April 12, 2021

Hybrid trade fairs – the event format of the future

Trade fairs within two worlds

While the hybrid appears to be a successful bridging technology for carmakers on the road to electromobility, the hybrid trade fair as a combination of physical and virtual trade fair has a good chance of permanently asserting its place in event marketing with ever increasing digitalisation. Hybrid trade fairs combine the advantages of face-to-face events, which will become possible once the pandemic wanes, with the many benefits of a virtual extension: lower costs, overcoming spatial barriers, greater reach and success measurement.

To paraphrase a study by the European Institute for the Meetings Industry (EITW), hybrid events, including hybrid trade fairs, are “here to stay”. It’s not just the cost and reach benefits of these hybrid events that play a vital role, but also the day-to-day experience of increasing digitisation that entrepreneurs, marketing and sales teams have been experiencing since the early 2020s. In just over a year, they have come to appreciate the countless benefits of virtual meetings, conferences, trade shows and other types of events. Whether the long journeys to and from event venues, hotel costs on site and logistics expenses, stand costs including catering and hostess service, the time investment for trade fair personnel with high resource consumption, long preparation times, high organisational expenditure – the classic trade fair as an event format is increasingly being questioned. There is also the issue of how many participants international trade fairs will realistically attract in the future. It can be assumed that the number of visitors will remain permanently below the pre-pandemic level precisely because of the high complexity and effort involved. The need for physical presence at a trade show will be put to the test everywhere.

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The hybrid trade fair = an expert, finely tuned combination of digital and analogue dimensions

Of course, the real live trade fair offers more emotionally-based advantages which can be beneficial to the business relationship, such as atmosphere, environment and flair. The personal interaction among the participants, small talk and enjoying refreshments together are also part of the classic fair experience. However, new technologies such as AR and VR glasses and holograms will partly compensate for these disadvantages and hint at what will be possible one day. In the future it will no longer be a question of either a live event or a virtual trade fair, but rather a strategically astute and meticulously conceived combination of both event worlds in a hybrid trade fair. By combining both ideas, trade fair exhibitors – especially in the B2B environment – will be able to get the most out of their trade fair involvement.

In summary, it can be concluded so far that:

  • Since 2020, the Corona virus has caused numerous cancellations of events by trade fair managers and visitors
  • Trade fairs will continue to be cancelled or postponed through the end of 2021
  • Exhibitors are announcing that, even at live trade fairs that are being held, they will deploy fewer sales staff, reduce the size of their stands, dispense with catering areas in whole or in part and bring fewer exhibits onto their stands – in order to guarantee social distancing and comply with hygiene regulations
  • Previous show attendees are confirming that they will attend fewer or no shows in 2021, due to a wish to protect their own health, as well as travel bans by employers or official travel warnings
  • Parallel to this development, the “virtual trade fair” event format is proving to be a sensible alternative or extension to the classic trade fair

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Systematic lead generation

Hybrid trade fairs logically lead to new event budgeting based on experience acquired with classic trade fairs and the expansion into digital marketing with virtual events. Virtual showrooms, for example, or HR trade fairs offer possibilities that would hardly be feasible in the real trade fair world with available budgets. Moreover, there are effects of systematic digital lead generation. And in addition to collecting marketing leads and qualifying them into sales leads, efficient customer loyalty programs can be developed automatically with the right email marketing tools. More and more large companies, as well as larger medium-sized companies, are seriously looking at this hybrid concept.

It also coincides with the fact that the EITW has noticed a clear trend towards hybrid trade fairs: The institute at the Harz University of Applied Sciences examined how the Corona crisis has affected the events market in Germany and found that before the pandemic began, only 27 percent of those surveyed thought hybrid trade fairs would play a forward-looking role. However, by mid-2020, a good 60 percent of suppliers rated hybrid and spatially unrestricted events and functions as positive. The reasons:

  • More cost-effective than a trade fair with on-site presence and less costly overall
  • Less travel time and accommodation costs
  • Interested parties can visit the event at any time – no matter where they may be physically located (-> larger field of participants)
  • People from all over the world can easily participate online and decide exactly which event content they wish to consume
  • New or different visitor groups can be reached
  • New streams of visitors – who would have stayed away from the live event – will be generated
  • Significantly better CO2 footprint of a hybrid trade fair
  • Content generation following live discussions, live key notes and shows to stream in social media campaigns (-> even greater reach of the trade fair)
  • Experts, who often have a very busy schedule, can be brought in from outside to speak at the event
  • Hybrid trade fairs involve the participants interactively and enable communication, exchange and discussions, for instance with the help of live streams and chat offers
  • All recorded event content can be stored digitally and made available as on-demand content at a later date
  • Sponsors receive an attractive platform for communication with their target groups

Whatever the hybrid trade fair will look like, it will always be important to formulate clear goals in advance – ideally with realistic KPIs – and to build a viable concept together with us. As an agency, we not only have decades of experience with classic trade fairs, but also with virtual event formats. We know how face-to-face events can be replaced or combined with interactive 3D events and we find it very compelling when virtual and augmented realityies come into play at the events.

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Hybrid trade fairs are customised and scalable

Ruess International already uses online formats with a lot of interaction, such as video calls, sales chats, games, online advice from experts with appointments, live show demonstrations and individual digital product demonstrations. The key is to combine high-quality content with moving image formats in a user-centric way. This ranges from 3D moving-image content from existing construction data (also 360-degree videos) to product videos for digital sales, to animations and explanatory films. The scalable offering includes, among other things, the event platform, conference tools, content preparation as well as event scheduling and the implementation of streaming or live acts. This makes the hybrid trade fair event format not only contemporary, sophisticated and personalised, it also offers a high entertainment and information value.

In conclusion: Hybrid events as lively, vibrant events

  • The fusion of analogue and digital content represents a logical evolution for trade fairs, conferences and events
  • A hybrid trade fair is considered one of the main trends of the next few years in the trade fair context
  • The analogue exhibition stand is extended via a digital level. On this level, visitors can follow the “real” hustle and bustle of the trade fair, while visiting virtual showrooms, calling up targeted information and getting to know their contact person

Trade fair content takes place in two worlds:

  • The objective is to offer trade fair visitors a product and brand experience at the actual trade fair stand, in spite of all contact restrictions. One opportunity lies in using new technologies and forms of presentation – also to compensate for reduced exhibits with more emotional contact and more unexpected formats
  • Trade fair visitors can experience and discover more for themselves, allowing for a reduced sales force and avoiding group formations at the stand
  • Parts from the virtual world can be used and support the fusion of analogue and digital
  • Interactive parts (for example, livestreams) that take place at the stand can be transferred to the web. Moving images (for instance videos from production) from the web can be transferred to the stand
  • This all results in the creation of a complementary parallel trade fair world which can also stand on its own
Markus Rahner
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Hybrid events

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Let us know your tasks and your goals for hybrid events. We would be happy to provide you with detailed information on examples of virtual and hybrid trade fairs that we have implemented for large corporations and well-known brands.


Call me or write to me:

Markus Rahner,+49 (0) 711 / 16446-61


markus.rahner@ruess-group.com