Exhibitions enter a new phase
Tyronne O’Callaghan
Vice President, Strategy & Global Activation

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Or do they?

With many countries entering what can be called the post-COVID world, several are witnessing exhibitions roaring back to life. This is not just a handful of brave show organisers getting back in the saddle; we are also seeing brands embracing exhibitions again.

This is best highlighted by the initial feedback received in the Pico Group’s Annual Market Survey, which shows a positive bounce in brand sentiment toward in-person events in their marketing plans over the next 12 months.

The evidence points to exhibitions regaining their pre-pandemic status as a favourite tool for building brand awareness, meeting with existing customers, finding new ones, and launching new products and services. However, this sentiment could be misleading if taken in isolation from other factors.

We should not assume that exhibitions will continue in the same way as before.

- Toward an integrated landscape
For B2B marketers a lot of focus during COVID has been on employing digital channels to stay engaged with target markets – to the point that using them to continue to build awareness and generate pipeline has become mainstream. Also, many brands pivoted to virtual events with varying degrees of success, and they remain a tactic of use – whether purely virtual or in an integrated sense. But where does this leave traditional tactics like exhibitions?

Looking through the optics of the audience, people want to attend exhibitions. We are human. We like the tribal aspect of being part of an industry group, meeting peers or just enjoying a change of scenery. Pre-pandemic, and with a lot of industries under one roof, exhibitions were an efficient place to get business done.

Post-pandemic, this rational and emotional connection with exhibitions will lead to audiences exercising choice. They will demand flexibility in the way they want to attend. They will expect to be able to access content live or on demand. So where does this leave planning exhibitions for brands?

With all the investment in digital for B2B and trade marketing over the last two-years, the focus should be on integration – not just in an integrated marketing or omnichannel context, but also at the design level. For example, how do you design an exhibition stand that is connected? Design a stand that is a thing within the Internet of Things?

- The advantages of a ‘digital twin’
There are some key considerations for brands to consider when planning exhibitions. While the metaverse has been creating a lot of noise lately, digital twin approaches and technologies are here and available today. Digital twins become more compelling the further one considers their potential: as means to recreate the immersive live experience in the digital realm, they can considerably broaden your reach, sustain engagement and ultimately optimise your exhibition investment. When crafted as a unique-but-related experience, a digital twin can be even more engaging, luring even offline participants ‘across the border’ and blurring the line between physical and digital.

- Example: ABBA’s Voyage show
Fans at the opening of ABBA’s ‘Voyage’ show in May 2022 were thrilled to be greeted by not the Swedish popstars themselves, but their ‘ABBAtars’ –realistic digital renditions of the group members in all their 1970s.

Source: The Sun Showbiz YouTube channel

The exact technologies used to create this spectacle are cutting-edge, and their effect on fans and tech-lovers are certain. The digital twin concept swept the audience into a nostalgic high, their engagement levels going through the roof. Also, bringing back retired performers like this unlocks a wide range of possibilities of what can be done through ‘digital twins’.

- Conclusion
The only constant in life – and in exhibitions – is change. Event planners and marketers must constantly explore new possibilities to merely stay abreast of the trends. Today, it means embracing the advancements of digital technology and realising its possibilities.

The above article was originally published online by AFECA on 30 June 2022.