Seth Godin talks about the scarcity shortage, i.e., how the value of something can hinge on how hard it is to come by. Well sure, if diamonds were a dime a dozen, that's probably what they'd cost.
But when it comes to your meeting, the lack of scarcity can really hurt. This happened way back when, as editor of an environmental magazine in a former life, I watched vertical shows in that segment just explode, even in some pretty niche-y areas. Then the inevitable winnowing began as more and more people were scrapping for the same finite group of attendees and exhibitors.
- So what's scarce now? Respect. Honesty. Good judgment. Long-term relationships that lead to trust. None of these things guarantee loyalty in the face of cut-rate competition, though. So to that list I'll add this: an insanely low-cost structure based on outsourcing everything except your company's insight into what your customers really want to buy. If the work is boring, let someone else do it, faster and cheaper than you ever could. If your products are boring, kill them before your competition does.
I agree, of course, with the respect, honesty, good judgment, and trust thing. And with killing a boring meeting rather than letting it get beat to death by the competition. But I'm not sure outsourcing necessarily would bring you an "insanely low-cost structure" (though it might in some cases) so maybe this doesn't quite hold for meetings.
What would be the differentiating factor that lets one show in a crowded field thrive, while those around it wither away? I don't know, but it can be painful to watch shows try to beat each other to death. I'd probably try to find an underserved niche within the niche, and build a new meeting around that, rather than continue to try to outshine the growing competition. Unless, of course, my event was winning!