When the internet was new, a lot of people predicted it would kill the trade show. Why spend all that time traveling and walking the aisles when you could stay at home Googling?

Not only did that not happen, live events are bigger than ever before – especially in B2B, where they’re eating up budgets and absorbing entire marketing teams for months on end.

Events like the Festival of Marketing just go from strength to strength, proving that people still want to hang out with and learn from other people.

But today, a different kind of B2B event has emerged and is dominating the genre: the single-vendor supershow.

Adobe has its Summit.

Salesforce has Dreamforce.

Citrix has Synergy.

HP has Discover.

The list goes on and on.

In my world, Hubspot’s Inbound is becoming one of the biggest marketing events in the world (if it hasn’t achieved that mark already).

I’ve been to many of these and they are pretty impressive. Dreamforce is an awesome juggernaut and the Adobe Summit is like a marketer’s fantasy of what an event can be like.

They’re slick, they’re sexy and they create a gravity around a brand that is hard to resist.

Budget black holes?

If I were a big company, I’d definitely be doing a super-show. After all, they’re the essence of content marketing. They harness the company’s expertise to help their customers and prospects do their jobs. And customers clearly love them.

But they also suck up an enormous amount of a marketing department’s time, money and effort. Whole, multi-national marketing teams can stop everything for months as they work to deliver the next (bigger, better) blockbuster.

Which makes you wonder… are they really good value?

I assume that each of these companies has looked hard at the numbers and decided that their super-shows are worth the investment.

And I don’t doubt for a minute that the events do deliver enormous value – value that would be hard to reproduce in any other way. 

After all, they’re 2-5 days of the full-time attention of thousands (or tens of thousands) of customers, prospects, analysts and influencers. In a world where attention is the highest currency, that’s a hell of a lot of R for your I.

And I don’t doubt that all this attention turns into new opportunities and accelerated deals.

But I didn’t ask whether the supershows delivered value. I asked whether they were worth the gargantuan investment, including the opportunity cost (think of what 50 marketers could with nine empty months and tens of millions of dollars).

Ego distortion effects

My suspicion is that – even though the events are effective – senior executives may think their super-shows are much more effective than they really are.

Because, if you’ve ever been to a one-vendor super-show, you’ve experienced the powerful reality-distortion fields they generate.

For days on end, the company becomes the center of the universe (or at least the part of the universe visible from the bowels of a convention center).

Everybody talks about them and their products – and little else.

Their flagship customers present shining case studies of unsullied success.

Their senior executives bask in all the branded glow money can buy, pumped on-stage by hard-driving, ear-splitting rock tracks and introduced by the guy who announces boxing matches (“Pleeeeeease welcome the SENIOR VP of SALES for the EMEA Region… Chuuuuuck! Charmaaaaaanian!!!”).

Beyond the keynotes, the show floor buzzes and flickers with non-stop demos.

Every channel partner shows up with their most positive spin about the mother ship.

The execs get to hang out with rock bands and, better still, be seen hanging out with rock bands (the ones they paid six figures an hour for).

In short, for days on end, the most senior people in the company aren’t just drinking (and dispensing) the Kool-Aid, they're mainlining it.

And that means they’re tripping their brains out on oxytocin and the nine other hormones that regulate self-image and hair growth.

Which is not a great fame of mind for evaluating next year’s event budget.

What do I know?

I don’t see the revenue reports generated in the weeks and months following the super-shows by the senior and middle managers who report up to these top executives.  

But I can’t imagine many have the strength to show them anything but stellar results.

“Um… Sir?  That thing that made you feel so damn good and gave you a reason to buy that Brioni suit and hang out with Mick Jagger?  Well, I’ve run the numbers and it’s under-performing our email program.”

Not gonna happen.

Okay, fellow marketers: you’ve been to these things.  And some of you have helped run them. What do you think?  

Are they worth the investment? Or are they simply the world’s most efficient way to turn money into testosterone?

I really don’t know the answer. But I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Doug Kessler

Published 9 February, 2015 by Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler is a founder and Creative Director of B2B marketing agency Velocity and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (3)

Parry Malm

Parry Malm, CEO at Phrasee Ltd.

Interesting article and something I've been thinking about lately. Are they ego trips? When done well, I reckon they're huge money spinners as well as territory markers.

Take ExactTarget Connections (which is now sadly defunct, or at least reborn as part of Dreamforce) was the largest digital marketing conference in the world in 2014... and painted Indianapolis orange for a week. The stands aren't cheap, and they were pretty much sold out. Sure, it cost them a bunch of money to launch it, but it created a huge amount of brand interest, buzz and advocacy.

The problem is one of scale. You don't want it to look crap, and it's generally probably not the best thing for new customer acquisition. But from a retention and brand affirmation standpoint, I reckon it's a trend that's gonna keep growing.

over 3 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Yeah, and I guess big brands can get their partners to defray a big chunk of the costs -- but not the opportunity costs...

over 3 years ago


Carl Hartman, President at Brandgineering

Well, I tend to agree. Everyone is trying to be Apple and Steve Jobs; they aren't. They are unique, great companies. Events are not always about getting new business but sustaining the relationships.

We've done a number of events for our clients and use them often. Numbers? We are really sticklers for metrics. A few months ago one of our clients increase their revenue by 250% and the ROI was amazing; probably 10x.

Some of our clients, it is part of the fee clients pay. The events are part of the total strategy.

Events are just one of the things we do for the overall advertising strategy. Done well, they can raise revenue and sales. I'd start wondering, if there are not results, if the creative firm doing it is focused on results or a great "show."

over 3 years ago

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