When we talk about business models, we are all aware that the entire economic system is changing, and in an increasingly rapid and inexorable way the change is passing through the digital transformation of companies.

Every economic structure must always try to remain "fluid". This is based not only on economic models, but also on Charles Darwin's theory:

"Not the smartest or the strongest species does survive, but the one most capable of adapting to change."

Starting from this assumption, we try to understand what change is and how it must make us rethink the business model of trade shows.

At the basis of everything, as always, there are the customers.

Customers have changed: their expectations, their needs and behaviors are changing and will continue changing profoundly because of technological innovation.

In the trade show industry, generally, many realities are moving to "evolve" the status quo. One of the mistakes that I personally believe to be "central" when talking about industrial systems is to place the "why" of one's activity at the center of one's strategic plans.

What I consider one of the elements to be reviewed in a very important way in every exhibition organizer, is related to thinking that the trade show is "a purpose, or worse, a goal in the target of its customers".

This element is decisive, because trade shows must rethink their role: they must no longer consider themselves a "goal", or a “goal for buyers, visitors, and exhibitors”, but consider themselves to be a "tool".

This change is central, because it also means repositioning oneself in the industrial structure of the niche of which one is referring, with a probably “less elevated" role than those who feel the goal and purpose of their customers (something that has undoubtedly been for many decades), and change it to “being a tool” (potentially the best), so that their customers can achieve their goals.

Where does this paradigm shift come from?

The impulse of this new role of trade shows, as always, comes from the profound change in the perception of customers (as in exhibitors or visitors).

The attention and loyalty between exhibitors and buyers is deeply intensifying, thanks to new technologies. The exchange between exhibitors and buyers is increasingly integrated and oriented towards precise objectives: trade shows need to rethink their approach to the fundamental function they have always had, and of which all operators are certain, that is the "physical encounter between supply and demand".

Many people talking about thinking about Exhibition4.0, personally I have only recently entered the exhibition industry, but with extreme humility, I must say that I am not very clear what the period Exhibition2.0 and Exhibition3.0 was.

That is why I think it's very important to start from the fundamentals, which have changed, and which see trade shows as a marketing tool.

That is why I am quite sure that a deep and radical rethinking of the marketing of the exhibition industry is necessary.

Undoubtedly, revenues from square meters are the biggest source of income that trade shows have, and probably will have for a long time to come, but there is no doubt that with the hyper-competitiveness of the trade shows industry, every single player must rethink its business focusing on new revenue elements.

And this, unfortunately, is neither simple nor immediate if you do not rethink your role for the supply chain first.

If the role of the exhibition is to be a Marketing Tool, it is clear that the entire team that makes up an exhibition organization must have an in-depth culture and knowledge of the market to which the event refers, including the identification of target participants, the main segments of visitors, their business behavior (especially buyer behavior), and above all a clear and precise outline of their online and offline Customer Journey.

The organizers should be experts in buyers’ objectives, their weaknesses and the challenges they are facing, as well as a deep knowledge of the market, because these are the elements that are asked of a partner to achieve their objectives.

The approach that the organizers will have to have is, by its nature, "holistic", they can no longer think that a competitive advantage is given by "selling square meters", because this will perhaps turn into a disadvantage in the long run.

These elements are an incredible asset if you think of the Italian exhibition industry, as the role of trade shows is interconnected with the referring industry (through the role of associations, districts, producers, etc.). Italian trade shows are often well placed in the niches of reference, and their role can assume even more a fundamental feature if they are able to involve and bring more and more "on board" its main players, not through discounts or favors, but through cultural, professional and managerial enrichment throughout the years.

Unlike the trade shows organized by the large multinationals in this sector, which are often hyper-efficient in terms of organization, but little or not at all, included in the market they serve.

Data as the main access to knowledge

It is the data that is the real driver that stakeholders (whether exhibitors or buyers) are most interested in. One of the most important assets of trade shows is the fact that it can be a key partner for collecting, processing, refining and then distributing data that in most cases are already part of the know-how and databases of the trade shows themselves.

The technologies on this will be a fundamental asset for every organizer of the future, to leverage the incredible amount of information, insights, unique elements, and concrete business that only happen thanks to the exhibition tool.

How much is the data worth?

We can think about asking Amazon, Google, or Facebook: thanks to the data in their possession have built in a few years a real empire... and we are only at the beginning.

The very serious problem is that having the data is not enough.

Data does not talk. Data is difficult, and especially data without a strategic vision is of little use.

The whole trade show team needs to get in touch with a holistic approach to data, there is a need for understanding, critical thinking, analytical skills, and of course creativity.

Organizers who know how to use their data effectively, for example by identifying the factors that cause an exhibitor to attend or leave, or what "forces" impact on a visitor to take part in an event or not to show up, may have precise and very useful tools for their internal activities.

With this analytical vision of choices (Data Driven Strategy), the organizers will be able to shape the events of the future by directing them towards the actual needs of their customers, thinking to build on this real competitive advantage a growth in profitability and value of their exhibition product.

On the other hand, this sector presents itself as a "bulwark" of human face-to-face connection, so it is precisely on this networking element that it is necessary to build a data-based strategy.

How many top managers have precise reports on the levels of interconnection and interaction that take place within their own square meters between their clients?

How many of the team have this data?

How many uses it to formulate the strategic plan for the next 5 editions of their event?

But in addition to this fundamental "internal" use of data, it is its position at the service of the reference niche, which can see in the ability to use information, a truly new role oriented to the needs of its trade show customers.

Thanks to the incredible amount of data available and above all through a much wider vision of its own data needs, the trade show can play its new role as a "tool".

Trade shows can carve out an active role for themselves as influencers of their industry, together with major players and leaders.

No leader alone can have the data of an industry, except trade shows. If trade shows can use this power properly, they can think they have huge revenues from this variable.

The technology, the data, the roadmap and above all the successful examples to develop these new dynamics in the future are already available.

What is missing, perhaps, is the recognition that the trade show is an instrument, not a purpose, and perhaps that the organizers must imagine themselves more and more as conductors, as musicians...

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