Companies are collecting and storing more and more data. But only when this data is processed into usable information, can its true value be tapped. Then companies can address leads more specifically or adapt offers better to customer wishes. Klaus Reinke, Chief of Corporate Strategy & Organisation at Messe Frankfurt, talks about the challenges facing data collection and processing and how Messe Frankfurt deals with them.

Which digital trends is the trade fair business faced with in general?

In the exhibition industry, we are dealing with the same trend that can be seen in almost all sectors. It’s all about data. By this I mean the extraction and intelligent processing of data to obtain useful information. This is the only way to make targeted decisions and adapt processes or even set up new ones.

In our case, this primarily means exhibitor data and increasingly visitor data as well. We have been collecting exhibitor data since the introduction of our CRM system, so since the mid-2000s. We started by collecting contact data and the so-called invoice-relevant data. Later, the personal data of the contact persons were added, then transaction data including stand numbers, turnover, square metres of the various business segments as well as the communication history. After the product groups in which the exhibitor offers its products had also been included, CRM served as the ideal foundation for selected communication campaigns. Today we are in the process of consolidating exhibitor data throughout the company group. In other words, we are establishing a global view of our exhibitors. The key term here is Exhibitor Data Management.

What about the visitor data?

In recent years, the topic of visitor data has become increasingly important. We have had onsite visitor registration for many years and then we introduced an online procedure. In the past, however, the focus was more on merely recording the number visitors. Today, we are more interested in visitor quality, which includes where visitors come from, their qualifications and interests, as well as the reasons why they visit a trade fair. However, due to the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation and a widespread reluctance to disclose personal data, this information is not easy to obtain. We are nonetheless increasingly working to better describe and understand our visitors, not least to provide our customers – the exhibitors – with the best possible support in designing their trade fair appearance and to offer trade visitors relevant information for their trade fair visit.

What is happening at Messe Frankfurt when it comes to digitalisation?

In 2018, we launched a strategic programme with the aim of working more closely together internationally, consolidating existing customer data and thus making the decentralised knowledge about our exhibitors centrally available. This includes Exhibitor Data Management. Using this IT tool, we can improve the data quality of our exhibitor data and thus the teamwork throughout the company group.

Introduction of the IT tool Exhibitor Online Application is currently on the agenda. This is a modern system, with which exhibitors can register online conveniently and easily. The focus here is on the user experience. This tool, which will be used throughout the group in future, simplifies the registration process and internal procedures and also leads to a standardised and thus better quality of exhibitor data on the medium term.

In the spring we will be rolling out the so-called Media Package Manager, an IT tool with which we record exhibitor content worldwide including information about companies and their products. We can then display these on all our trade fair media from catalogues, websites and exhibitor searches to apps and interactive site maps. Exhibitors can upload their content into the tool themselves. With features including e-commerce capabilities and marketing automation, the Media Package Manager is unique in the industry. We will be rolling out this tool throughout the group.

What are the objectives of these projects?

Our corporate strategy adheres to the leitmotif of successfully organizing business meetings in the interests of our customers. The aim here is to achieve the best possible business matching. In order to actively accompany these encounters as partners of the various business sectors, we need to better understand the parties who are to meet each other. This is where data comes into play again. This is the only way we can actively address customers with regard to their goals and expectations and motivate them to come to the events that are relevant to them. We are thus positively supporting our traditional business model of B2B trade fairs using digital approaches.

Where does Messe Frankfurt stand in terms of implementation?

We are on the right track with regard to exhibitor data. We have recognized the necessities and started corresponding projects. Currently, we are transferring these positive experiences to the area of visitor data. We are in the process of optimizing our processes and making them more customer-friendly in this area. We are achieving this, for example, by making registration more customer-friendly and optimizing it with regard to the General Data Protection Regulation or by offering a single sign-on process that can be used throughout the group. It is even more important to consolidate and evaluate the data that visitors leave behind at the various contact points including online registration, websites and apps. This will ultimately enable us to offer the visitor an optimised customer journey.

What does the future hold in this regard?

Our vision is to optimize successful business encounters by generating usable information through connecting data. This information should support our business model of physical encounter and help our customers promote their individual business by participating in the fair. I firmly believe that personal encounters will continue to play an important role in business life in the future, but that the benefits of them must be digitally supported before, during and after the trade fairs.

Thank you for your insight, Mr Reinke!