sales were unaffected by their absence from trade shows and that those companies saved the money that previously had been spent on sponsorships, booths, collateral material, travel, and hotels. Could it be some of these companies never return to the tradeshow circuit? A lot might depend on what their competition does and how well tradeshows rebound.

Freeman, a global event firm, said in Tradeshow Executive that it’s time to “get your show back on the road.” They conducted a survey in February and found that 74 percent of attendees and 78 percent of exhibitors expected to return to the show floor by the end of the year. Freeman also reported confidence and optimism are at an all-time high, “meaning the timeline for a return to events for fall has strengthened significantly, with added confidence for even as early as July and August.”

From February to April 2021, overall positive sentiment increased from 30 percent to 45 according to Freeman, and negative sentiment decreased from 51 percent to 36 percent.

While opinions vary, most experts believe in-person tradeshows will slowly make a comeback this year. However, virtual events or at least virtual components associated with in-person tradeshows are likely here to stay. It remains to be seen what kind of staying power hybrid events combining virtual and in-person will have.

Even with those tradeshows that do take place, corporate compliance and a variety of travel restrictions may tamp down attendance. Attendees who are spending a good bit of money on products and solutions will likely show up to ensure they are getting the best products and deals for their companies. And as tradeshows come back online, early exhibitors may have less competition and a more focused audience, which will tend to drive up future exhibitors and audiences in its own way.

The bottom line: if one of your top tradeshows is scheduled for the second half of the year, you may want to exhibit or attend in some capacity, perhaps with fewer people or a more scaled-back presence. It’s unlikely there will be a huge rush on tradeshows, so it’s okay to take modest steps forward and make sure any tradeshow potentially on your schedule is aligned with your marketing objectives.

Industrial Marketing and Sales Marketing, General Tradeshows

Should Your Marketing Mix Include Virtual Events?

Due to COVID-19, many in-person tradeshows and industry conferences have been delayed or canceled. While navigating this situation has been a challenge for both engineers and industrial marketers, it has also created an opening for the emergence of virtual tradeshows.

GlobalSpec recently conducted a survey of engineers regarding virtual tradeshows. The results showed that a slim majority of engineers have never attended a virtual event, but those that did found the event valuable.

  • Fifty-two percent of surveyed engineers have never participated in a virtual industry conference or tradeshow event.
  • Of those that did participate, 80 percent found the virtual event experience valuable.
  • Forty-nine percent of engineers said they find standalone webinars more valuable than virtual events. Twenty-percent preferred virtual events. The remainder were unsure.
  • Thirty-one percent of engineers said they would likely attend their favorite in-person industry conference or trade show if it were staged as a virtual event in 2021. Fifty-six percent said maybe they would attend.
  • When industry conferences and trade show events were canceled, the leading alternate sources engineers relied on for information and/or networking opportunities were supplier/vendor websites (63 percent), online trade publications (44 percent), publication emails/e-newsletters (43 percent), and vendor email/e-newsletters.

Recommendations for Marketers

The findings of this survey point to several possibilities for marketers:

1. Strengthen your webinar game

At this point, engineers prefer standalone webinars to virtual events. Webinars are shorter, more focused, and easier to host. They also provide excellent engagement opportunities. Furthermore, engineers are familiar with the webinar format and more likely to  commit time to attend them. This is particularly true if they trust they’ll receive high quality and relevant information.

Consider creating a series of short webinars (20 minutes or so) that build on each other but also can individually stand alone. You can also produce one or two foundational webinars that feature an analyst, industry expert, or customer who can tell a powerful and compelling story.

To increase interest and attendance, engage your audience through interactive webinar features such as live polls, chat windows, and Q&A sessions.

Here are eight tips for creating a successful webinar.

2. Refresh your home page

There may not be anything wrong with your website’s home page, but engineers are relying more on vendor websites during this time of COVID-19, and you should make sure your home page shines.

Don’t worry about having the fancy bells and whistles on your home page. Instead, focus on providing engineers with easy access to the latest detailed technical information and specifications they are looking for. Clear and simple navigation allows engineers to dig deeper and discover more.

3. Devote more resources to email

With in-person events shut down, engineers are relying more on email and e-newsletters from vendors and industry websites as alternative sources of information.

Continue to send regular emails to your house list. To reach potential customers not on your list and whom you might have connected with at tradeshows, consider advertising in opt-in industry e-newsletters that are targeted to your audience.

You can also work with a media partner to send custom, co-branded emails that can capture your target audience’s attention.

4. Seek a virtual tradeshow opportunity

You may have an opportunity to exhibit at or sponsor a virtual tradeshow or other online event. Of course, many such events are popping up, and some will be better than others. Event spaces, exhibitor profiles, registration, content library, support for live streaming, and lead retrieval are a few of the factors you must take into consideration.

While a virtual event can be an excellent networking and engagement opportunity, evaluate your options and choose an event that’s aligned with your goals and capabilities. Be sure to read this before committing to a virtual tradeshow.


Read This Before Committing to a Virtual Tradeshow

With many in-person tradeshows and other live events canceled due to COVID-19, many organizations and industry groups are looking to virtual tradeshows as an alternative.

You may be interested in exhibiting at or sponsoring a virtual tradeshow as part of your marketing mix. If you are, this article will help guide you on what to expect and what you should look for from a virtual tradeshow opportunity.

Attractive, Intuitive Event Spaces

The show host is responsible for creating an inviting virtual lobby, exhibit hall, and meeting rooms. It should be intuitive to access the event’s schedule, find exhibitors, participate in sessions, and generally wander around to see what’s of interest—just as an attendee would at an in-person tradeshow.

If you aren’t comfortable and confident using the show’s interface, attendees will likely struggle as well.

Exhibitor Profiles

The event platform should allow you to create a robust exhibitor profile that can serve as your “tradeshow booth.” You’ll want visitors to have easy access to your content and sessions, as well as engagement tools such as chat, Q&A, and discussion forums.

The host should be able to provide you with profiles of registered guests who visit your booth, such as name, company, contact info, and other data they capture from attendee registration forms. This can allow you to get to know a prospect and engage with them in a more meaningful way, just as you would at an in-person event.

A Robust Content Library

The event platform should offer you strong and flexible capabilities for a content library. You should be able to upload content at any time throughout the event, organize content logically (for example, by buyer persona, product group, or other attributes), and track who accessed what content.

Support for Live Streaming and Scheduling

You may want to seek out a virtual tradeshow that offers you both live streaming as well as pre-recorded sessions.

Make sure your live events don’t conflict with the overall schedule of the tradeshow. For example, you won’t want to schedule a live roundtable discussion during the tradeshow’s live keynote presentation.

Engagement and Networking

The most challenging aspect of virtual events is engaging your audience. Engagement features include live polls, live chat, Q&A tools, and social media integration that allows your audience (or you) to post and share content from the event in real-time.

Networking features you should look for are robust attendee profiles, group and private chat for attendees, one-on-one meetings, and live roundtable discussions. The more engagement and networking features offered, the better chance you have of keeping your audience interested.

Registration and Lead Retrieval

The host should offer attendee registration and lead retrieval tools. Find out in advance what information you will receive about attendees.

So far, there are no instant lead capture systems for virtual events such as badge scanning at in-person events. But as an exhibitor, you should be able to click on the profile of anyone who visits your booth. You should also be able to see who attended what attended sessions, engaged with your staff, or downloaded content.  


The event host should be able to demonstrate the security measures in place for the event. Some virtual tradeshow platforms are new to the market and are still working out the kinks, while others have been around for years. Experience counts in terms of providing secure connections and protection for data. Ask the trade show host about compliance with GDPR regarding data security and privacy.


There are a lot of moving digital parts when exhibiting at a virtual tradeshow. You’re bound to run into a few bumps along the way. How will the host support you? Find out ahead of time what kind of help is available to you and when for the technology or business processes involved.

Three Tips for Exhibiting

Many of the same best marketing practices for in-person tradeshows apply to virtual tradeshows: planning, promotion, event execution, and follow-up. Here are a few extra tips to keep in mind when sponsoring a virtual event:

  • Choose your speakers and booth staff wisely. Whether you are live-streaming a session or offering pre-recorded presentations, use speakers who are comfortable in the digital arena. Staff your booth with people skilled at both online chat and moderating a virtual roundtable. This requires both writing and speaking skills. These aren’t necessarily the same as the hand-shaking, person-to-person skills.
  • Pre-Book virtual meetings. Many companies taking their trade shows virtual will share with exhibitors a list of attendees like they would for an in-person trade show. Look for the most promising attendees and try to pre-schedule meetings with them. Many meeting-scheduling tools allow you to include an access link to a virtual meeting to make the process even more seamless. You can also promote your meeting sign-up link on your social channels for interested leads to sign themselves up for meetings with your team.
  • Promote your presence during the event. You’ll want to do your usual pre-show marketing around the tradeshow. In addition, look for ways during the event to advertise your presence, presentations, or content. Your vendor may offer sponsorship packages that include banners, top positions, branding, and other opportunities to increase your visibility.

How to Fill the Marketing Gap Left by Canceled Tradeshows

With most tradeshows and other in-person events canceled or postponed due to COVID-19, industrial marketers are facing unprecedented challenges.

According to a recent survey by GlobalSpec, 35 percent of industrial marketers will not attend a tradeshow until a vaccine is available and another 24 percent say they will not be ready to attend a tradeshow for more than six months. Sixty-one percent said tradeshows they planned to attend or exhibit at have been canceled.

Translation: Tradeshows are by and large off the table for 2020.

The challenge for industrial marketers is how to fill the gap left by canceled or postponed tradeshows.

First, a little perspective. As the digital era continues to advance, tradeshows have been on a steady decline. Although still an effective and much-utilized strategy in the industrial marketing portfolio, tradeshows are not as important as they used to be. Still, marketers must do what they can to replace the high-touch, high-visibility benefits of tradeshows. Here are some ideas:

Invest more in content marketing

Marketers are now predicting that content marketing, followed by webinars and organic website traffic, will be their most successful 2020 marketing channels.

Engineers report the most valuable type of content are datasheets, case studies, product demo videos, and white papers, according to the “2020 Smart Marketing for Engineers,” survey conducted by TREW Marketing and GlobalSpec.

When it comes to accessing content, engineers find value in various information sources, including supplier/vendor websites, industry directory websites, online trade publications, emails, e-newsletters, and more.

Now is the time to make sure your content is accurate, up-to-date, and educational. This is an opportunity to present your company’s expertise and build trust with customers through your content. Distribute your content across as many channels as you can in order to reach the most engineers.

Hone your webinar skills

As you can imagine, many companies will be hosting more webinars as a way to connect with their target audiences. To capture and maintain attention, you’ll need webinars that stand above the others:

  • Keep webinars laser-focused on specific topics and your marketing goals. Consider a series of short webinars (20 minutes or so) that build on each other but also can individually stand alone.
  • Produce one or two foundational or showcase webinars that feature an industry expert, journalist, customer, or analyst who can tell a powerful story.
  • Engage your audience through interactive webinar features such as live polls, chat, and Q&A sessions.
  • Test all technical aspects of your webinar platform to make sure there are no glitches on game day.
  • Record and archive all webinars or other streaming events for on-demand viewing from your website. With a simple registration form (name, company, email), on-demand webinars can continue to provide engagement opportunities.

Refresh your home page

Because your customers and prospects cannot visit you at a tradeshow right now, you will likely be seeing more traffic to your website.

It’s a good time to update your homepage to make sure you’re offering an easy path for engineers to find the information they are looking for. This audience is not so concerned with the bells and whistles that a website has to offer. Instead, the large majority is looking for in-depth technical information and technical specifications. Can they navigate easily to this content from your home page?

Focus on Search Engine Optimization

Seventy-three percent of respondents to “2020 Smart Marketing for Engineers” survey are willing to view three or more pages of search results before selecting one or starting a search over, up from 54 percent the previous year.

You don’t have to launch a huge SEO effort, but you should pick your most important and relevant web pages and optimize them for specific keywords, keep the content fresh, update internal and external links, and fill out all meta tags.

Continue using email

Engineers still look to their inboxes for important content. Two-thirds of engineers subscribe to at least three newsletters, with 18 percent subscribing to six or more. Email is still a highly valuable and relevant communication channel, but you need to work to get the attention of engineers. Create subject lines that capture attention, and newsletter content that clearly provides value to your audience.

Work with your media partners

Your media partners should be up-to-date on changes occurring in the media landscape. They know what’s working and what isn’t during these challenging times. Ask them for help with your media plan for the second half of the year. They may be able to offer effective ideas and opportunities that you hadn’t considered or known about.

Marketing Strategy Tradeshows

What to do About Tradeshows


With many tradeshows and conferences being cancelled or postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, industrial marketers are facing significant disruptions to their marketing plans.

An GlobalSpec survey conducted in the earlier days of the coronavirus outbreak found that 56 percent of marketers said the shows they planned to attend or exhibit at have been cancelled. Thirty-eight percent had cancelled their own plans. Those percentages can only be higher now.

The question for marketers is what they should be doing in place of tradeshows to pick up the marketing slack.

Reinvest or Cut Back?

The survey showed that 28 percent of industrial marketers will shift their tradeshow budget to digital ads, while 46 percent said they will not reinvest that budget.

It’s understandable that companies may want to save their budget during uncertain times. However, by reducing your presence in the marketplace you may lose business to competitors who don’t cut back and you may have a harder time regaining marketing momentum when conditions stabilize again.

Those companies that reinvest at least a percentage of their tradeshow budget to digital platforms can continue to maintain visibility and generate engagement opportunities with prospects who are in various stages of their buying cycle. When the situation improves, you will be in a better position to win new business.

Tradeshow Substitutes

One coveted feature of tradeshows is the ability to meet person-to-person. While that is no longer possible when a tradeshow is canceled or postponed, you can still engage your audience, show prospects who you are, and provide a personal touch.  


For years, webinars have been carving into the tradeshow market, and with good reason. Ubiquitous broadband and technology advances have allowed webinars to become an interactive, engaging experience between presenters and their audiences.

You can include real-time polls, offer live Q&A, and show video during webinars, while your audience remains at their desk.

Webinar solutions from GlobalSpec offer additional benefits, including:

  • Promotion of your webinar to your chosen target audience
  • Audience registration and attendee tracking
  • Webinar files for continued on-demand viewing on your corporate website or other marketing channel such as YouTube


Video is another effective substitute for a tradeshow. From your office, you can film that keynote speech or educational workshop you were going to present at a tradeshow and post the video on your website, social media or supplier hub on GlobalSpec.

Engineers, particularly younger ones, are steadily increasing their use of video as a way to discover companies, products and services.

Digital Ads

Digital platforms such as e-newsletter ads and display advertising can help you reach your tradeshow audience and achieve similar branding and visibility benefits:

  • Advertise in targeted, opt-in e-newsletters that reach the same audience as you were targeting with your tradeshow. You can use the ad to promote a video or webinar that might be serving as your tradeshow substitute.
  • Stay visible to your audience and keep your message in the market through the use of display ads on industrial websites. You will be able to showcase your brand to many of the same engineers and technical professionals who might see you at a tradeshow.

Content Marketing

Tradeshows have a reputation as being time and resource intensive. You can put some of the saved time and resources to good use by updating or creating content. Your audience is always looking for educational information to help them do their jobs better, and with travel and tradeshows down, many engineers and technical professionals will be conducting more online search for content to help keep them current.

You can also consider contributing content to or taking advantage of an Engineering360 product advertorial which provides engineers new ways to learn about your product offerings—a good alternative to a tradeshow. Click here for more info.

Yes, these are uncertain and challenging times both personally and professionally. However, it’s no time to panic. Instead, carefully evaluate your situation to determine how you can best persevere and succeed in your role as a marketer.

Content Marketing Marketing Strategy Marketing, General Tradeshows

The Secrets to Tradeshow Success in the Digital Age


Although manufacturers exhibit at fewer tradeshows now than in the past, and engineers attend fewer, tradeshows can still be a very effective marketing tactic if exhibitors tweak their marketing approach.

For exhibitors, tradeshows offer visibility in a market, an opportunity to meet prospective buyers and a chance to keep tabs on competitors. In addition, according to a recent survey by TREW Marketing and IEEE GlobalSpec, 86 percent of engineers say that tradeshows are a somewhat or very valuable source for seeking information on the latest engineering technologies, industry trends and products or services.

However, this is the digital age, and manufacturers must use digital tactics before, during and after tradeshows in order to achieve success and produce positive ROI from a traditional and often resource-intensive marketing program.

Generate Pre-show Momentum

Give prospects a reason to seek you out at a tradeshow by building excitement about your presence.

  •  Create show-specific display ads to run on industrial sites. This will make your brand highly visible and give potential attendees a reason to visit your exhibit.
  • Use advertisements in targeted industrial e-newsletters to announce the tradeshow. This is great way to connect with a hard-to-reach audience that is not part of your house list yet may be interested in meeting you.
  • Email your internal list on multiple occasions leading up to the tradeshow, giving prospects an opportunity to register and make travel plans.
  • Reach out via email to individual customers/prospects, bloggers, influencers and media professionals. Try to set up one-on-one meetings at the tradeshow with the most important people.
  • Announce your upcoming tradeshow presence on your website. Include a form for those who’d like to request a meeting.
  • Post to all of your social media accounts that you will be exhibiting at the tradeshow. Promote the benefits of attending and give your audience reasons to stop by your booth, such as hands-on opportunities with your products or a special presentation.

At the Show

Tradeshows used to be places where prospects collected brochures and other content. Now all of that information is available online on your website. Today, tradeshows are all about engagement and building community.

  • Make sure all of your booth staff are trained regarding your goals for the show.
  • Use digital data capture capabilities on site for gathering prospect information for post-show follow-up.
  • Continuously run a video in your exhibit space. This doesn’t have to be a one-time-use video. You can also post the video on your website and link to it from emails and social media to get extra return on your investment.
  • Take digital photos—lots of them—and identify the people in each shot. A great follow-up after the show is to send your prospect of photo of themselves with people from your team.
  • Use social media during the show to post updates and share the experience. Shows will often have their own hashtag to use.
  • Make sure you have a comfortable space to conduct face-to-face meetings, either within your exhibit area or in a convenient space nearby.

Post-show Marketing

Don’t make the mistake of thinking your marketing efforts are over when the tradeshow ends. Often, your marketing is just getting into gear. 

  • Quickly follow-up via email with everyone you met at the show to say thank you for visiting your booth. Offer links to exclusive content related to the show, including educational information such as white papers and articles as well as fun stuff such as event photos and videos.
  • Segment or score your attendee list into prospects who deserve immediate attention you’re your sales team and those who belong in your lead nurturing program.
  • That video you premiered at the tradeshow? Make sure it’s posted on your website and other platforms where prospects can view it.
  • Follow-up with any contacts you made with media professionals, bloggers or other influencers. Remind them of what you spoke about. Try to make appointments with those you’ve missed so you can pitch your story.

Despite the time, resources and person-power required to exhibit, tradeshows can still be an effective marketing program. Just make sure to integrate your efforts with digital market at all phases: pre-show, on-site and post-show.