Despite predictions by some that online events and digital video would doom the traditional trade show, convention centers still are booming as glamorous auto shows, consumer electronics shows, fashion shows, lifestyle shows and a long list of others continue to attract millions of visitors. Marketers have found that the desire of retail buyers and consumers to kick the tires, operate the remote and feel the fabric has not diminished one perceptible bit.

The most successful shows, however, don’t ignore digital communications—they exploit it. Social media and other digital outlets—from websites to forums to mobile connections—can amplify the impact of trade shows before, during and after the exhibit dates. Apps are available to display exhibitor catalogs, interactive maps, conference schedules, and product demos, but the capabilities of apps beyond their conventional uses are virtually unlimited.

How could apps and social networks make trade shows even more fun and convenient? Here are five apps and features I’d like to see on my Windows Phone to use at a future trade show:

  • Find a show-floor friend. This app would administer a personality and preference test and then compare your results with those of others attending the show. It then would provide a locator map to allow you to connect with someone who is interested in the same displays and brands that engage you and who is psychologically compatible with you, enabling you to tour the exhibits together.
  • PowerPoint counter.  Each presenter would provide show organizers with the number of PowerPoint slides in his or her presentation for the conference portion of the show. The organizer uploads those figures and, during each presentation, the app counts and displays the number of slides remaining in the presentation and updates the speaker’s anticipated completion time, depending on the average duration of each slide, so audience members will know how long they’ll need to wait until they can escape for lunch.
  • Trade-show pedometer. An app that not only measures how many miles you have walked around the show floor but also allows you to determine exactly how many steps and how much time will be required for you to travel to the next exhibit of your choice.
  • Boothtooth. This smartphone feature, available to all visitors to the trade show, allows staff in the exhibit booth to offer pitches and prizes to people on the show floor, encouraging them to visit the booth through one-to-many conversations.
  • Adaptive Booth Design. As people register to attend an industry or association trade show, they are required to answer a series of questions about their preferences. Upon entering the conventional hall, each visitor receives a personalized RFID tag that, when the individual is in proximity to participating booths, changes the screens and décor in the booth to match that person’s stated preferences. (Of course, this offering requires people to enter the booth area one at a time, perhaps frustrating the purpose of drawing crowds, but it’s a cool experience anyway.)

Whether any of these weird, desirable apps will ever see the light of a home screen is dubious, but perhaps app developers could find new opportunities with some out-of-the-booth thinking for trade shows.




Steve Friedman is the Director of Marketing Communications for Airfoil, a high-tech PR and marcomm firm with offices in Silicon Valley, Detroit, London and Hong Kong.