From The Editor | September 30, 2020

From The Editor: Will B2B Marketers Flinch When Trade Shows Are Back?

Abby Sorensen July 2017 Headshot

By Abby Sorensen, Editor


“Imagine what your marketing strategy could look like if you never had to see another freight invoice, never had to spend another night away from your dog, and never had to eat a sad boxed lunch with a stale sandwich again.”

I wrote that on February 13, 2020, when the total number of COVID-19 cases worldwide was far less than what the U.S. alone is currently reporting per day.

It turns out my imagination was not too far off, at least for me personally.

Yes, I did spend a good chunk of change on one of those paint-by-numbers that is a custom picture of my dog, and the overseas shipping cost was astronomical. Yes, I have endured to-go meals that lacked the same freshness as dining in. But no, I did not have to spend nights away from my dog Rosalita, aka “Rosie,” (like the Springsteen song) to travel to trade shows.

I don’t claim to speak for all dogs, but Rosie has enjoyed that the suitcase has stayed in the closet.

She has also enjoyed the company of four foster dogs since March. If you thought toilet paper was hard to get at the start of the pandemic, try adopting a dog. As the Washington Post reported, waitlists are the new normal at shelters, breeders, and rescue organizations across the country. As I type this, a cute foster pup named Taffy is happily gnawing on a bone on the floor of my home office room, patiently waiting to see who among the dozen or so applicants will be the lucky humans to take her home.

The question I’m posing to B2B marketers today is on behalf of Rosie, Taffy, and all the other dogs out there: What will happen when trade shows are back?

Will B2B marketers abandon their pets and catch the first flight to the Javits Center or McCormick Place? Will in-person events go back to eating up a disproportionate share of their budgets? Will content creation come to a grinding halt, causing company blog pages to appear frozen in time? If so, how will we explain that to our dogs?

“Sorry, Rosie, B2B marketers didn’t want to give content marketing and digital marketing and account-based marketing and a slew of other tried-and-true brand awareness and lead gen tactics a chance. Those free pens and expensed dinners are more important than your happiness.”

Seems harsh, doesn’t it?

Or will B2B marketers stand their ground? Will they confidently tell their sales and executive teams that trade shows never really had the ROI everyone believed they had? Will they take the time to explain why continued investment in content is the way forward?

On behalf dogs everywhere, here are some reminders B2B marketers can arm themselves with when in-person events try to lure us back to the exhibit hall:

  • Some of your buyers won’t be as excited for in-person events to resume. They’ve adapted to the convenience of Zoom calls, on-demand content, and time saved from not being on the road.
  • B2B marketers and their sales teams might be clamoring for trade shows to resume, but buyers seem pretty content with the digital buying experience.
  • It’s much more expensive to flex a brand’s muscle on an exhibit hall floor compared to investing in the level playing field that is content.
  • A badge scan at a trade show reveals only a tiny glimpse into the buyer’s journey.
  • And those buyer’s journeys can start any time, regardless of when the next trade show is scheduled.

The worst thing B2B marketers can do is nothing. Please, please don’t delay your 2021 planning with a “wait and see” approach to in-person events. The next worst thing they can do is forge ahead with new ways to reach buyers and then abandon those tactics as soon as the world starts traveling to events again.

Here’s one more quote from a before-the-pandemic Follow Your Buyer article, “You need to reach buyers where they do research and consume information on their own terms. And they’re doing most of this research and content consumption somewhere other than at events.”

This statement was true before the pandemic, and it’s certainly true in the midst of it. Once we’re on the other side of this global crisis, it will still be true.

As sure as my dog is about the exact second it is time for dinner (4:59:59 p.m. EDT), I am sure B2B events should not replace what we are doing now to reach our buyers digitally through content.

I hope B2B marketers will learn to manage more balanced budgets. I hope B2B marketers will not flinch at the first sign of in-person events resuming. I hope a year or two from now, B2B marketing budgets everywhere will not resort back to having their budgets handcuffed by in-person events. I hope we don’t disappoint our dogs.