Digitalisation is affecting all industries and the trade fair sector is no exception. We talked with Klaus Reinke, Chief of Corporate Strategy & Organisation and member of the Executive Board of Messe Frankfurt GmbH, about the challenges facing trade fairs today, the trends on the horizon and how Messe Frankfurt is dealing with them.
What key trends do you foresee in 2018 with regard to the digital transformation of the trade fair business?
In the future, primary emphasis will be placed on personalisation. For trade fair organisers, this will entail expanding their focus beyond simply organising events and marketing square meters. More than ever before, we will have to offer a place for encounters with added value, which will entail bringing the right people together in the right place. We can only achieve this by improving our systems to engage in an intensive exchange with the key stakeholders on both the exhibitor and visitor sides.
We have to learn even more about their interests and motivations with regard to visiting the fairs. Only by doing this, will we be able to properly address and discuss our target groups’ wishes and requirements. Setting up a comprehensive customer relationship management system will be key to achieving this. Only by obtaining more detailed information than we currently have, will we be able to provide a space where our customers and trade fair visitors can meet the right people, build trust and engage in productive networking. A successful trade fair should generate actual leads.
Everything else, including advertising, exhibitor and visitor registration processes, or service requests, will increasingly take place online. After all, the customer journey for visitors is already largely on the internet. However, lasting connections and building trust for long-term partnerships can only be developed by way of personal contact at the trade fair. Even as event formats evolve to include more showcases, presentation offerings and infotainment elements, personalized digital offerings like apps, beacons or virtual reality will only play a supporting, albeit important role.
Where does Messe Frankfurt currently stand with regard to personalization?
We are on the right path, but the process is generally quite slow. This is because we rely on the cooperation of our customers. We need them to actively communicate specific information pertaining to their interests either via our trade fair app, the messefrankfurt.com website or during the registration process. We have to be very persuasive in this regard and clearly communicate the benefits to our customers.
Using a well-maintained database, we could provide visitors much more targeted offers and information. For example, we send out newsletters for Ambiente, which actually includes five to seven different trade fairs.
This poses the risk that we will send information pertaining to table decoration to people who are actually only interested in jewellery. Of course, this helps neither side. Comprehensive information on each individual customer can help us better manage our communication and develop personalized information packets, while also acquiring exhibitors in a more focussed way. This final aspect is playing an increasingly important role especially in our very global events like Automechanika, which includes 17 events across multiple countries, or our approximate 50 textile trade fairs around the world.
What trends do you foresee?
“Big Data” will require more intelligent handling of collected data in the future. This will include analysis of app data collected from trade fair visitors to obtain motion profiles and information on the length of stay. It will also involve closer evaluation of activity on our website. Key questions in this regard will include, “Which other websites lead visitors to messefrankfurt.com?”, “What do they look at?”, and “Have they actually registered or booked a service?”. There is still a lot of untapped potential for better understanding our customers, addressing them in a more targeted way, and developing new service offerings within the framework of the physical and virtual customer journey.
The use of artificial intelligence will also be an exciting topic in the future. This could include purely digital information points where visitors can use touch screens or chatbots to obtain information. This is yet another way of collecting valuable data to help trade fair organisers further optimize their offerings. A pilot project consisting of purely digital information counters was very popular at the most recent CPhI event in October 2017.
Where does Messe Frankfurt currently stand in terms of digital transformation?
We are making good progress and are one of the pioneers in our industry with regard to digital transformation. In addition to the topics already mentioned, we have several other projects planned for 2018. At the same time, we are also working on integrating our backend infrastructure and our data management system. Among other things, we intend to combine our knowledge bases and introduce a common customer database with global IDs for our approximately 70,000 exhibitors, which are currently distributed internationally across 20 different instances. This is one of the challenges of digital transformation, but it is high time to take it on. With regard to globalisation, we have taken a leading role by thinking in international terms from the beginning in our development of messefrankfurt.com. We will be migrating the other sites to the new look in 2018 and gradually rolling out all features including exhibitor searches and apps.
How will digitalisation affect the trade fair business in the future?
Digitalisation will change the business model of trade fairs. We are convinced that there will always be a need for trade fairs, but they will take on a different character. Augmented and virtual reality are perfect examples of this. With the new iOS 11 and the Apple iPhone X, this technology will probably soon be suitable for mass production. As pertains to trade fairs, this probably means that product presentations by exhibitors and organisers will become more digital and interactive in the future. This will probably have an effect on stand sizes, because less space will be required. This trend will pose new challenges for trade fair organisers, but also provide new opportunities, as exhibitors increasingly demand the associated services in the future. We already have expertise in this area and are further developing it.
By way of personalisation and data analysis, digitalisation is also serving as a motor for transparency, openness and relevance. In the past, trade fair companies have depended too heavily on a strategy focused on large numbers. The size of the event and the number of visitors, however, not always realistically portrayed the actual relevance of the market, because not every visitor actually has an impact on the market. Today’s exhibitors are seeking relevance, relevant opinion leaders and relevant contact with prospects. Trade fair companies will have to respond to this need with increasing professionalism and corresponding offers.
Which personal “digital” experience recently impressed you most?
I recently took part in the Watson Summit in Frankfurt. In her keynote speech “The Human-Machine Merger: How the Limits of Our Thinking and Acting are Shifting” Prof. Dr. Miriam Meckel demonstrated the impact that AI is having on society and how far along research in this area already is. This is a fascinating topic, which also deserves careful evaluation. It’s exciting to see what may actually become reality in the near future.
Thank you for your insight, Mr Reinke!