What is the difference between an exhibition an expo a trade fair and a trade show?

Find out why they all sound like they should mean the same thing!
Crowds moving around at trade show event

What is the difference between exhibition, expo, trade show and trade fair? They all sound the same to me, well yes, nowadays these terms are very loosely used, and all generally mean the same thing – an event where people gather to network, learn about new products/services, and potentially direct sales. Historically, these terms had their own meaning and while they may not seem to be used in their rightful way in this modern world, it is worth understanding how it all came about. Understanding the precedence behind these terms will give you a better holistic insight of why these terms came about and how it all started. We will run through each of the terms below, define their differences and give examples of categories that certain events fall into.

What is a "Trade Show"

Aerial view looking into custom trade show booths and customers walking around

Simply put, these are events that specifically focuses on one niche industry at a time and are catered towards larger companies – which typically means a custom-built exhibition booth is an exhibitors default choice. It suits established companies who are purposely looking to network and make partnerships with other key players in the industry. It is not about the quantity of attendance, its more about the quality of attendees and exhibitors as this is an event where early corporate partnerships can be formed and refined accordingly so they can officially go to market.  

Strict B2B

Eligibility into these events is strictly trade-only (only members of the niche industry are allowed to attend) which means exhibitors will receive an extremely targeted handful of visitors that already understands the industry and are decision makers who are looking to find out about what is new and upcoming that have yet to be officially launched. Because of these niche events, they tend to have only limited media coverage until more information is provided about the products/services that will be released in the market.   

Networking & Partnerships

Trade shows are prime events for leaders and key players in the industry to congregate into one of the top exhibition venues to network and potentially create partnerships to form a larger entity in hope to dominate a certain sector. These corporate events also typically encourage an international presence so that for all that attend trade shows, they have the opportunity to speak with other like-minded companies from other parts of the world and see how they are performing and what improvements could be made. 

Present Products not yet launched for public

Typically, there are no product sales conducted at trade shows, the priority is for presenting new upcoming products that are very close to finalisation or already final and are just wanting to share this with the industry with the intention to gauge the market and see how much demand there could be, is there potential to expand it further with partnerships or if adjustments are required to tweak it to perfection and make it an essential part of another businesses revenue generator. To make sure your business is represented as effective as possible, be sure to engage with a booth designer so you are on your best foot forward.


Examples of Trade Shows

What is an "Exhibition"

Crowds surrounding around macfee custom trade exhibition booth

Exhibitions are also classified as B2B and it is where trade professionals and resellers congregate to present new products and services, this type of event suits both established and companies who are up and coming who prioritises a strong brand image presence. It is also a type of event where new products/services are presented and demonstrations are available for clients to test firsthand to see if can be relevant to their business. Again, no sales are conducted and its mostly creating awareness for those who attend to recognise what each company is currently at with taking their brand to the next level.

B2B (Trade Professionals & Resellers)

Exhibitions are primarily for trade professionals and resellers within the same industry but is not for the consumers or general public. This ensures that the exhibitors get direct contact with the right people in the trade industry for repetitive revenue, rather than one-off sales. With a B2B crowd, it sets the tone for conversations too – allowing companies to talk technical details and get to the bottom of what is the core advantages of a particular product/service. 

Present new products/services & Build Brand Image

For companies who attend these events, emphasis is directed towards building a strong brand image because even though the main goal of an exhibition is to present new products/services – companies there want a strong brand presence, so they are the ones who people remember and getting a custom product display produced will help highlight key products you want your clients to see. In a way it is for large companies to show their dominance in the industry and for small companies to get noticed. Products/services that have yet to be officially launched is presented with a targeted audience to gauge their interest and only limited media presence is allowed to keep the event contents relatively exclusive.


Examples of Exhibitions

What is an "Expo"

Trade show event with harvey norman hanging banner in the middle

An expo is where both trade and consumers meet, the clear distinction with expos is that at these types of events aim to attract maximum attention – it will have the most attendance numbers as it welcomes people from all sectors to attend without any limitations. It becomes a platform that is more getting as many people in as possible within the short period that event is active for. Media is welcomed to create hype and share the key details about the companies that are going above and beyond with their booths and offerings.

B2B/B2C (Consumers-Retailers-Trade)

An expo is typically open to both trade and consumers to attend without any limitations, this means that for exhibitors, the visitors that visit their booth will vary a lot – some may have heard about them before while others would have no idea. Therefore, expos can be a challenge to decide on what and how you exhibit would best give you the most optimal outcome because you’ll have to be prepared for very basic questions and the unusually detailed questions. How would you design your booth appropriately without risking the chance of not getting noticed at all? It is trial and error, but you can at least get off to a good start by speaking to experienced stand builders.

Maximum Attention and Opportunities within a Short Timeframe

With the influx of attendees, it can quickly become easy to get lost in the crowd of exhibitors and this makes its extremely important to have a booth design that targets a certain group of visitors that you are looking for. Are you looking to generate sales on the spot? Then you’d want to make sure you have plenty of stock on hand and present your products in an attractive way. Are you looking to create meaningful connections with visitors or other exhibitors, then perhaps you should include a zone where you can comfortably have a conversation.


Examples of Expos

What is a "Trade Fair"

Trade fair event filled with attendees looking at different booths

Trade fairs are catered primarily for consumers and at these events anyone is welcome to attend. There tends to be more smaller booths rather than larger ones and it can be familiarised to a marketplace where it is primarily product based with intention to get as many sales as possible. Visitors who go to these events can purchase on the spot directly with the seller if there is stock available or they can give their details to show their interest (lead generation). Media is also widely welcomed and encouraged to promote the event to get as many visitors as possible.

B2C (Business-to-Customer)

These types of events are generally catered towards the public without any limitation on who can attend. Most booths are packed with products with the intention of selling all of them by the end of the event, in saying that you can also expect to see many start-up businesses who are trying to get their foot into the industry therefore you may see many booths that sell similar types of products or products that you have not seen before.

Sales & Lead Generation

There are two main types of goals that exhibitors have at trade fairs, and these are to maximise sales and lead generation. Sales are more geared towards businesses with products to sell and lead generation is for businesses who have a service to provide which cannot be provided at the event. The end users tend to be the general public and trade fairs have no limitations on who can attend; therefore, you would expect maximum foot traffic within a period of only a few days – this makes it a great platform for small businesses to test how much traction they can get and gather feedback to see what people think so they can make informed decisions about their next move.


Examples of Trade Fairs


Nowadays the difference between exhibition, expo, trade show or trade fair is not so important, all these terms tend to be mixed freely without the requirement of classifying the distinctions between each one – therefore priorities should not be based on understanding the different terms used in the industry, but it should be focused towards what your goals are and finding out which shows would benefit your business more. It could be B2B, B2C or even a mixed – audience matters, and different events have different limitations on who attends. You can do your research about each event, or simply speak to the experts who have been in the industry for years – UCON Exhibitions is ready to help!

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Stand Builders

Our Team of experienced project managers and builders are ready to turn your vision into reality

Custom Stands

A custom built stand is always on brand. Be memorable. Be yourself. Be successful at any event

Stand Design

Creative Design Solutions for you to capture the Right Audience with Maximum Visual Appeal

Modular Booths

Turnkey and Tool Free - Ask about a portable stand, designed for easy transport and assembly