It seems likely that #Coronavid19 will be the hashtag of 2020.

Following the cancellation of Mobile World Congress and Facebook F8, I’ve just discovered that the Geneva Motor Show will be cancelled too.  Overreaction or sensible precaution?

Not worth the risk

Plenty of people have already written about the cancellation of Mobile World Congress.  As someone who has attended the show every year for the best part of two decades, I can entirely see the sense in not facilitating 120,000 people from all over the world to gather in the middle of a pandemic.  Managing an infection outbreak post the event would be impossible, especially as nobody knows who they are sat next to on the Metro or walking past in the halls.

That said it’s heart-breaking to hear stories of companies that have bet their last marketing dollar on exposure at a trade show; only for it to be cancelled without any compensation.  The show’s organiser, the GSA Association, has not exactly helped matters.  The show is by far the most expensive in the tech calendar.  Even a modest sized booth costs tens of thousands for the space, and every marketing opportunity seems like a licence to charge top dollar.

A new approach

What is less fathomable is how we’ve got to 2020 with huge trade shows still seen as a viable and effective way to spend marketing dollars.  For most businesses these events are a waste of money.  Don’t believe me?  What is the most profitable company in mobile?  Funny that you don’t see Apple at many trade shows.

Today, there are so many alternative marketing strategies it amazes me that so many companies continue to support trade shows as a serious marketing tool.  Yesterday I spent a very unfruitful hour at the Business Travel Show in Olympia.  I came away with the same feeling: accurate return on investment stats on marketing spend have never been easier to achieve – except, it seems, when it comes to trade shows.

Tradeshows, much like social networks, are engaging when they are small and exclusive but seem to become less relevant as they get larger.  Of course, by this point everyone is committed and pours thousands of dollars into worrying what reaction the wider world will have if a company does not attend.  The reality is, will anyone notice?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big advocate of building relationships  face to face, but trade shows seem a particularly dysfunctional way to do this.  If more tech conferences get cancelled because of Coronavirus, more companies may start to question the value of their investments.