29. June 2020 | Exhibitor´s Corner, Expo & Event Marketing

How the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped the trade fair experience

by Julia Pott (exclusively for EuroShop.mag)

The global coronavirus pandemic has not only had a severe economic impact on trade shows and exhibitions, but it will probably also prompt sweeping industry changes in the future. Digital technologies that facilitate virtual events and meetings are more popular and in-demand than ever. But can virtual conferences and digital communication truly replace the value of face-to-face events like trade fairs? It’s highly unlikely because the personal networking experience is far too rich and important for that to be the case. Nevertheless, the crisis might lead to successful ideas and concepts for trade fair design and booth construction that also offer post-pandemic benefits.

A man in a jacket smiles into the camera

Jan Mol is a freelance journalist and publisher, who specializes in trade shows, commerce, and retail technology. © Jan Mol

“A virtual trade show may be the right format for certain topics or occasions. However, these days we can all sense that there is truly no substitute for an in-person trade show experience and the physical connection with other participants,” says Jan Mol. Large-scale B2B events benefit from face-to-face communication not only in terms of one-on-one conversations, but also as it relates to the physical presentation of products. Depending on the industry, exhibited products need to be experienced and explained as they are often sensory in nature.”

Using technologies to present products: The modern trade show experience

Undoubtedly, the new hygiene and social distancing guidelines will affect how the floor space of a trade show booth is structured in the future. Mol expects changes in function and design of the space, and not just because of the coronavirus. “In the future, booth design will attribute less space for product presentations and allow more room for person-to-person contact – a better chance to take care of guests.” Even before the coronavirus crisis took center stage, Jan Mol noticed a trend that has companies no longer showcasing their complete portfolio at their booths but creating live presentations that highlight selective products.

Meanwhile, detailed product descriptions can be made readily available via digital signage, tablets, landing pages, apps or catalogs. Modern technologies offer countless ways to create an exciting product presentation. Whether it’s in-person, by using added digital displays, virtual or a combination of everything – the only boundaries are set by budget constraints and creativity. Having said that, exhibitors must carefully consider the optimum use of technology to maximize effect.

A young woman wearing VR glasses at a trade fair

© Messe Düsseldorf/ctillmann

Jan Mol doesn’t see a future for VR headsets in the trade fair arena. “In the past few years, it was quite ‘trendy’ to have virtual reality glasses at trade show booths. Some guests used them to watch presentations or move in a virtual world. Yet visiting a trade show is all about the full experience, an experience you share with others, which is what makes it so much fun. However, visitors share nothing and don’t connect with others when they put on a VR headset. ”

In contrast, he recognizes great opportunities for 3D graphics and augmented reality (AR). Exhibitors can use 3D visualization to present products with no additional hardware. Multiple visitors can view a presentation at the same time, while booth staff can simultaneously service and help the guests. AR solutions allow trade fair visitors to use their smartphones, tablets, and apps to access detailed information and displays. “You simply point your cell phone’s camera at the screen, a code, or the product and look at the relevant information at your leisure. The interaction between technologies and people will become increasingly important,“ says Mol. The apps and websites visitors enter via their smartphones help exhibitors gain direct access to potential customers. Apart from facilitating product presentation, this platform can also be used to exchange contact information and connect at a later date.

a young woman shows something on a tablet to other visitors

© Messe Düsseldorf/ctillmann

The future of trade show booth construction

If trade shows and exhibitors focus on ‘quality versus quantity’ and trade fair visitors have limited ways to maneuver, exhibitors should definitely make it worth their while and wow their guests. Stefan DeCroos, CEO of beMatrix, agrees: “People attend trade shows to have an impressive experience, to do and learn things.” Moving images, multimedia presentations, LED video walls, 3D animation, a play of light and creative trade show booths – a look inside the EuroShop 2020 exhibition center and the Expo and Event Marketing sector showcases the many highlights exhibitors and trade show booth construction had to offer – even in pre-Covid life.

A man in a suit draws something on a touch screen

© Messe Düsseldorf/ctillmann

Today’s trade show booth construction must keep up with increasing and ever-changing demands and requirements when it comes to engaging design. Soon, short-term rule changes might be a daily occurrence depending on the latest crisis situation, and this also applies to B2B events. Modular and flexible trade show displays are a great tool when quick changes and adjustments are the order of the day. They are also beneficial when it comes to sustainability. “Modular trade show booth construction is based on the concept of reuse; it saves time and money, and reduces waste and carbon footprint, ”Jan Mol explains. Material selection plays a major role in this. For Mol, aluminum is the preferred choice. “Aluminum is lightweight and strong, robust, yet flexible at the same time: it allows you to create any shape you like. There are aluminum profiles to fit LED lighting, and connector sets for electrical outlets. I strongly believe that the future belongs to aluminum.“

The coming months will reveal how the coronavirus pandemic is reshaping and dictating these aspects and will uncover new possibilities. Undoubtedly, it will be a challenge to create shared, interactive trade show experiences that comply with hygiene and social distancing guidelines in an effort to prevent coronavirus disease. Trade show designers and booth experts have already demonstrated their creative thinking skills by developing effective and innovative solutions. There is no doubt that they are also ready to rise to this challenge.

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