Business people discussing at the table

New Business Models for Traditional Trade Fair Organisers

Many trade fair companies have noticed that selling m² alone has its limits. What (digital) ways can help realise new revenue?

The global perspectives in international exhibition are very positive, as can be read in the UFI Global Exhibition Barometer Report. In Germany and Great Britain, around 80–90% of trade fair organisers expect revenue increases in 2018.

At the same time, many trade fair companies place strategic priority on exploiting revenue potential with new business models. Almost two-thirds of the companies surveyed by UFI expect the revenue share of new business models to be between 5% and 25% of their total revenue in five years’ time.

This trend is accelerated by digitalisation. Advertising on digital platforms such as GoogleAds or Social Advertising offers the opportunity of real-time monitoring, with optimisation potential geared towards conversion. Of course, (expensive) exhibition stands do not offer the same opportunities.

It’s clear that exhibition companies need to work out new models to ensure future success. And some companies are already leading the pack.

However, what do these new, often digital business models look like?

Organised networking and matchmaking

Converve’s key business activities focus on enabling business matchmaking through digital platforms. Trade fair organisers – ranging from the Deutsche Messe and Bilbao Exhibition Centre to UBM and DLG – strive to establish direct contacts between exhibitors and visitors during their events. And they use the Converve platform to do so.

Some exhibitors, such as ABM in Canada, even bank completely on matchmaking as their business model. In these cases, exhibitors “buy” a certain amount of guaranteed one-on-one meetings, which are scheduled in advance. More meetings can be organised at an additional charge.

An increasing number of exhibitors expect trade fair organisers to facilitate business matchmaking, as it significantly increases the measurability and efficiency of trade fairs and exhibitions. Matchmaking can either be used as an additional offer, or as a stand-alone business model.

The Amazon principle

We all know and love the Amazon principles: “Customers who bought this item also bought …”, “Frequently bought together…”, “Customers who viewed this item also viewed”.

This type of recommendation marketing made Amazon the undisputed number 1 in international E-commerce.

Compare this to the online shops of many exhibition companies, which still closely resemble a mishmash of order forms! It’s clear that exhibition companies now realise that customer experience is key, also in the exhibition industry, and adapt their online shops to the changes in customer behaviour accordingly.

Upselling is successful with the right systems and shopping experience, in B2C as well as B2B.

Festivals and ConFex models

Trade fairs and conferences are increasingly merging into ConFex models. These hybrid events require from the exhibition companies that they build up contentual competences, through partnerships or procurement. Strong content components, supporting programmes, or accompanying conferences are vital to trade fairs in almost all industries.

CEBIT 2018 is a trailblazing event, repositioning itself as a digital street festival, expo, and conference.

The new TALENTpro, an event for recruiting professionals in Munich, follows the same path by presenting itself as an exposition festival.

Many organisers are faced with the challenge of ensuring seamless integration of trade fair, festival, and content.

Platforms and market places

Whenever the most important providers and buyers of a certain industry meet, it makes sense to move some of the interaction to the digital realm. The necessary technologies are already available, with pilot projects up and running (e.g. ShopToys365 or UBM’s ShopTheFloor).

The online exhibitor directories have always been the sections of trade fair websites with the highest click rates. Why not use this potential to allow for online business dealings as well?

Actually, this trend also flows in the opposite direction: The online retailer Zalando has been organising the fashion fair Bread & Butter since 2016, as a “Festival of Style and Culture”. A combination of shopping platform, event, and experience, with a completely different approach to presenting an exhibition – also online:

I consider the so-called “verticalisation of exhibition formats” the most serious threat to the classic trade fair organisers. Producers who used to present their goods on one of the IT fairs now simply work out their own events.

A good example can be found in the ECD event by software provider Tradebyte. They manage to bring together their own partners, customers, and other players from E-commerce with an annual event. Here too, they use the help of the Converve networking solution.

Become a provider as well?

In the current platform economy, the most-successful companies possess data sovereignty. Exhibition companies have accrued a plethora of data over the years, which paints a detailed picture of the providers, buyers, and media of a certain – often international – market.

The Mayor of Frankfurt Peter Feldmann has suggested that the trade-fair Frankfurt should get involved with the bankrupt “Höchster Porzellan-Manufaktur”. Is this just political talk inspired by the upcoming mayoral election in Frankfurt, or would this strategy make sense for a trade fair with a wealth of expertise in dining, giving, and living (Ambiente)?

Here too, it makes sense to find inspiration at the king of the online hill, Amazon. The E-commerce behemoth offers its own products under the Amazon Basics brand, which are highly sought-after on its own platforms. Why can’t exhibition companies do the same?

Bottom Line

Trade fairs need to work out new business model to sustain their positive development. This allows them to also consolidate their digital position.

One of the most important tools is the targeted establishment of business contacts, as we offer through our Converve platform. However, there are also other strategies available that allow exhibition companies to utilise their strengths and expertise in new business models.