What role do trade fairs play in Germany’s economy and its companies? How will their significance change and which challenges will the sector have to face? What form will trade fairs take in future?
In Germany the trade fair industry is a major economic influence and leads the international market. Its success is due in particular to the excellent infrastructure at trade fair centres, the clearly focused and internationally positioned events and the quality of their service. Every year over 150 national trade fairs and exhibitions with 160,000 to 175,000 exhibitors and more than ten million visitors are held. This is added to by a dense network of trade and consumer exhibitions.
For companies, trade fairs are an essential element in the marketing mix. According to AUMA Messe Trend 2010, 83 per cent of the companies surveyed estimated their own participation in trade fairs as their most important marketing instrument immediately after their websites. This was followed by personal sales, direct mailing and trade press advertising. What stood out was the fact that, of the three most significant factors named, there were two which placed personal communication in the foreground. Sixty-eight per cent of those surveyed said that face-to-face contact would remain important in the next five years.
From these findings, one may conclude that, in future, it will not be a question of whether there will continue to be trade fairs but what form they will take and where they will take place.
Trade fairs are changing. In future, they will not so much be order-taking shows they way the used to be; rather, they will be information, event and communication platforms.
They will have to offer customers added value and for this reason, there will be more emphasis on the synergy effects of trade fairs, conferences and background programmes. Accompanying conferences, colloquia and workshops will offer additional attractions. These synergies will help visitors to exploit their trade-fair planning to the full.
And the time frames are becoming shorter. In future, trade fairs will be as brief as possible while simultaneously putting across as much information as possible. In the process, the trend will move to three-day events and to one-day visits. Trade visitors will have increasingly lesser time to visit trade fairs and will want to use their time there as intensively as possible. It is therefore important that the fair organisers make possible advance optimal and individual planning. Which exhibitors will be represented at the fairs? Where will they be positioned? Which products or services will the companies be presenting? Which workshops and seminars will be offered? Current answers to these questions should be placed on the websites of the relevant trade fairs as soon as possible.
New media are continuing to develop. The obtaining of information by visitors conceals a challenge in the continued development of new media. Visitors to trade fairs as well as guests at public fairs are no longer only using the trade fairs’ own websites for research purposes. They get tips and exchange information on internet forums, weblogs or social media services such as Facebook, Xing or Twitter.
This has also been confirmed by Prof. Dr. Ralf T. Kreutzer, Professor of Marketing at the Berlin School of Economics and Law in the study “Trade Fairs 2020” of the Association of the German Trade Fair Industry (AUMA). According to the study, the task of trade fair organisers, among other things, is to identify virtual communities or support their formation on the internet themselves and, at the same time, to create these “meetingplaces” within trade fair concepts.
The key word here is “customer integration”. The more the visitors are also involved right from the start in the developmental process of the trade fair, for instance by certain themes being introduced in communities, the more likely it is that an ideal link with the target group will be created.
Reinforcing network thinking. Increasingly complex, technically more sophisticated products and services will ensure that personal communication will remain necessary. In order to do justice to the new circumstances, the organisers will have to think in terms of new alliances and service dimensions. In a market which is being more and more strongly characterised by specialisation, new ground will have to be broken. This will include such things as competence and a global vision as service providers for companies.
The already close cooperation between networks and clusters will become increasingly important. Industry trade fairs will be organised mainly in cooperation with partners from the business world and research organisations. The Stuttgart Trade Fair, for example, concentrates on specialist trade fairs and offers international trade fairs. Its partners include the University of Stuttgart, the Fraunhofer Institutes and other networks. “Consense” – International Trade Fair and Congress for Sustainable Building, Investment, Operations and Maintenance – is an example of how a trade fair can develop based on cooperation. The origin of this fair was the congress of the German Sustainable Building Council, for which a corresponding trade fair was designed.
Another future trend is the cooperation between individual trade fair companies. For example, the Cologne Trade Fair and the Stuttgart Trade Fair decided to combine their competencies in the field of specialist IT events and, as a result, the Cologne Digital Management Solutions Expo (DMS EXPO) has been taking place with IT & Business since 2010. This interdisciplinary link offers advantages both for the exhibitors and visitors and ensures high public awareness of the event.
Expanding global and regional competence. The fair organisers will have to proceed on two fronts in future – internationally and regionally. This corresponds partially to the already existing portfolios, which have been organised both internationally and regionally. Not only is the emphasis on the global marketing of trade fairs in spite of the fact that the world’s former leading trade fairs are gradually becoming continental trade fairs. However, as far as globalisation is concerned, we must not forget the domestic market either. In doing so, we must not think too small but more in new, regional European dimensions. The formation of regional European clusters will continue to gain in significance.
The challenges faced by trade fairs of today and tomorrow are very sophisticated when seen against the background of globalisation, the high informational requirements, increasingly narrower time frames for visitors and constantly changing markets. Above all, however, exhibitions should be able to offer an excellent platform for meeting, presentation and sales.
The author, who was born in Fulda in 1952, was managing director of Blenheim Schweiz AG and Blenheim Int. Deutschland GmbH from 1989 to 1994. He was managing director of Leipziger Messe GmbH from 1996 to 2001 before becoming managing director at Stuttgarter Messe- und Kongressgesellschaft mbH in 2001. He has been spokesman of the management of the Landesmesse Stuttgart GmbH (LMS) since 2006.