Are trade fairs going to change in the future?

We hope so. Trade fairs have to change before they completely lose their relevance.

First things first. For effective marketing mixes, trade fairs are one of the best tools to exchange information and sell products or services – but they can no longer take place the way they used to. The restrictions due to the pandemic hit the trade fair industry exceptionally hard. Now every branch needs to find appropriate options to do their business, deal with their customers and communicate with media representatives, influencers or stakeholders.

One option is to offer and distribute relevant information while keeping the sales funnel full by generating leads or ensuring the continuous presence of the brand and its representatives. Furthermore, aspects like increasing the level of (brand) awareness, bringing the most important stakeholders and influencers on board and enabling a selected audience to be part of the common dialogue about a brand and its products would be necessary. Digitally of course. Tailormade for all target groups would be the best case. Sounds easy. It’s not.

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In our opinion, the concept of trade fairs is changing. It must change before it entirely loses its relevance.

Sales, new customer relations, and brand affiliation are the main component of trade fairs. They are a best-case marketing event for making business. Direct marketing flights can be a (digital) option – but they are “off fairs” as well. Virtual exhibitions are expensive and most often do not have the expected success (compared to a live presence). Even sales-driven brand fairs (like e.g. INHORGENTA MUNICH) came up with more and more storytelling and digital content within their platform strategy in order to engage their audience. But exhibitors need to re-think, too. This game can only be won in multiplayer-mode.

Diversity, Relevance, Premieres, and Inspiration have been regarded as a guarantee for high visitor numbers for a long time. In the digital age, blogs and social media take over this role by already revealing products prior to the actual exhibition (which is by the way initiated by the brands itself). No need to spend money or time to collect impressions in a stressful abroad surrounding.

Conferences, workshops, networking, and knowledge transfer are important aspects when it comes to exchanging with each other. Future contact restrictions will force everyone to find/attend digital alternatives. Guess what? Some brand associations (e.g. ISPO Re.Start Days) already offer several opportunities for interaction or to get additional information. Just like the big players in the business. They already find ways for alternative communication options. Yet again – no need to attend the fair, when you can also find all the interesting content online.

Times are changing – and so are people.

The lack of brand- or product-diversity and missing individuality also reduces relevance. Everybody wants to be engaged by infotainment and taken care of one’s needs. Consolidating exhibitions or regional focus may be considered as a future option – but that is not an option to emotionally engage with visitors. Let’s face it. Youtubers often do a better job of presenting a walk around or when it comes to educational content.

Every single point has its right to exist. Each brand has its own strategy on how to deal with brand fairs and future challenges. Fair enough. I hope so. In the name of diversity. But you can’t deny the change.

At haebmau.engine we have examined this change from another perspective. Our data-driven view has shown that it isn’t as bad as it sounds. Why? The die has cast behind the scenes already. Brand fairs seem to become a platform for industries to show off. To see and be seen. Talk and be talked about. Business is made elsewhere.

A brief digression based on the recent dfv-survey 2020 “Messegeschäft in Zeiten von Corona”*

67,2%*

of marketing decision-makers do not deal with the issue of canceled brand fairs.
 

67,3%*

already use different market research instruments and tools for competitive monitoring to compensate for the brand fair secondary role.
 

60,0%*

already use alternative tools to communicate with third party suppliers and coop partners.

38,9%*

are used to work with different recruiting tools to compensate canceled brand fairs.
 

37,1%*

do expect minor loss of sales.

40,3%*

already use direct marketing, online-ads, and digital media as alternative options to brand fairs.
 
The conclusion is obvious. Some brands already draw their digital options to compensate for their ”live” activities at brand fairs or exhibitions – cancelled or not. And what about the remaining percentages? For the majority, the development is not yet foreseeable.
 

But simply digitizing everything will not be successful either

Virtual advantages must be used properly. Experiences from the past years have shown that the same principles of success apply to the  highly praised digital world.

Customer loyalty, lead generation, and knowledge transfer can only reach the desired target group when applied correctly. And with the desired content. From the consumers’ side of view. Whether it’s direct marketing which may be suitable to substitute cancelled exhibitions, if done well and very targeted. Or the virtual fairs (e.g. 3D), which are nice to have as digital options as well – but are very cost-intensive to realize, not well accepted and  lacking experiences. Both not yet suitable to engage with the desired target group. But worth trying. Volkswagen did. The car manufacturers booth at Geneva virtual autoshow seemed very advanced. It had a few cool features (limited time only) but never fully loaded on my smartphone. Irrelevant. They did it and now I guess they learn about the issues and do it better next time.

On the other side, communication with the press, influencers, and stakeholders, as well as workshops and conferences, need to follow a tailormade strategy to be accepted and to strengthen the brands’ opinion-leading position. Tailormade workshop strategy? Yes. It’s easy to set up a video conference if you want to have a chat with your best press-buddies. But did you ever consider that the apps are restricted by firewalls of most media houses in Germany? No? Maybe that’s the reason why only two out of ten showed up.

The future of trade fairs will bring a lot of trial-and-error

Let’s face it – Cancelled trade shows address everyone involved with countless challenges who bring a multitude of digital options with them. Based on the feedback of different customers, we derive that every brand has specific needs and different goals to achieve. The future will bring a lot of trial-and-error and surely no standard solution. Different recommendations for different challenges. A lot of work to do.

But there is hope! Because there is a less-noticed constant in this game. Brand Communication stays the same – the goals to achieve just became more data-driven in order to point out its leading role. Referring to our deep knowledge of how to integrate the audience into the brand-talk, we believe that the future of exchanging best with the press, influencers, and consumers is only a question of doing it right when it comes to digital solutions.

We make the visitors a part of the communication.

Inspired by the pandemic restrictions and the resulting changes, we developed a concept for an all-digital (and touchless) platform to exchange with the desired audience and to make them part of the brand-talk. A data-driven, tailormade solution, which links the best features of every digital application to one platform – brand specific and performance-oriented. Ok, it ain’t exactly rocket science – we just offer a contemporary solution by combining strategic thinking with given technologies and passion.

Because human curiosity has its own principals. Especially when it comes to digital sources.

Curios? We are!