Within five years trade shows will be completely paperless is a prediction I heard at a recent conference. When I passed this idea along to some of my clients, they balked, saying,
"How will we get our information to our customers if we don't have literature at the booth?"
"Visitors want to take away literature.
"What impression am I making by not having literature to hand-out?"
If this is starting to sound familiar then perhaps its time to re-think the purpose of your exhibition and look at a different strategy for execution.
Firstly, an exhibit at a trade show is not simply a means to disseminate literature. A trade show display is a physical environment where you, your customers and prospective customers get together to find solutions.
As your customer base gets younger (Gen X's), the need to talk about the features of your products and services at the booth decreases. This audience is comfortable receiving their information on-line. They belong to social groups where they discuss products and services. They have likely already seen your information when they visited your web-site and most likely saved, bookmarked or downloaded what they need. It is futile to give out further printed information at your booth.
Secondly, there is the cost consideration of excess literature at your booth. This can be measured two ways: the fiscal cost to create and print the piece and the space it takes for storage.
The fiscal cost can be a major investment ranging from a few cents to many dollars. In order to get the maximum R.O.I. on your literature investment you need readership. Yet, studies have proven that nearly ninety-five percent of all literature taken from a trade show booth goes unread. This lack of readership makes the investment incredibly difficult to justify. I am not implying there is no need for literature, but the savvy marketer needs to find other methods of distribution that guarantees the most number of readers, and a trade show booth isn't it.
To address the cost of storage, try this experiment. Calculate the total cost of your exhibit and divide that number by the number of square feet or meters you have secured. What you quickly realize is that using precious exhibit space to store literature is very costly. When you equate this cost into your investment in creating the piece you see how difficult it becomes to justify the investment.
One last consideration is the cost to the environment. Studies have proven that people are more prone to do business with companies who have taken positive steps towards environmental stewardship. Excess paper in your booth sends the wrong message.
The solution is to rethink your strategy for presenting information. In a world where nearly 70% of the population in developed countries is wired, electronic dissemination makes sense. At a trade show, reminding your visitors of the URL where they can get information rather than a hardcopy brochure makes a lot of sense. You can accomplish this by using a promotional product such as a pen, key-chain or memory stick. Now your booth staff can give visitors a gift which accomplishes two goals: it's a positive reminder of their visit and a reinforcement of the value of the information that waits.
Will trade shows become completely paperless in five years? I hope so. There are so many advantages to all of us if they do.