Peter F. Schmid believes that more than a quarter of all events will have to disappear – including most conventions and fairs. In this exclusive interview, he shares his radical view of what's coming next and why so many digital or hybrid events are also doomed to fail.
Peter F. Schmid, the customer journey in the B2B buying process is shifting more and more online, especially for the Millennial generation. What justification do trade fairs still have?
I am convinced that the customer journey today begins almost without exception on the web. Particularly in times of crisis, needs must be met quickly and flexibly - no buyer waits for a trade show to get information at the booth. The pandemic has impressively illustrated this and accelerated this shift to the Internet. On our wlw ("wer liefert was") and EUROPAGES platforms, we recorded traffic growth of 50 percent year-on-year in some cases at the time. This shows that it's possible without trade shows.
I also take the view that pure product showcasing at the trade show booth makes neither ecological nor economic sense in the age of digitalization. No company today needs to transport heavy machinery around the globe to exhibit it for three days at the leading trade show. The upcoming generations Y and Z, which are even more digitally savvy, will accelerate this development once again - because this is where the decision-makers of tomorrow will be found.
When it comes to the reason for the existence of trade shows in the marketing mix, we probably must differentiate by industry. How do you assess the future of the major leading industrial trade shows?
Looking at the major industrial events such as Hannover Messe or Automatica, I believe that the move into digital is inevitable.
For the capital goods exhibited there, experiencing and feeling them on site is rather secondary to making a purchase decision. What counts here are data and facts - and today, B2B buyers can find these in enormous detail on the Internet. But for those who still need something more vivid, new technologies such as augmented reality allow them to project the packaging machine directly into the production hall, true to scale, for example.
Technology can already do that today. It is the people who hold on to the old, to what already exists. That's why this development will be a gradual process, and trade shows for capital goods will not disappear overnight. But the importance will decrease significantly in the next five, ten or even 15 years. I am convinced of that.
Nowadays, no company needs to transport heavy machinery around the globe to exhibit it for three days at a trade show
For the more consumer-oriented events, other factors certainly play a role. Here, haptics and the feeling for the product continue to be central factors. The end consumer ultimately approaches a purchase in an even more emotional way and wants to engage with the product in a completely different way.
Regardless of whether we are talking about B2B or B2C, however, I believe that the desire for a face-to-face dialog will continue to exist. There will also be physical congresses in the future. But I would be very surprised if the pure product show were to return to its old strength across the board.
During Covid, the myth of the "digital" or "hybrid" trade show came up. What didn't work there?
The big mistake with digital or hybrid events has been the assumption that the trade show experience must be digitally replaced. Of course, the event on the screen does not replace social interaction, which sometimes includes lunch together or a beer at the booth at an industry trade show. The congresses and summits already mentioned will continue to provide opportunities for this in the future.
However, the functional dimension of the trade show can already be transferred very well into the digital space through marketplaces and platforms: For initiating business, obtaining data and facts about products, exchanging information between buyers and suppliers, they even represent a far more time- and cost-efficient alternative to attending a trade show. Of course, this is only possible using the latest technologies such as artificial intelligence, which we use in our platform search as well as in our sourcing service "connect".
In 2020, you predicted that a quarter or even a third of all trade shows would disappear after Covid. How do you assess the situation today?
I still believe that the pandemic has accelerated a development that began even before the crisis. Visitor and exhibitor numbers were already declining before 2020 and established leading trade shows such as CeBIT were discontinued.
Also in the third pandemic year, many events were canceled, even if the situation is gradually easing. Recurring leading trade fairs report in some cases significantly declining numbers: Hannover Messe, for example, reports 75,000 visitors and 2,500 exhibitors for 2022. In 2019, that was still 211,000 visitors meeting 6,200 exhibitors. Interestingly, even the purely digital Hannover Messe 2021 was better "attended" with 90,000 participants. This shows a clear trend.