Exhibition 2.0 – AMR’s Denzil Rankine on the evolving exhibition industry

First published in Exhibition WorldIssue 4, September 2018

We all know that the exhibition business model is changing. The customers might look the same, but their expectations are transformed in this digital age.

But not everyone is clear about how organisers should evolve from the status quo. A common mistake is for organisers to see the tradeshow as the purpose. It’s not. It’s a tool, one of many that allow buyers and sellers to achieve their purposes.

AMR believes that the future lies with those organisers who embrace the shift from annual sales channel to consistent industry-value creator. We call this Exhibition 2:0.

The drivers of change

The main impetus for change, as ever, lies with customers. The competition for attendees’ time, attention and loyalty is intensifying. An increasingly sophisticated array of digital marketing approaches and go-to-market alternatives are already providing exhibitors with the motivation to demand more measurable value from exhibitions.

The new generation of participants are not interested in stepping back in time on an exhibition floor.

Revenue from exhibit space sales will inevitably decline in the mix. In the Exhibition 2.0 model, revenue comes from a wide range of sources, including data and digital technologies. They might originate from areas unrelated to the physical event. Some will be lower margin than stand sales.

Marketing, not sales, will lead the way in Exhibition 2.0.

The show team must acquire and maintain in-depth knowledge of the markets they serve, including identification of target attendees, attendee segments and the online and offline buyer journey. They will understand buyer objectives, their pain points, challenges and how market dynamics impact event participants in the present and future.

Exhibition organisers will approach the community more holistically. They will be on the pulse of an industry’s distinctive networks — not just lunching the usual suspects. This will lead them to consider a broader range of participation schemes, event configurations and venues.

Data-driven, technologically enabled

Data derived from exhibition stakeholders using advanced technologies will drive decision-making.

Exhibition 2.0 organisers will seek technology to replace error-prone and inefficient workflows and processes. Their people will perform higher-level tasks than today, involving creativity, critical thinking and analysis.

Organisers will use their data effectively. For example, they will pinpoint factors that cause an exhibitor to exhibit or drop out; or what compels an attendee to attend, continue attending or not show up.

With this body of knowledge, they will be able to shape the event; they can forecast growth and profitability more accurately.

Exhibitions will remain a bastion of human connection, so networking processes must continue to evolve. In Exhibition 2.0, algorithms could facilitate much of the peer-to-peer interaction as they generate possible matches by analysing data collected both inside and outside the exhibition ecosystem. In the future, computers will “learn” what demographics and behaviours from a participant population lead to optimum matches.

365 engagement with the community

Discussion about the need to engage a market all year long has been circulating for years.

Organisers adopting Exhibition 2.0 will, like trade associations, accept year-round engagement as not only the norm but also the requirement for attending to the needs of a market.

Organisers will take an active role in influencing the evolution of the markets they serve. They will make investments in technologies, resources and strategies that shift their role from event managers to market value creators, innovators, new product developers and behaviour influencers.

For example, some shows have the opportunity to become the operator of their industry’s B2B marketplace.

The technology, data, and roadmap to support future development are already in place. What is lacking is the recognition that the exhibition is the tool, not the purpose and organisers are the air traffic controllers, not the pilots.

Organisers’ true potential—and the recipe for financial sustainability—lies in their capacity to create value for the whole market they serve. This is the essence of Exhibition 2.0.

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