Exhibitions Should Take a Page From The Collaborative Economy Playbook

exhibitions and the collaborative economy

Exhibitions and the collaborative economy

Apart from what companies in the Collaborative Economy are selling—space on someone’s couch, a ride in a stranger’s car or someone to run errands for the day—they appeal to some common desires of the consumers they serve. Exhibition organizers can learn a lot from them.

Jeremiah Owyang, a thought leader on the Collaborative Economy, and customer intelligence software firm Vision Critical jointly released a report in 2015. According to the report, “The New Rules of the Collaborative Economy,” there are a number of reasons why consumers buy services in the Collaborative Economy, but three reasons top the list:

  • Price—sharing or renting is less expensive than owning.
  • Convenience—software services have made it more convenient to share than own.
  • Brand—companies have built their brands through innovation.

Hence, the reason that collaborative-economy services are growing in popularity is because they offer a better price, more convenience or a strong brand built through a non-traditional response to core needs. These are also three categories in which exhibitions should and can evolve.

Exhibitions Should Take a Page From The Collaborative Economy Playbook

Yes, Collaborative Economy Consumers Are Like Exhibitors and Attendees

If one accepts that that exhibitors and attendees (as humans) are motivated to participate in trade shows for the same reasons that consumers are motivated to call an Uber or buy used IKEA furniture with the firm’s blessing, the new rules of the collaborative economy will apply to exhibitions too. Why? Because a buyer’s interest in price, convenience and brand are universal whether they are buying for themselves or their businesses.


Many trade show organizers already go to great lengths to reduce the total costs of participation for their customers by negotiating hotel room prices, airfare discounts, drayage, labor and general contracting services, to name a few. But if Collaborative Economy companies are to be emulated, organizers will have to do more to bring costs down for their customers. Here are some ideas:

  • Self-service: Allow exhibitors to perform more tasks (labor rules permitting) by themselves.
  • Service packages: Combine booth space rental and drayage, for example.
  • Counseling: Provide advice (exhibitor or attendee hacks) on how to save money on everything—booth rental, meals, travel, transportation, shipping, etc.


It’s inconvenient for exhibitors to essentially construct a showroom (exhibit booth), and fly in, house and feed a team of people for three to five days. Likewise, it’s disruptive for attendees to leave the office for a week and, for many, still juggle their job responsibilities while they’re at the show. Show organizers can do more to expand the convenience quotient, such as placing all of the service providers from airlines and hotels to contractors and restaurants behind a single online portal or dashboard so that exhibitors and attendees can manage their participation more efficiently.


If exhibition organizers are to build their brands the way that companies successful in the collaborative economy have, they are going to have to innovate around what customers really want. For example, Uber customers didn’t want another taxicab company; they wanted a clean, comfortable, on-demand ride service that they could order with their smartphones. Exhibitors don’t really want leads; they want sales. Attendees don’t want information; they want insight.

In many ways the trade show business and the collaborative economy business models are at opposite ends of the spectrum. It doesn’t have to be that way. Organizers can be more like Uber, Airbnb or TaskRabbit if they want to. It will, however, require new thinking, more innovation, and a renewed focus on the customer.

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