It occurred to me while walking the 2017 NAHB International Home Builders’ Show in Orlando.

The bag is dead.

Every year manufacturers and attendees ask me the same question: What have you seen that’s new and different?

My answer this year is not about a new product or emerging technology, but rather the change I witnessed in attendees’ behavior.

The first promotional items that greet builders are tables stacked with show totes or bags branded with company names. Historically bags have been a key premium and a great way to build awareness by providing a convenient place to stuff literature and chachkies.

No more. Most builders seemed content to walk around with their cell phones and showed little interest in a 5-pound companion. Trade shows like IBS are no longer about handing out information that’s already available on web sites.

What’s amazing is how many manufacturers still use the same show strategy from 20 or even 50 years ago. Stuff and Hope. Hand out stuff and hope it impacts buying behavior.

People who travel long distances aren’t there to gather general information that’s available on a web site. Builders are looking for answers to make their companies operate more efficiently and want manufacturers that can respond to their challenges. That begins with a very different conversation, not a pitch about the newest window or countertop.

I’m not saying the IBS should change its format or go away. In fact, I believe brighter days are ahead for those companies that reinvent their thinking and move from 1985 to the present.

Start by taking a page from Apple’s playbook. That a trade show booth could be something like a Genius Bar surrounded by products that create engagement and delight. There’s a reason Apple has the highest dollar annualized sales per square foot at close to $5,000 versus Macy’s at around $200. Who do you want to be, Macy’s or Apple?

Imagine an IBS booth that welcomes attendees with a simple greeting and the desire to maximize the visit. Instead of ending with a badge scan, begin by scanning to help personalize and inform the buyer journey to build a foundation for rich engagement. By having skilled people at the front of the booth, builders can be guided and scheduled with experts that can comprehend and respond to their issues. Imagine how much richer product demo’s would be if they were contextualized with the exact problem that the builder wants to solve.

The IBS I envision makes the booth a destination, a place to stay versus something a builder walks through or around. It has comfortable chairs, beverage service, and guides that put the right people in the right seats.

Exhibiting organizations of the present and the future need to comprehend what engagement means and how to deliver real benefits in return for the time and investment attendees make.

Builders don’t want stuff, they want answers and experiences that make their businesses more successful.

So let’s say goodbye to the bag and hello to the engagement that IBS could—should— deliver.

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