Intelligent search options, augmented reality or networking tools – with digital services, event organisers can support their customers in a host of areas. Many exhibitors and visitors have come to expect offers like these and are familiar with such applications from their personal lives. Felix Pauli, Director Product Management Web Solutions at Messe Frankfurt, explains the digital support Messe Frankfurt currently provides its customers, and where the journey is headed.

Mr Pauli, what does Messe Frankfurt offer its exhibitors and trade visitors in terms of digital services? Can you give us a few examples?

Our most widely used digital service on the event websites and in the Messe Frankfurt apps is the exhibitor and product search function. Here, our customers can present themselves with their content – whether this involves products or the company itself. An important attention factor here: Google also takes searches for exhibitors and products into account. And it does this on the top page of search results. So this offers a great marketing forum for our exhibitors! It gives visitors the best possible tools with which to prepare for an upcoming trade fair. Relevant companies and products can be found quickly and easily online. This is how we use the exhibitor and product search capability to create a win-win situation for exhibitors and visitors alike.

Messe Frankfurt is constantly working to personalise its services, thus offering exhibitors and trade visitors a more individualised trade fair experience. An important tool for this is the trade fair login. With one-off registration and data input, services such as registration forms, tickets and exhibitor wish lists for Messe Frankfurt can be synchronised across all devices. A good example of this is the trade fair-based navigator app, combining exhibitor and product search capability with the event calendar, the wish list and the interactive site plan. This way, visitors have all the key information in a compact form and can be optimally assisted throughout the fair.

Our B2B Audience Marketing is still relatively young. This option offers not just exhibitors an opportunity to target selected B2B decision-makers who have visited our digital touchpoints through the data they have left online. Thanks to our very broad and cross-sector data on target groups, there is almost no scatter loss to our customers who want to use our B2B Audience Marketing to make their products and services even better known.

What’s new in the field of digital products at Messe Frankfurt?

From the customer feedback that we continuously actively collect, we know that our customers are also in search of ways of connecting and interacting digitally. We will implement this with our Navigator app, via the Business Networking Tool. This gives users of the app the opportunity to search for relevant exhibitors and other visitors, to chat with each other via the app, and, for example, to arrange real meetings during the trade fair.

From our analyses of the customer journey, we also know that online ticketing is a very widely used service. With this in mind, we will implement the ability to store online tickets in the app in 2020. This will make the tedious tasks of printing and searching for the online ticket at the entrance control a thing of the past.

The Media Package Manager will also launch very soon. What is behind this, and how do exhibitors benefit from it?

The Media Package Manager is a modern tool exhibitors can use to make the most of the media package provided upon registration for the trade fair – independently, transparently and in real time. It is like a one-stop shop – a data hub for x channels – that the exhibitor can use not just to create a certain profile for its trade fair presentation, but also to refine this profile in the long term, updating it over and over, to ensure a reach that is not limited to the marketing channels of Messe Frankfurt. Google ranks our exhibitor and product search on page 1 of its search results.

Trade fairs are becoming increasingly wide-ranging in terms of the different product groups involved. With several thousand exhibitors, trade visitors have difficulty contacting all of the companies that are relevant to them during their ‘journeys’ through the halls. That is why they need to prepare. Messe Frankfurt’s marketing channels (website- and app-based exhibitor and product search, interactive site plan, trade fair catalogue) aid visitors in this effort and thus also help the exhibitor to be ‘found’. Here we are working on additional, new marketing opportunities exhibitors can use to set themselves apart from the competition even more effectively. In the long term, these opportunities will be integrated into the Media Package Manager as eCommerce options. This gives exhibitors an opportunity to present themselves more individually.

You have tested a new indoor navigation function for the ‘world’ trade fairs. What exactly did that look like?

At Christmasworld, Paperworld and Creativeworld in late January, we tested an augmented-reality-based indoor navigation system for trade fair visitors. This individualised routing supplements the real world – i.e. the individual trade fair stands and corridors – with virtual information. The visitor essentially uses his or her smartphone to look into the exhibition hall and is directed by a guidance system. This technology offers a host of opportunities to visitors, to exhibitors, and to us as Messe Frankfurt. For example, a user could conceivably be provided with additional material on routing, or with further information on selected exhibitors located along the route. Messe Frankfurt, in turn, can gain insights into visitor behaviour and visitor flows.

Several colleagues assisted us with this testing. This gave us valuable information about user behaviour – not just pertaining to what the user expects from indoor navigation but also as to where the challenges of using this technology might lie. For us here at Messe Frankfurt, augmented reality offers a number of opportunities that we are now in a much better position to assess. A decisive factor for Messe Frankfurt will be how the very rapid capture of the site can be automated for subsequent localisation of the user. We are excited to see what technology will eventually prevail for our use case – the race is still competitive.

Can we expect any additional innovations?

The exhibitor and product search functions will feature a new filter and sorting logic. I see a special highlight in the use of artificial intelligence. To begin with, this capability will return clearer search results for products and exhibitors. In future, the user will be presented with interesting recommendations based on his or her usage behaviour and other data. Our main objective is to present our customer with results in the display even before he or she has entered any search terms. Things get particularly interesting when the trade visitor is provided with highly relevant recommendations that he or she has not even considered yet.

The wish will be completely revised to include new functions and redesigned with the user experience in mind. In future, our visitors can register directly for selected lectures and panel discussions shown on the event calendar, thus securing one of the sought-after seats.

What are the objectives for 2020 and beyond?

Our aim is to direct our customers to content that is relevant to them with as few clicks and as little effort as possible – whether to obtain information about an exhibitor, a product or information about Messe Frankfurt generally – and continuing right through to purchase of an event ticket or a marketing service. The key will lie in the interplay of existing data and artificial intelligence. And don’t forget: We are a global company with digital services in numerous countries with at times wide variations in customer needs and country specifics. That makes things particularly exciting and challenging.