Product Launches: Will They Be a Thing of the Past at Tradeshows?

Two recent articles suggest the tradeshow model is changing, or perhaps even dying, when it comes to product launches. If that’s the case, what does it mean for associations?

This week I came across two articles on that got me thinking about the future of association tradeshows, particularly when it comes to launching new products and services.

The first, written by DreamNow Founder Dev Aujla, took a pretty extreme stance with its title, “The Death of the Trade Show.” Aujla says that, while companies and attendees used to get insight into what industry startups were doing at tradeshows, they now want those insights even earlier, when these companies are still raising money and figuring out their business plans.

And like many internet-enabled shifts before it, this craze is likely to completely remake how and where businesses announce their innovations to the world.

Because of this, new events and services are being launched that give people access to new products, programs, and services throughout the year and at an earlier stage, which would have typically been out of view for conference attendees.

“The effect of these new events and services takes one more benefit away from the 2nd tier corporate trade show and places it in the hands of a new generation of entrepreneur,” he writes.

The second article offers a take on the well-known Consumer Electronics Show (CES), taking place this week. (It’s also put on by an association—the Consumer Technology Association.)

Author Jareau Wade says that product launches at CES are on their way out, as more entrepreneurs are choosing to launch products through crowdfunding and presales year round, rather than waiting up to a year to announce it at CES or another large tradeshow.

In addition, Wade says companies are seeing plenty of benefits to a self-hosted launch. Among them: They can launch when they want, gauge demand and make adjustments immediately, and level the playing field (by not fighting for attention with giants like Apple or Google).

“[L]aunching a new tech product via crowdfunding and pre-orders is here to stay,” Wade writes. “And like many internet-enabled shifts before it, this craze is likely to completely remake how and where businesses announce their innovations to the world.”

While I doubt many associations out there would be willing to say goodbye to their tradeshows entirely (and not many build as much buzz around product launches as, say, tech-related groups would), Aujla and Wade give associations a lot to consider.

Associations Already Rethinking the Tradeshow

In fact, you can see some changes or tweaks to the traditional product rollout model if you take a look back at some of my previous blog posts.

For example, late last year I wrote about how three associations were changing their meetings models or formats. One of them, SnowSports Industries America, announced that it would be moving the dates of its SIA Snow Show, beginning in 2017, to better align with industry’s buying season.

“This shift is being made to serve the industry better by placing the Show in a timeframe that allows for suppliers to be closer to their customers when buying decisions are being considered,” said Mike Adams, VP and commercial director of Amer Sports, in a press release. “It’s an imperative adjustment, especially in the softgoods and expanding hardgoods markets, and one that keeps the Show relevant to the evolving state of the business’ production, buying and consumer cycles.”

By holding it tradeshow at peak buying time, I would think that SIA may see happier suppliers—since they may have more sales on the show floor—and perhaps more floor traffic if customers and attendees are looking to shop. While this example doesn’t illustrate the death of the tradeshow, it does show how associations need to consider when both exhibitors and buyers will get the most out of a show and then make adjustments accordingly.

Let’s go back to Aujla’s piece where he mentioned that people want to be aware of industry shifts and products while they’re still in the development and funding stage and not yet exhibit-booth ready. Good news is that many associations are doing this in the form of startup or pitch competitions.

Take the Newspaper Association of America, which no doubt represents an industry dealing with significant change and upheaval. During its Accelerator Pitch program at its mediaXchange 2015 meeting, seven preselected startups pitched the industry executives in attendance about how their products and services can fulfill their print, digital, mobile, or advertising needs, outside of a tradeshow format.

The goal was to allow collaboration between these newspaper execs and the new companies at an earlier stage, which falls into line with what Aujla wrote.

Do I think association tradeshows are on their last legs? No. Do I think that they’re evolving? Yes. And Aujla and Wade’s pieces provide plenty of food for thought as to how your exhibitors and attendees are rethinking their association tradeshow experience, how they want to handle product launches, and what you should do as result.

Now it’s in your hands: How will your tradeshow evolve in the next one, two, or five years?

The Faraday Future FFZERO1, an electric car concept revealed at this year's CES. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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