Despite their leading role in the global trade fair industry and the growth trend of the past few years, European trade fair companies are under tremendous pressure. On the one hand, many new international providers are entering the market and, on the other hand, the alternatives to trade fairs offered by digital media and virtual realities are increasing. At the same time, the marketing budgets of companies are getting tighter, because an increasing number of channels are competing for pieces of the pie.
In addition to developing new trade fair concepts, the trade fair companies are trying to differentiate themselves from the competition by increasing their attractiveness. “A customer’s marketing Euro can only be spent once”, explains Wolfgang Marzin, Managing Director of Messe Frankfurt. “We have to come up with many new ideas, to retain the standing of trade fairs in combination with digitalization as the most attractive communication and sales platforms.” This requires continuous improvement of the existing offer as well as expansion of it to include new products and services with the help of digital technologies.
As early as 2007, Deutsche Messe AG in Hanover declared the internet “growth area number one”. While it can’t compete with the trade fairs, it could become an excellent second pillar for the company. It established the 100% subsidiary, Deutsche Messe Interactive (DMI), and developed an online platform (as did the competition at almost all other locations) for exhibitors to generate additional leads throughout the year. Messe Frankfurt responded similarly with its B2B portal productpilot.com and various digital business matchmaking offerings, for which a separate “Digital Business” division is now responsible. Under the dexperty brand, it continually maintains and extends its digital service portfolio for exhibitors and visitors. This also includes “value added services”, commercial marketing offerings such as banner advertising, AdWords services and more. But it also includes infrastructure elements like the new WLAN columns, which provide trade visitors with high-speed internet on the trade fair grounds and also serve as charging stations.
This is perfectly aligned with the “Digital Declaration”, in which the 18 members of the European Major Exhibition Centres Association (EMECA) agreed on energetically driving digitalization in 2015. Many projects are on the agendas of the most important European trade fair sites:
- The digitalization of company-internal and public processes (e.g., online ticketing, online registration, space reservation, etc.)
- The implementation of comprehensive (accessible) information and research options provided via the internet
- Ensuring the smooth flow of data by developing and extending a stable broadband infrastructure on the trade fair grounds
- The development of new services and products for exhibitors, as well as opportunities for online advertising, electronic directories, multimedia presentation portals or support in online marketing for the trade fair presence
- The introduction of new online applications, which can also be used at conferences, such as Twitter streams, remote transmission of presentation slides to mobile devices, video streams, interactive tools for live voting, question and answer sessions, brainstorming, surveys or program information.
- Apps for mobile devices, which in addition to event-related content provide real added value in the form of hall plans, exhibitor catalogues and supplementary information with networking features.
These solutions form the foundation for further innovations, which may play a role in the near future. These include technologies like NFC or iBeacons, which are currently being tested by numerous trade fair companies. For the time being, the results are sobering: the range of applications is still too limited, the quality of the hardware not consistently high and the maintenance effort immense. Since January 2015, Messe Frankfurt has an iBeacon package on offer, that extends exhibitor stand space into the virtual realm. Together with exhibitors such as Tesa, it is exploring the possibilities in order to develop more practical, operational applications, which increase the potential for matchmaking at trade fairs.
Wearables such as smart watches, Google Glass, etc. are another exciting area of development. If they manage to make the leap from hype to part of everyday life, they could allow for customised information services such as intelligent advertising space or virtual reality applications. Currently it seems to still be long way off before they will be integrated in major event or trade fair environments.