As I write this in early July, we are looking at the calendar of events and trade shows for this year, and there are few survivors. The Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has seen almost all public events cancelled, from the Olympics to the Eurovision Song Contest. Less well reported, but of more importance to manufacturers like Samtec, is the almost total collapse of the trade show calendar.
Trade shows are an important channel of communications with customers. A booth at a trade show provides a unique opportunity to demonstrate a wide range of products in a way that a customer visit could not. It also gives us the opportunity to talk to a wide range of potential customers who might not otherwise see our products.
Are Trade Shows Still Relevant?
When I started in the connector industry, the only alternative to trade shows was the customer visit. Connector companies employed teams of experts who were familiar with the entire product range. It was their job to listen to the customer, understand the application and then advise on possible solutions. Data was generally available only in printed brochures, and half of the job was to teach customers how to access the relevant information. Deals could be won or lost based upon the expertise of the salesman.
The growth of the internet has revolutionized the shape of this relationship. No longer is it necessary for the customer to see a salesman when almost all of the information they need is available easily online. We are now able to share information, drawings and even 3D models without leaving our office.
However, this has created its own problem. An engineer who is searching the internet for the perfect product to finish their design is confronted by a bewildering array of choice. Is it possible for them to make an informed decision with so much choice at their fingertips?
This can be made even harder by the type of product for which the engineer is searching. You will rarely find someone who is a more enthusiastic champion of connector technology than I am. However, even I will be the first to admit that connectors may not be fascinating at first glance.
Demonstrating Physical Products
Connectors are physical devices. They are designed to interface with each other and, in some cases, are described by how a connector feels when being plugged in. This experience simply cannot be replicated digitally, and this is why trade shows still have a place in the electronics industry. It allows customers to get “hands-on” with physical examples of the product.
In order to provide the customer with the right experience, companies like Samtec expend a great deal of time and effort into making a show booth interesting and exciting. We may have just a few moments to entice a customer to break stride and take a look at our latest products. We need to grab the attention quickly make an impression
But what if we don’t get the chance? The collapse of the trade show calendar during 2020 has forced us to re-think how we can show the customer our latest developments in the most compelling way. We have been part of the wave of online or virtual technology events that are providing us with a new way to share information with customers.
Many manufacturers including Samtec are now looking forward to the 2021 show season when we can meet our customers in person once again. However, the effects of the 2020 pandemic will not disappear overnight, and even into the New Year we will have to consider how our customers and our partners feel about travelling.
The Long Term Effects of 2020
There is even some doubt whether all of these large trade shows will survive in their current form. Here in Europe, the largest electronics trade show is Electronica which is held every other November in the wonderful Munich, Bavaria. As I write this, it is one of the few shows in Europe that has not yet been cancelled or postponed. However, I believe that it may be yet another casualty of 2020. If this is the case, will it be another 2 years before we return to Munich?
If you read my blog of last year, you might remember that I have a complex opinion when it comes to trade shows. On one hand, they are very demanding of resources. A well-designed trade booth is an expensive endeavour, coupled with the costs of providing the team to demonstrate products and help customers. On the other hand, trade shows offer a unique environment that allows us to meet more customers in one place than anywhere else.
And so, while the long days and time away from our families can be tough, there is a real value that can be attributed to attending trade shows. But I wonder whether they will still exist in the same format when the world returns to normal, and how many of us will attend? Or is digital the new normal?
Will you attend trade shows in the future?