Matthias Tesi Baur on the impact of new trade show formats

New trade show format 2021

The pandemic has demanded a sudden shift to digital contacts at all public trade shows. Some fairs adapted extremely well to the new situation. They are developing extensive pre- and post-show offerings. These offerings are digital by nature. What should SIPPO convey when advising its BSOs on how to successfully participate in trade fairs in the "new format"?

The pandemic has demanded a sudden shift to digital contacts at all public trade shows. How well have the trade shows themselves, the exhibitors, the visitors adjusted to this?

This varies greatly. We had developed a hybrid framework about 1.5 years ago to accurately measure the state of development of a hybrid trade show. We then applied this framework to about 100 different trade shows and the results were extremely different. Some fairs adapted extremely well to the new situation and developed hybrid strategies very quickly. These included new digital products, a 365-(days)-approach and new communication strategies. Digital products were offered for everything, from brand building to networking. A real best practice example here is Informa's Vitafood website, for example. Other trade shows, however, were shockingly inactive and there wasn't even a change on their digital sites compared to pre-pandemic times.

Which of the new digital contact forms were successful? Which ones weren't?

In total, we looked at about 12 digital product groups. The most successful were panel discussions, digital booths or directories, and video marketing. All of these digital products have in common that they provide targeted visibility, i.e., exhibitors chose products that target a larger audience. "One to One" matchmaking products were less successful. Pure lead generation products were offered less and, if offered, were less successful. In direct matchmaking, the live trade show cannot be replaced by digital products at this time.

Is it possible to draw a balance yet? How big were the losses - fewer business deals, fewer new contacts, less innovation? Or were there also winners?

I don't have any concrete figures here, but the losses were definitely great. All the major trade show organizers have slimmed down considerably. This applies to all levels from the exhibition teams to the management level. On the exhibitor side, I also assume that there have been losses. Trade fairs were really missed by many exhibitors, as they are essential as a platform for their business. Many trade shows that were held again in the last months offered space for about 60% - 70% of the exhibitors compared to the pre-pandemic levels. The number of visitors was also lower, but the customer satisfaction was extremely high because everybody is happy that fairs can take place again. The quality of contacts is extremely high.

With ANUGA, A+A, World Expo, live trade shows are taking place again: What's new about them? What will remain of the digital experience from the pandemic in the future?

Many trade shows are developing extensive pre- and post-show offerings. These offerings are digital by nature. We have designed a hybrid monetization concept in which we map the business journey of an exhibitor in their entirety and do not just focus on the trade show appearance. An exhibitor does business before and after a trade fair. Of course, a trade show appearance is the most important "step, but there are also many other steps, such as client sourcing, relationship building, business initiation, etc. A trade fair provides the successful climax to all these steps.

What should SIPPO convey when advising its BSOs on how to successfully participate in trade fairs in the "new format"?

I think SIPPO should offer solutions for an extended business journey for their BSO's, as described above. Digitalization is the buzzword here. We all know that building relationships with customers and initiating business is not easy, and even more so in the digital realm. Online product tours, for example, must stand out from the mass of zoom calls in which we all have been "trapped" for 2 years. This starts with the right marketing. The nicest digital format is worth nothing if no one, or the wrong target audience, registers. You might want to work with “exclusivity” and a "shortage" of online seats. Once the right target group has registered, the conversion and how to "tie" a digital visitor to the screen for more than 45 minutes are further challenges. "Infotainment" is key. The content of the session must be exclusive and of high quality, and the execution must entertain and interactively involve the participants. The dynamics of digital formats should change every 10 minutes. This creates an agile session atmosphere. SIPPO could provide concepts and guidelines for best practice cases and help with their implementation through training and appropriate advice.

Matthias Tesi Baur is CEO of the MBB-Consulting Group. MBB is a boutique consulting agency based in London with a strong focus on trade show strategies including growth, commercial change and digital strategies. The agency serves customer such as Informa, Deutsche Messe, Comexposium and many more. Furthermore, MBB offers a range of training programs and runs the Exhibition Think Tank. He has published a comprehensive series of articles on SIPPOs Covid-19 special site on “How to be successful in matchmaking in a digital world”.

This article appeared in SIPPO's newsletter in mid-December. Register for the newsletter, which provides you with the latest information on SIPPO's export promotion activities 3 times a year.