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Buying Signals: B2B Marketing Budgets without a Line Item for Trade Shows

The decline of B2B trade shows frees B2B marketing to experiment with more efficient channels; virtual events surface buying signals

The pandemic is certainly changing marketing – but we might all do well to shift our thinking towards what might become quasi-permanent.

Offices won’t be gone – but remote work won’t be exceptional. Business travel won’t end – but travel budgets might be harder to justify in the age of Zoom. Tradeshows might come back – but perhaps with a lesser role in B2B marketing plans.

That’s the theme for this week’s Unscripted Marketing Links – an occasional roundup of three ideas I’ve poured over and present here for your perusal.

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1. B2B trade shows won’t recover for years

Live events like tradeshows and conferences have traditionally ranked as one of the top sources of leads, but that all but dissolved in 2020. As a result of the pandemic, the event industry is a shell of its former self, according to a piece by MarketingCharts citing data from PwC:

“PwC estimates that the U.S. trade show market will be cut in size by almost two-thirds this year.”

The consulting firm says live events, conferences and tradeshows have shrunk 64% as an industry. In less than a year it dropped from a roughly $16 billion market in 2019 to about $6 billion today.

This has left B2B marketing scrambling to reallocate marketing budgets to produce the same lead volume. As we head into Q4 for 2020, many marketers are planning budgets for the next year and wrestling with how much budget to set aside for live events.

It’s here the PwC assessment might be informative:

“PwC doesn’t see this market recovering to last year’s size until some time after 2024.”

That’s more than three years away from the present day.

Read more: US B2B Trade Show Market Not Forecast to Recover For Years via Marketing Charts

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2. More efficient B2B marketing budgets

B2B marketers may well be better off without tradeshows, argues Abby Sorensen in a column in Follow Your Buyer. She says budgets were “unbalanced” – pouring too much on live events pre-pandemic:

“B2B marketers were spending 40, 60, even 90 percent of their marketing budgets on events.”

Even worse, producers were ruining their events by peddling influence:

“…the event industry was starting to cater to suppliers instead of helping buyers. Exhibitors started being able to buy stage time. Published attendee registration fees were waived en masse. Some events even started covering travel expenses for attendees in exchange for a required number of pre-scheduled meetings with exhibitors.”

In retrospect, events were costing marketing more while yielding weaker results. So, in some ways, it’s a blessing for B2B marketing budgets in disguise, that the pandemic has removed tradeshows from the line time.

Ms. Sorensen concludes buyers may well have found “more efficient ways to navigate the buyer’s journey.” In turn, B2B marketers will make more efficient budget choices to reach buyers through better channels.

Read more: The New Normal in B2B Marketing is Already Here  via Follow Your Buyer

3. Buying intent during virtual events

With the implosion of tradeshows, virtual events have had an outsized role. Platforms that host these events could parlay the limelight into some intriguing new technology ideas – as Sharat Sharan of ON24 shared with Kim Davis for an interview in Marketing Land.

Think conversions:

“ON24 tracks what Sharan calls ‘the digital body-language’ of event attendees, which can then be converted into actionable data.”

What sort of data?]

‘we’ve [ON24] added is more buying intent signals – for example, if they’re ready to book a meeting with a salesperson or they want to book a demo – and we’re incorporating those buying intent signals into the larger platform that we have.’”

So what? [emphasis mine]

“This also enables much clearer attribution of buying intent…The data can be driven into a marketing automation or CRM system, and made available to SDRs in close to real time.”

Read more: ON24: The trend to virtual events is not reversible via Marketing Land

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If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
Content Marketing is the New Conference and Trade Show During Quarantine

Image credit: Photo by Product School on Unsplash and MarketingCharts

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