Cannabis is a social plant and product, so it’s not surprising that trade shows have always been an important part of the legal cannabis industry. In many ways, the people who work in this industry are one big family, and the COVID-19 quarantines of 2020 kept everyone from seeing each other for more than a year.
During the extended lockdowns across the country, trade shows were cancelled or shifted to virtual events, and many people missed the interactions at in-person events that brought everyone together and strengthened relationships.
As the world starts to reopen in 2021, some cannabis industry trade shows have already started again, and the future looks bright – albeit, a bit different than what we knew before. Here are some of the key things you’re likely to notice at future cannabis industry trade shows and events in a post-COVID world.
Trade Show Budget Changes
For business-to-business (B2B) marketers and salespeople, nothing can substitute for in-person networking. Therefore, trade show participation won’t disappear, but some companies may scale back their event budgets in the short-term.
According to research by FTI Consulting, nearly half of decision makers surveyed (46%) said they plan to increase their trade show budgets to pre-pandemic levels. Among those who expect to decrease their trade show budgets post-pandemic, nearly half (49%) plan to do so by reducing the number of events they attend, and 44% expect to participate in smaller, less expensive events.
It’s important to note that virtual events exploded in popularity during the pandemic, and they’re not going away. However, as the world reopens, businesses are planning to shift their focus back to in-person events. FTI Consulting’s research found that among those businesses that planned to scale back their trade show budgets post-pandemic, only 37% would do so by supplementing in-person events with virtual events.
In other words, trade show budgets may be changing in the near-term, but in-person events are here to stay for the long-term.
Trade Show Objectives
The main goals for businesses to attend trade shows, invest in booth space, and sponsor events has always been three-fold: to strengthen relationships that lead to more sales from existing customers, to build new relationships that lead to new sales from new customers, and to jumpstart sales for new products and services. Everything team members do during events should lead to conversations, one-on-one appointments, and building meaningful connections. It’s hard to do all of that during virtual events.
Of course, the increased sales that come from trade show participation will always be the main objective for participation. That hasn’t changed. However, post-pandemic, the importance of some related objectives have increased in importance.
FTI Consulting found that among small and large companies, three objectives have increased in importance post-COVID: networking, selling products/services, and building brand awareness. On the other hand, two objectives have decreased in importance: showcasing products/services and staying on top of industry trends.
Trade Show Experiences
The first thoughts that may come to mind when you think of the future of cannabis industry trade shows and events are probably related to virtual event trends, the growth of hybrid events, and omni-channel experiences. And you’d be right.
The future certainly will be filled with virtual, hybrid, and omni-channel experiences. But what about the experiences on the trade show floor and inside in-person events? What’s coming? What’s already here?
One of the biggest changes people are seeing at trade shows is cannabis on expo floors. Cannabis was never allowed at events in the past, but with event consumption licenses now allowed in multiple states – like California where many larger shows take place – it’s a brand new experience at B2B conventions.
You can expect the event consumption trend to grow as more states approve consumption licenses. For example, two other popular trade show destinations, Nevada and New York, are already planning to grant consumption licenses in the near future.
The answer lies in technology. High-tech experiential solutions are changing many aspects of in-person trade shows and events in our post-pandemic world. Virtual guides, robotics, virtual queues, heat maps, and touchless technology will become the new normal at in-person events.
Trade Show Preparations
At first, cannabis industry trade show exhibitors, presenters, sponsors, and attendees will just be happy to get back out on the road and see people they’ve missed. After all, this is an industry that was originally built on relationships where conversations and handshakes at industry events started more companies, brands, and products than you can imagine. However, once the initial excitement wanes, the real work will begin.
Standing out at post-pandemic trade shows and events will require more than setting up a booth. Exhibitors need to keep up with the high-tech experiences that are coming. In addition, the salespeople at the booth need to be prepared with practiced pitches as well as with strategies to set up one-on-one meetings in advance of the event with clients they know will be in attendance.
Key Takeaways about the Future of Cannabis Industry Trade Shows and Events
Cannabis industry trade shows and events are an essential part of any business’ marketing plan and budget, but to be successful at events post-pandemic, you need to consider how in-person events have changed as well as how your business fits into the new normal. Start preparing now, and you’ll set your business up for success.