Whether to travel as far as Germany from the US, China, India, or any other country outside Europe to attend a trade fair is, for many, a big decision that needs to be considered carefully; you need to take into account the financial investment as well as the time spent away from the office and family.
Visitors, and more importantly exhibitors, should know the key facts and figures about the industry and events, to be able to evaluate which show(s) will best suit their purpose and goals. Newcomers should not expect the exercise to be a no-brainer and must keep in mind that participating in a trade fair requires much more than unpacking a few boxes and waiting for buyers to drop into their booth. You need to do your homework before you go!
International business people who are still contemplating whether they should give trade fair participation in Germany a try often ask the following questions when deciding whether to exhibit at a trade show (or not).
In an average year, German trade fairs attract around 10 million visitors. According to the Association of the German Trade Fair Industry (AUMA), mostly, fairs are visited by more than just one company representative; considering German companies specifically, 37% send two or three people while 29% have more than seven people visit the fair. Only one in five companies is represented by only one person.
Chances are high that you will meet your target audience here—provided you choose the appropriate event and carefully prepare for your participation.
Will I get orders?
According to an extensive study published by AUMA in 2015, the three most important visitor objectives are to look for innovations and trends (67%), procure information (64%), and exchange information and experiences (56%). To a lesser extent (48%), visitors said that it is important or very important to them to further their knowledge and maintain existing business relationships. Market observation (42%) ranks higher than buying at the exhibition (26%) or preparing to buy after the show (32%). By the way, when asked for an overall evaluation, 83% of the respondents described their trade fair visit as good or very good.
Local and international visitors differ greatly when it comes to their purchasing behaviour. 29% of the foreign attendants said that they had plans to buy at the fair; only 24% of the Germans agreed—for them, information on innovations and trends is the most important objective (74%). While 30% of the local visitors want to prepare their buying decision, 34% of the international guests rate that objective as important or very important.
For you, as an exhibitor, that means do not necessarily expect to bring home orders from the fair. In most industries, the events are conducted primarily to help you get in touch with new contacts and very briefly check out the fit of a potential business, which you can then discuss in more detail after the show. Therefore, you need to make sure that you keep track of your visitors and record their needs; you need to follow up with them shortly after the fair—individually!
Bottom-line: Do not expect that with only one visit, you will conquer the market.
Then what can exhibitors expect?
In November 2016, TNS Emnid—acting on behalf of AUMA—conducted a representative survey among 501 companies that exhibit at trade visitor-oriented fairs. The findings show that the “acquisition of new customers” has taken first place among exhibitor objectives, with 83% naming this as their main objective. Taking care of regular customers (“customer care”) has been mentioned by almost the same number of interviewees. Following are the subsequent objectives: “enhance company awareness” (81%), “presentation of new products / services” (80%), and “image improvement of company / brands” (79%).
AUMA finds it remarkable that “the objective of ‘concluding contracts during or after the exhibition’ is again becoming important and is now the objective of two-thirds of exhibitors.” To “open up new markets” (61%), and find “new cooperation partners” (58%) is considered more important by exhibitors than “market research” (45%).
Please note: These are common objectives of more or less seasoned exhibitors. To which extent goals are achieved, depends on many things.
Fair enough, but why bother about discussing objectives in the first place?
Maybe you think: “Well, that’s basically what we want too. And since we are there anyway, can’t we achieve all the objectives mentioned above at the same time?”
Well, let me give you an example: If you are quite new in the (German) market, and your most important objective is to meet potential partners for cooperation / joint ventures, you most probably would want to invest more time and effort into conducting research in advance and inviting suitable contacts; at your booth, you would want to create a relaxed atmosphere, putting more emphasis on comfortable seating and good catering.
On the other hand, if the presentation of new products is your highest priority, you would want to have plenty of space to showcase your exhibits and find ways to attract casual visitors, wouldn’t you?
What is the benefit of (spelling out) trade show objectives?
Clearly defined trade fair objectives are a critical success factor for the entire project; they help you define the (next) steps you need to take. Based on your trade fair objectives, you design your booth and align your visitor marketing and promotional activities. Depending on what you want to achieve, you select and brief your team and supporting service providers. And most importantly, without clear objectives, how will you measure your trade fair success?
In their book, Messen professionell managen : Das Handbuch für Messeorganisation, Anna-Katharina Esche and Lars Lockemann recommend involving all the relevant departments in the process—do not talk only to Sales and Marketing but also consult the product managers and the R&D division, for instance. According to Esche/Lockemann, one should put the results in writing and distribute them within the team. The defined goals need to be reasonable, clearly defined, achievable, and measurable. “Our goal is to arrange for at least 15 test-installations of our software X” is a good example of an appropriate trade fair goal.
Will participating (in a certain show) pay off?
That’s not a simple question and the answer depends on many things. I recommend that you look at the MNC—TradeFairBenefitCheck; it is offered by AUMA as one of a variety of free online tools to help increase transparency for those interested in German trade shows. Industry experts have told me that is a very useful tool; I, personally, find it a bit difficult to use but, according to my contacts, it is worth the effort.
The key question when using this tool is: “What would it cost to achieve my corporate aims and marketing goals using other marketing measures? How much can I save on other marketing measures by taking part in a trade fair?” The objective of using this tool is to quantify the benefits of your trade fair participation and enable you to do a cost-comparison.
Watch this video to see how the tool works: explainer video.
If you have further questions, you can always get in touch with me (andra[at]andra-ibf.com).
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And….for Indian exhibitors: Please check out the special edition for Indian managers on amazon.in