Germany was the world’s leading venue for international trade fairs prior to the pandemic. Between 160 and 180 international and national shows were held every year before COVID-19, with some 180,000 exhibitors and 10 million visitors from all over the world. According to the organizers' plans, around 380 trade fairs should be held in Germany in 2021.
Trade fairs bring together business partners from all over the world. On-site trade fairs, like those held in pre-coronavirus times, are venues for communication and showcasing the latest innovations in the global market. Few department store buyers or managing directors of specialist retail chains would have missed out on the must-attend events each year. For the companies that exhibit at trade fairs, participation in such exhibitions is the most important instrument in their business-to-business communication. Trade fairs and live events are the marketplace for a strong and established community. This key communication tool has now been suspended for over a year. The costs involved in participating in trade fairs have been eliminated, but so too the resulting benefits.
Onsite trade fair events are currently sorely missed. The anticipation of finally being able to romp around in the exhibition halls with like-minded people is unbroken in the exhibition industry. Even after the coronavirus pandemic, people will still need to sit together and discuss projects.
It is therefore more important than ever to ready traditional trade fair events for a restart. The successful concept of the trade fair will remain. So does everything stay the same? No, efficiency is the buzzword. Visitors and exhibitors want to get the most out of future trade fair events for their business. The acceleration in the digital transformation has streamlined and simplified many processes. While business travel is down, there are now more virtual meetings. This saves the time and expense associated with trips.
New digital services in record time
To allow new products and innovations to still be showcased during the pandemic and continue to bring the industry together, digital events were created at short notice to replace cancelled or postponed in-person gatherings. Even though not everything has gone smoothly in this regard, retailers and manufacturers are still currently satisfied with this. After all, this is the only way to get any update on the market and continue to network at an international level. Industry players still have to present innovations, initiate and conclude business deals, cultivate customer contacts, establish new relationships, monitor competitors and, no less importantly, keep employees and customers motivated. While there has been little room for new things during routine business, exhibitors are bound to be more open to new content, processes and tools in the future. This gives organisers an opportunity to release and test new features. These will quickly give rise to new expectations, however, and trade fair participants will no longer see themselves in the role of beta testers. A new generation taking over at the helm of businesses will also facilitate the move towards more digital services. An even greater level of affinity for the web and the associated requirement for a mobile-first strategy on the part of organisers are a given.
Simple online and offline networking
At their core, trade fairs are all about bringing market participants together. While digital platforms are a useful way to convey information about new products, they fall down when it comes to the physical experience and emotionality. All trade fair participants want a straightforward way to expand their network, enjoy spontaneous encounters with potential business partners and, through this, generate the leads that are so important for exhibitors in particular. Anyone who wants to be successful with their company worldwide and expand an international network will not be able to avoid participating in a trade fair in the future either, because trustworthy business partnerships need the special charm of personal encounters and the attentiveness associated with them, even if a trade visitor randomly strolling past the stand. Nevertheless, the establishment of contact can be optimized with digital matchmaking tools and chat functions, which expand the international reach. It can feel difficult to maintain customer contacts and build new relationships on a purely digital basis, playful and graphic solutions for networking will certainly be a valuable addition to the B2B events of the future.
Digital components for efficient preparation
In the future, it will not be sufficient to simply put trade fairs on digital platforms. The new solutions will have to be efficient, intuitive and convenient, as well as offer constant availability and fast response times. The trade fairs of the future will be challenged with devising formats that are targeted and combined with emotional experiences. As part of this, the digital platforms will need visual appeal and an intuitive design. Presenting innovations has become a much more digital process, and the requirements in respect of the multimedia material used to showcase products are high and must be met. Platforms that are independent of place and time will become a permanent hub in industry networks, but should not overwhelm participants in the process. In any case, many trade fairs have long recognised that providing their participants with information all year round by means of content marketing meets this need and, naturally, also strengthens customer loyalty between events. The entire customer journey will be more digital in the future. On-site events will need more careful preparation. The platforms should promote discovery in the run-up to trade fairs and allow participants to best prepare for the trade fair itself, which, after, all, will still be the actual event.
Market participants will consent to providing their personal data, but will expect something quantifiable in return. Services such as those offered by Amazon, Netflix and the like have fuelled expectations. Ratings, recommendation tools and contactless payments throughout the exhibition grounds are possible features that may quickly become standard. Tedious registration processes and queues at entrances or for catering will become just as unacceptable as impenetrable exhibition layouts.
The future is on site and online
The future will belong to trade fairs that succeed in offering hybrid events that are not just two versions of the same thing, but perfectly complement each other and provide genuine added value for all participants. The full range of strengths that the digital world has to offer must be used for this, such as virtual and augmented reality as well as, most importantly, social media. Trade fair apps, indoor navigation, heatmaps, lead tracking and matchmaking could be key elements of future events. All of the components will have to form a cohesive unit and fit seamlessly into the overall event concept. Digital services offer new reach and opportunities to win back visitors who may have stopped attending events. However, organisers and exhibitors will be tasked with providing both virtual and on-site visitors with the same level of comprehensive support in the trade fairs of the future. The expectations for the next live events are high. And last but not least, organizers must have the courage to dare to try something new.
*Source: AUMA, Messeplatz Deutschland