Coronavirus has posed huge challenges to the trade fair industry, and therefore to exhibitors and trade visitors alike. One aspect is the question of how business contacts can be maintained and how exhibitors and trade visitors can exchange information now and in the future. Messe Frankfurt is expanding its digital services to be a good partner to the economic sectors for business contacts in times of crisis. Ellen Matheis, Coordinator Product Management Web Solutions at Messe Frankfurt, tells us which services these are.

Ms. Matheis, this month you are presenting new features in Messe Frankfurt’s Navigator apps. What can trade fair participants look forward to? 

Messe Frankfurt exhibitors and visitors can look forward to the business networking tool “connect!”. The tool should be available from September in the event-based Navigator apps. It will enable all registered trade fair participants to network with each other and to exchange information via the chat feature. We will present “connect!” for the first time at the Automechanika Sneak Preview. With this digital service for Automechanika customers, we are gathering initial user experience with the networking tool. This initial feedback will help us to enhance the features for subsequent trade fairs.

We also offer trade visitors even better navigation around the exhibitor and product search feature for events taking place at the same time. Paperworld, Creativeworld and Christmasworld will be held at the same time and each have their own Navigator app. If, for example, a trade visitor to Christmasworld is also interested in Creativeworld exhibitors, they will not need to download both apps. The exhibitor and product search features for these three parallel events can be linked to each other. As a result, trade visitors to Christmasworld can also call up a Paperworld exhibitor in the app and on the website and then store them in their personal watch list. This is a huge bonus in terms of usability.

What do the new features offer exhibitors and trade visitors in detail?

In our regular discussions with exhibitors and trade visitors, we are seeing a growing desire to find new and relevant leads faster at Messe Frankfurt events. At a trade fair like ISH with over 2,500 exhibitors and around 200,000 trade visitors from all over the world, this is not easy. The business networking tool “connect!” offers this possibility. Each registered user has the chance to create their own personal profile, in which exhibitors as well as trade visitors not only assign themselves to a specific industry. Also, they can provide detailed information on their product groups and areas of interest. Interesting and relevant contacts can then be selected and contacted directly via the integrated chat feature.

Therefore, the first step is  making contact purely digitally – quickly and easily. The way is then clear for a meeting in person at the stand. Various filter features in “connect!”, which cover not only the sectors of a trade fair but also the different product groups, allow a more detailed search for interesting contacts and potential leads. The user may also come across one or two business partners they already know, but who had been forgotten or who had expanded their product portfolio over the years. Therefore the tool is a wonderful support for trade visitors and exhibitors alike in their trade fair preparations. 

Are there also challenges when it comes to establishing the networking tool “connect!” successfully? Specifically as regards the large number of trade fairs and events organised by Messe Frankfurt and the matter of data protection.

The biggest challenge is the quality of the data. A networking tool can only work if trade fair participants are prepared to make their data available and if these are meaningful and valid. In addition, trade fair participants should of course be prepared to use the new feature, in other words to respond promptly to contact requests. The number of people using the tool is also relevant to its success. The critical size is 20-25 percent of the trade fair participants.

Data protection is always a central issue to which we attach the utmost importance. “connect!” is set up in such a way that not all data are released for all users from the beginning. Of course, the name of the contact, the company, the industry they belong to, their interests, and their products and services should be accessible to everyone. The participant can then release additional data, such as telephone number or e-mail address on an individual basis. Every user has the freedom to decide what they want to reveal about themselves. All communication between users is encrypted and private. Messe Frankfurt does not read or store any data. And of course, the user can log out at any time, or deactivate their profile and delete their data.

The coronavirus crisis and the resulting cancellation of trade fairs and business platforms has made it very clear how important physical meetings are for successful B2B business. Can the Messe Frankfurt app also provide support when a physical trade fair is not possible?

In principle yes, because all applications can also be used for purely digital events. In addition, these services can also provide support when physical trade fairs are not possible, as has been the case in recent weeks due to the coronavirus crisis. The Automechanika Sneak Preview in September is a digital preview of the postponed trade fair, which will take place next year in Frankfurt again. One important element of this is matchmaking and networking. We offer participants this for the first time with the app.

The app itself serves as a starting point for all digital services, e.g. the latest news from the companies and information on new products and events. Live streaming can also be integrated into the app, or it can direct users to social media channels like YouTube. The usage here is just as individual as our broad event portfolio. Some exhibitors make extensive use of these possibilities, others are still experimenting. I think that trade fair participants will gain some more experience here in the near future when events are held in hybrid or digital form. Our aim is to offer participants as many different ways as possible to get in touch with each other and to gather information relevant to their business.

Can you already give us a glimpse into the more distant future? Which digital services will you use to make the trade fair experience even more attractive for exhibitors and visitors?

Above all, our plans are continuing in the direction of artificial intelligence. For example, we have been working on the topic “AI in the exhibitor search” for some time now. Among other things, this involves optimising the suggestion process so that visitors are automatically shown the contacts that match their click profile. This would save them doing their own research. The user would also be shown smaller exhibitors who would also be of interest to them, but who they perhaps do not know yet and otherwise would not focus on. And it is precisely these small exhibitors who would benefit from such AI services across all events. We are currently evaluating various options and examining how to integrate such a service into our apps.

At the same time, we are working on optimising other small services with a big impact. E.g. storing notes and photos centrally in the user profiles of our digital services. Trade fair participants can then access the information they have collected after the trade fair on the web and in the Navigator app in a bundled form and download it conveniently. This will make it easier to visit the trade fair and, above all, to follow up on the event.

Ms. Matheis, thank you very much for talking to us!