Digital transformation has truly taken hold in the trade fair industry – from online portals where exhibitors can order services for their trade fair stands to mobile apps for planning trade fair visits entirely using a smartphone and year-round B2B provider portals. Martina Bergmann, Head of Digital Business at Messe Frankfurt, speaks about the opportunities and challenges of the digital transformation in trade fair marketing.
1. Ms Bergmann, what is changing for trade fair organizers as the result of the digital transformation?
Trade fairs remain one of the most important components of most marketing budgets due to the significance of personal contact and the ability to examine products live on location. But digitalization is also affecting and changing many critical business processes in trade fair companies and in the marketing of the exhibitors. The exciting thing is achieving the right mix to digitally enrich analogue business relationships. Event management including all aspects of exhibitor and visitor management as well as event organization have now been extensively digitalized. And digital communication is also playing an increasingly important role in marketing and sales.
Due to the high importance of trade fairs for our exhibitors’ businesses, we set up Dexperty years ago to be a department which deals exclusively with the digitalization of our business as well as digital services for exhibitors and visitors.
For example, exhibitor registration is now entirely carried out via our online portals. All exhibitor services for set-up and during the event are ordered on the Internet. But nowadays hardly anything is analogue, and this not only pertains to the trade fair itself. In addition to a wide range of digital advertising opportunities, we offer our exhibitors digital business-matching opportunities such as our B2B provider portal productpilot.com so that they can obtain information, network and initiate personal talks as well as business transactions online throughout the year.
When registering digitally with Messe Frankfurt, visitors receive a personal account, which they can use to access numerous additional services including information before, during, and after the trade fair, exhibitor and product searches and our business matching portals with their wide range of networking options. Our numerous apps now also offer comparable visitor services for almost every Messe Frankfurt event. In addition to this, the majority of our trade fair marketing is now digitalized.
2. What exactly has changed with regard to marketing and digital services for your events?
In a sense, we see ourselves as a digital pioneer. We established our digital offering very early on and have since steadily expanded it. This includes email and database marketing, online advertising, websites, apps and increasingly also blogs and social media, which serve to provide our visitors and exhibitors with valuable information and invite them to network with each other throughout the year.
Trade fairs and events are true hotspots when it comes to using mobile devices and we therefore placed an emphasis on mobile solutions very early on. Since 2011, we have been providing apps for events to provide visitors with relevant information pertaining to the respective events, while offering exhibitors marketing opportunities. Free Wi-Fi is provided as a standard service throughout the trade fair site. These mobile digital services are not only very popular, but have already received multiple distinctions including one from the global trade fair association UFI.
Social media and blogs have also become a matter of course for most of our events as a way of positioning events, developing communities and providing them with information, and even for our sales and services processes. And last but not least, we offer productpilot.com as a B2B provider portal for companies, products and users that brings together supply and demand.
3. What do you see as the biggest future challenges?
As one of the world’s most active trade fair companies, we are busy with the further global integration of our digital offerings. The increasing use of mobile devices is also requiring the “mobilization” of our offerings. In connection with our business matching services, we are increasingly focussing on strengthening community building and providing personal accounts for our visitors as part of our visitor management. After all, our events, which include several leading trade fairs, serve as meeting places for entire industries. In addition to our conventional offerings for meeting in person on site, we will increasingly be providing these industries with digital spaces for networking and exchanging information.
Of course, we are keeping a close eye on current developments. We see great potential for our company as well as our exhibitors and visitors particularly when it comes to big data and marketing automation. We are also continually testing new technologies like iBeacons with regard to their suitability for the trade fair business.
4. How is Messe Frankfurt meeting the demands of the digital transformation?
We set up a separate department early on to monitor the rapid development of digitalization with regard to relevant changes and manage planning and implementation of digital projects for business processes and offerings in collaboration with the affected company divisions. Our digital business unit also develops new digital services and offers for exhibitors and visitors while consulting colleagues in other departments, for example, in the realization of specific digital offers for individual trade fairs or events.
In addition, we have set up the company-wide “Digital Transformation” initiative to address all further digitalization issues in an integrated way. This initiative serves to bundle Messe Frankfurt’s digital expertise across disciplines. Specifically, we have established three working groups, which are primarily engaged in the digitalization of processes, digital products and the digitalization of communities and business. In addition, one of the core tasks of the initiative consists of embedding the topic of digital transformation in the workforce and acquiring digital expertise.
Based on our well benchmarked digital culture, which spent many years developing, we are confident that we can design our digital transformation successfully in the interest of our customers. At the same time, we realize that this development will never be truly finished, because “the next big thing” is waiting just around the corner at all times.
But one thing is clear: despite all the helpful digitalization measures, the trade fair experience will continue to be primarily characterized by personal contact and physical products on location. Virtual reality applications will only change this within narrow boundaries.
Additional information about the digital transformation of marketing read our articles Big data, big change? Digital marketing transformation-the status quo and How to manage the digital transformation of marketing successfully.