Next week, as it does early each year, the world epicenter of innovation becomes Las Vegas in the form of International CES, the world’s largest consumer technology tradeshow. More than 2,700 companies display their best ideas to more than 140,000 visitors – reporters, buyers, investors and potential business partners – in several cavernous exhibit halls and hotels.
No matter the reason, everyone who attends International CES has chosen to invest precious time and money. Their return is more than entertainment; it is business – and an awesome and inspiring display of the future.
They travel great distances to meet like-minded individuals and discuss the vibrancy, hope and promise of innovation. They come because in no other venue can a company make a profoundly physical statement to 5,000 reporters and analysts, and some 30,000 international business visitors. Yet the distances any one attendee travels to CES pales in comparison to what they would have to travel otherwise to accomplish the same business meetings: the average CES attendee has 12 meetings at the show, which means CES attendees save more than 700 million miles of flight in business trips that they otherwise would have to take.
They come to test the mettle of the people with whom they are doing business, to shake their hands, look in their eyes, and assess whether a company’s product matches a company’s hype. Perhaps most important, they come because relationships matter in business and, despite the worldwide reach of the Internet, a relationship cannot only be electronic. It must be personal.
This personal component to International CES – or any tradeshow, for that matter – is what makes it a living, breathing entity. It’s an experience that requires five senses. Some may scoff and wonder why in the age of technology and the Internet live face-to-face events even exist. Yet they not only persist, they also prosper because people, relationships and first-hand impressions matter. Five-sense interaction beats the Internet for creating a big picture view, allowing serendipitous discovery, developing trust, and evaluating people and products.
Bill Gates once told me that Microsoft was made by trade shows like CES. Indeed, every large company started as a small company that needed to attract investors, partners and customers quickly and efficiently. The best place to accomplish all three? At a tradeshow. Indeed, the entire CES is run with a basic principle: that anyone with an idea should be able to present it inexpensively. Companies and careers have been made at trade shows – and our world has been changed by them as well.
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, which owns and produces CES, has a long line of volunteer chairmen whose companies got their big break at CES. Kathy Gornik, the co-founder of Thiel Audio, packed four days of food before driving to her first CES in 1976. Darrell Issa, now a member of Congress, built his car security company by attending CES shows, as did Loyd Ivey, who started MTX Audio in 1976 at the age of 26, and now operates the mega-company MTI. These giants of industry began as CES presenters who shared a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship and the belief that anyone with an idea should be able to expose it easily. Their leadership helped protect a sacred trust that CES must always serve as a platform for new innovators and entrepreneurs.
So we keep the flame lit. This year, CES added Eureka Park, which will provide almost 100 start-ups a special exhibition at the show. Since 2010 we have tripled the iLounge Pavilion space for third-party accessories and software for Apple’s iPod, iPhone and iPad products to 300 exhibitors.
Of course, CES isn’t the only event around. We also see tremendous innovation at other major U.S. trade shows, including AAPEX, BIO, CEDIA, CTIA, IMTS, InfoComm, ISC, NAB, NAMM, Pack Expo and SEMA. While these may seem to be indecipherable acronyms, each represents an event attracting thousands of businesses coming to see hundreds of cutting edge innovative exhibitors. These and other events are carrying our economy, creating jobs, making news, driving marketing and pushing us rapidly into the future.
Marketing executives at businesses across industry sectors understand the value of tradeshows. In a recent study conducted by the nonprofit organization Center for Exhibition Industry Research Foundation (CEIR), 99 percent of surveyed executives said exhibiting offers unique value not offered by other marketing channels. Business executives understand tradeshows’ importance, because exhibitions drive business. In another CEIR study conducted by Oxford Economics in 2010, findings uncover that each of the top exhibitions in the United States created, on average, $82 million in business-to-business sales among exhibitors and attendees.
The U.S. business-to-business exhibition industry is alive and well, and it offers companies a gateway to reaching their markets. The 2010 CEIR Census documents that there are approximately 9,000 business-to-business exhibitions in the United States. The CEIR Index estimates that approximately 1.5 million companies exhibited in 2011 and roughly 60 million people attended.
The power and purpose of tradeshows in our rapidly connected world continue to grow with each year. Far from being a relic of a bygone age, today’s trade show remains the premier event to learn, interact and maybe even strike a deal with America’s next generation of innovators. So get on a plane. Go to a tradeshow. Think outside the box. Be open to new ideas. And have a bit of fun along the way.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times bestselling book, “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.”
Reprinted from January 4, 2012, issue of Forbes Magazine. Written by Forbes contributor and CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro. Find the original article here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/garyshapiro/2012/01/04/want-innovation-go-to-a-tradeshow