In our experience, trade show attendance and ROI (return on investment) have dropped off in recent years.

Perhaps one reason is because of the ease of gathering information about a product via the Internet—not only from the manufacturer’s web site, but from reviews, blogs, forums and other social media sources. Though these sources can be helpful, they’re also impersonal. You’ve heard it before: The Internet is the reason for the breakdown of social interaction. We don’t want to open that can of worms here. I just want to say that we here at General Digital see the value of on-line interaction, yet we enjoy meeting people at trade shows and discussing their needs. We can’t get into the nitty gritty at a trade show, but we can at least establish if we can offer a viable solution to a prospect.

Cost is another factor. Not only does it cost to participate in the trade show, but the expense of creating a booth, sales materials, shipping everything to and from your business, airplane flights, hotel accommodations, car rental, 3 meals a day, and other incidentals create a huge bill for a company. If a company can get just as much business from an office and a web site, why bother with a trade show?

Another thing to consider is user reviews. So long as the word on the “street” is favorable, you’re good. But a couple of bad write-ups from those reluctant to read their user’s manual or those with an inability to take responsibility for their poor judgement and actions, can hurt the reputation of a quality product. With the “hands-on” aspect of trade shows, you can see and feel for yourself the quality of the product and interact with it. And in chatting with the booth personnel, you can come to your own conclusion about whether the product (and company) will fit your needs.

Blending both worlds is the on-line trade show. We participated in our first one earlier this year. The cost is probably a bit less than a traditional event, but not by a significant amount. There was a considerable amount of time setting up the booth, but we will cut down on that with subsequent shows. We manned the show for an 8-hour day, though the booth remains on-line for a month after the show. Communication is via instant messaging, which is less personal, but not to the extent of a web site. We liked the experience overall, though I don’t see us doing on-line trade shows exclusively anytime in the near future.

So tell me, what do you think about the future of trade shows? What have been your experiences?