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On a Real Path to Success with Sustainability

Wednesday, 23. October 2019 | by: David Suermann | Exhibit Marketing

„New Minimalism" at national and international trade shows 

Trade shows are among the most important marketing tools in Germany, which is why the focus should not be on architecture, but rather on the brand and product. A successful trade show presentation requires two things: focus on the message and reduction to the essentials. This could make the trade show experience inspiring again, including from an environmental perspective. The positive effect of sustainability can directly accelerate the success of a trade show presentation because "New Minimalism" represents honest and, above all, authentic communication. 

As many as 180 national and international trade shows took place in Germany in 2018 with 180, 000 exhibitors and 10 million visitors. (Source: Auma, 2019) Imagine every resident of a midsized city as an exhibitor and Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Düsseldorf all coming to visit. 

One thing is clear: Nearly 85% of exhibiting companies consider trade shows important or very important in their B2B communication. A trade show is still one of the most important marketing channels in Germany, but also one of the most expensive. For their participation in German trade shows last year exhibitors and visitors paid about 14.5 billion Euros. Trade shows drive the economy. This is especially true when you add production effects which amount to 28 billion Euros and revenues of service providers such as booth builders or movers, which amount to another 2 billion Euros. (Source: Auma, 2019) This is comparable to the GDP of Lithuania. 

Rethinking is necessary

In a nutshell: Trade shows are the industrial marketplace for exhibitors and visitors with decision- making authority. With that in mind, there are many things that participants have to consider: image, publicity, market research, and analysis of the competition. No matter which aspect you focus on, the core of the trade show is and always will be direct and industry-specific B2B communication. 

Consequently, trade shows always reflect the culture of a certain industry. Take the car industry as an example of this: large standing cityscapes and booth constructions riddled with expensive exhibits and framed by the newest technologies. IAA cars represent all these things. The positioning of visitors in comparison to the competition is crucial for exhibitors. In most cases, visitors expect expensive structures, but they rarely recognize them as such. The visitor experience is often neglected. The special designer object, the flashy colors, the large images, and the HD LED wall do not answer answer any visitor questions or satisfy any of their curiosity, which means that any added value in comparison to the competition remains negligible.

There are hardly any truly distinctive features to be found anymore. It is more about harmonization these days. Agencies and booth builders have different customers at the same trade show. Would you not also want to get the best out of it? In an effort to do that, the key aspects are being pushed into the background: brands and products. The realization that things cannot continue this way is slowly dawning on people. Buzzwords like are storytelling are making their rounds and being celebrated as the remedy. But so far the spaces are still closely linked to the architecture of the booths. Formulations like Festivalization are attempts to shake up the space as well as the format a little bit, but at the heart of these attempts there often lies an outdated understanding of the market. For the most part it is the same story with a more modern presentation. If a visitor is interested in a VR application, is it more because of the brand and the product or because of the technology? Oftentimes it is because of the latter. 

New Minimalism 

The trade show experience must be redefined. What would happen if, in a trade show presentation, everything else came secondary to the history of the brand and product? Less is more, quality instead of quantity. New Minimalism has already arrived in many areas of private life. Becoming more sensitive to what is going on, saying goodbye to old ways, and focusing more strongly on the message would make the trade show experience experience inspiring again, including from an environmental perspective. 

Breaking with the communicational status quo at trade shows means focusing on the experience with the product and brand by reducing to the essentials. The result: The visitor either gets a clear answer to their question or discovers something new. This is a positive change and, regardless of whether it is a solution or an innovation, both count in favor of the brand and the product. Visitors take something positive with them and come back with newfound knowledge. Always remember that only lasting impressions are shared. At the same time, sustainability is increased because fewer resources are needed for special experiences. 

Didactic methods and foundations play a much greater role here than the production of an infographic or the height of a wall. The experience is finally at center stage again, albeit because of things like the irritation of visitors, for example, or the guided experience in light of the the fact that visitors recognize advantages on their own. 

There is only one requirement: Brands and products must be informative because visitors will not be distracted from them. Instead, all of their attention will be focused on them. In concrete terms this means that trade shows are not just something to cross off a to-do list over the course of a year. Consideration of how a trade show is to be handled must start early. The vision of any participating company has to be just as clear as the history and the merits of the brand and the product. This contentual analysis is costly, but it can open up brand new perspectives. And, in any case, content can only convey information that is understandable and and supportable. 

On the way to sustainability 

Sustainability in communication is the consequence of suddenly reducing costs of construction work, for example. Will trade shows become sustainable if they only tried this approach? No, they will not. And with the exception of digital trade shows, a reduction in construction costs will never make them sustainable. According to estimates, German trade shows produce approx. 180,000 cubic meters of garbage, which corresponds to 5,400 overseas containers. Not to mention every CO2 emission on the part of the exhibitors as well as the visitors, which can scarcely be calculated. 

For companies sustainability in trade show business should mean that the journey is the reward, and the path should be smoothed out and cleared as soon as possible. The first question should be whether or not there is a suitable alternative to trade shows. But right now trade shows are still unique in terms of the personal experience. 

Here is why industries should start planning to do things the right way. Sustainability in trade show business does not start the moment things are produced or with the often-mentioned paper cups, and it certainly does not end with when companies are awarded with certificates for achieving an (estimated) CO2 emission level. That would be very transparent greenwashing and would require no rethinking. 

There should be an effort to get away from oversized „disposable booth constructions“ and start using reusable resources in more environmentally conscious ways, while at the same time always focusing on content. Because a well thought-out reduction to the essentials and focus on the brand and product can minimize resource costs by up to 70%.

Some icing on the cake to finish it off: A clear, distilled message and a concentrated, method- based experience in combination with a consistently pursued, sustainable approach lend authenticity to the overall communication. And what better thing can happen for a brand than for it to be recognized for what it is?


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About David Suermann

David Suermann is the founder of klardenker GmbH, a Cologne-based factory for sustainable experience marketing. He believes that events and trade shows need to become sustainable. David Suermann has years of experience in the trade show and event marketing industry and has planned events attended by over 3 million people. He has also been responsible for managing construction projects with 10,000 employees as well as managing individual budgets worth multiple millions of Euros.

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