It is our ambition to be the #1 Coil Winding exhibition and conference in terms of quality. Not least because of this, we have closely monitored the response of the various online trade fairs and conferences in 2020.
On the acceptance problems of online trade fairs and conferences in 2020
In the past, online trade fairs and conferences did not experience a big success as they lack essential characteristics such as direct personal encounter and communication, the emotional and sensual experience of products and brands, and the event character.
In this respect, the pandemic offered a great opportunity for the providers of online platforms. Before Social Distancing, few of us were familiar with online conferencing solutions.
Now almost all of us use these communication tools on a more or less daily base. To what extent could the organisers of the online trade fairs and conferences in 2020 build on this new acquaintance to be successful in offering offsite alternatives to onsite events?
How could this experience impact the habits of attending exhibitions?
As the organisers of Coiltech, what can we learn from the experience of these events, both in the realisation of the onsite editions of our events in Ulm and Pordenone and in carrying on the Virtual Coil Show after its first edition on January, 21?
To find clues to the answers, we listen to dozens of exhibitors and visitors every day. Also, we conducted an online survey in December 2020.
Here an overview of some interesting findings.
One half of the interviewed have not participated at any online-event in 2020
Only slightly more than one-half of the respondents of our survey have participated, in 2020, at an online event, be it as an exhibitor, a visitor or as the host of an online seminar.
Among those who have gained experience with online events in 2020, the largest group is that of visitors, the second largest is that of exhibitors. A small part of the respondents to the survey have hosted online seminars.
Of course, it is interesting to understand if there is a significant difference in the willingness to interact online among the different age groups.
As many would expect, the part of the younger generation (the under-35-year-olds) that have participated in online events is larger than in the other age groups: over 2/3 of them have visited or exhibited at such an event or hosted an online seminar, and only about 1/2 of the elder groups have done so.
The most cited reason for not taking part in an online-event: the missing personal contact with other participants
4 out of 10 survey takers who did not join online events in 2020, stated that they did not do so because of the missing personal contact.
Holding an onsite exhibition means bringing supply and demand under the same roof for a limited period of time (in Coiltech's case: 2 days). Replicating such a space online also involves meetings via video conferencing technology.
However, an organiser has to come up with more than just connecting people online: likewise, 4 out of 10 survey participants who did not attend online trade fairs in 2020 indicate as a reason that they do not need an event organiser to hold a video conference.
The missing possibility to see each other: also the most frequently named reason for participating in an online event
More than 4 out of 10 of those who participated in an online event in 2020 most often cited as their reason to be at least able to see each other online.
We find it remarkable that the missing possibility to meet each other is cited as the main reason for attending or not visiting an online-event.
Of course, there is no right or wrong in this. It only shows that people have a different opinion on a given issue.
Other motivations to attend an online fair include, among others, the research for innovations (about 3/10) and understand technical aspects in the offer of suppliers (approximately 1/10).
Are on-site trade fairs more technical than online events?
When comparing the motivation of the participants of the online events in 2020 with those of the visitors at Coiltech 2019, one notes that at the on-site event Coiltech the interest in technical questions was stronger developed.
Of course, one should be careful in drawing very far-reaching conclusions from this for methodological reasons. Still, the higher values for Finding out about innovations, Understanding of technical aspects, Search for technical solutions and suppliers at the on-site event Coiltech indicate that people find it easier to discuss such issues when they are sitting around the same table.
Only a few companies exhibited at the online events because they were convinced about it
More than 4 out of 10 companies that have exhibited in 2020 at an online trade fair or conference state that they did so because the organiser converted the on-site event in an online format, making it difficult or impossible for them to pull out.
Less than 4 per cent of the exhibiting companies state that their main reason to participate was that the concept of converting the event from a face-to-face to an online format convinced them.
Just under a third indicate that the main reason they exhibited at the online event was that on-site events were impossible, and not even 10 per cent quoted the classic reasons for participating in a trade fair (Find new customers, Keep in touch with existing ones, Competitors' presence).
There is a lot to improve to make the participants of online-events satisfied customers
For medium and long term sustainable business development, customers have to be happy with their experience.
One can see already at the first glance that the participants of the online-events in 2020 were disappointed.
The exhibitors at the online trade fairs and conferences in 2020 were predominantly dissatisfied with the results. Among the visitors, satisfaction and dissatisfaction are more or less evenly balanced.
A closer look at the results of the survey reveals that
Visitors of online events: rather satisfied with the possibility to meet online, and not so with all the rest
The only criterium that obtains more positive ratings from the visitors of the online events in 2020 is the possibility to meet at least online. This may be taken as an encouraging result by organisers of online-events because this criterium was also mentioned as the most important motive to attend such an event (see above).
At the same time, the completely negative ratings for the substantial reason-why to visit a trade fair - e.g. compare offers of various suppliers, find technical solutions and suppliers - outweigh the completely positive ratings by factor 2 to 4.
To put this in relation, it is useful to compare these numbers with those of our visitor satisfaction study among the Coiltech 2019 attendees.
The on-site visitors of Coiltech 2019 showed a much higher degree of satisfaction than those of the online events in 2020
Regardless of whether it's about the possibilities to clarify technical questions or to keep in touch with other market participants: the visitors of the on-site event Coiltech 2019 expressed a much higher degree of satisfaction with the key criteria than the participants of online events in 2020. Even if we conducted the two studies among different targets (the precise group of visitors of the on-site trade fair Coiltech versus a group of volunteers invited via e-mail), the difference is so significant that it seems reliable.
The exhibitors do not have a lot of positive things to say about their experience at the online events in 2020
As a part of the questionnaire, we asked the exhibitors to explain in their own words what they consider room of improvement or criticism. Both the exhibitors who expect to participate in online events again and those who do not think so (more details, see below) commented that online meetings could not substitute encounters in person.
Other judgements include the lack of possibilities to interact with other participants and practical aspects such as connection problems and usability issues. For some questions, different exhibitors' opinions were contrasting; for example, some complained that the presentation spaces were excessive and redundant to the company's website, while others would have wished more opportunity of a display.
The impact of the experience in 2020 on future trade fair participations
In recent months, many more or less competent people have repeated it again and again: the digital revolution has undergone an unexpected acceleration as a result of the situation arising from Covid-19. So what could be the consequences for trade fairs? Will online events replace attendance fairs? Or are hybrid events the future, even when the problems of the pandemic are resolved?
Over 90 per cent of the respondents expect that they will continue to visit on-site trade fairs and conferences in the future
People miss the opportunity to see each other. We hear it in almost any phone conversation with our visitors and exhibitors and it is widely discussed in the context of the appropriateness of social distancing measures. Also, the results of our survey paint a clear picture.
Regardless of whether one is younger or older, or whether someone has participated in an online event in 2020 or not, the overwhelming majority intends to continue attending face-to-face trade fairs and conferences in the future.
Not even 10 per cent of the respondents state that they will prefer online fairs to on-site events or even attend only virtual formats in the future.
Even the young generation has a preference for on-site events
5 out of 10 respondents under the age of 35 states that they will attend only on-site exhibitions and conferences in the future because face-to-face contact is irreplaceable. Only 4 out of 10 intend to make a difference: if the focus of the exhibition is key for their job, they prefer to see their suppliers personally at a trade fair, and if the theme is less crucial, they might prefer to make use of an online format, if available.
It is interesting to note that there is hardly any difference in the survey results between the generation of the under 35 and the one over 55. This came a bit as a surprise when we analysed the data. First, because a larger part of the younger generation participated in online events in 2020 than of the elder generations. Second, when you talk about this question with others, many believe that the young generation prefers the digital world.
Cutting down on travel time by meeting virtually instead of face to face is a tempting proposition.
Within the group of 35-55 year-olds, there is a preponderance of those who in the future will only want to travel to a trade fair if their topic is indispensable for their job, and prefer to use online offers for other, individually less important topics.
In the other two age groups, the relation is the opposite.
One possible explanation for this difference could be that this age group appreciates the reduction of travel hours more than the others, for example, to have more time for family obligations. This could be the object of further study.
Those who attended online events in 2020 might be more discerning when it comes to deciding whether to visit an on-site trade fair
Even though the participants in online events in 2020 were not particularly satisfied with the results (see above), their majority expects that they will only physically visit a trade fair in the future if their topic is crucial for the job.
A minority of those who did not attend a virtual trade fair or conference in 2020 expect this for themselves as well.
When it comes to fundamental issues, people are likely to continue to visit on-site trade fairs and conferences
If you want to develop new ideas or meet new business partners, the face-to-face meeting is unbeatable.
At a well-focused B2B trade fair like Coiltech, you can complete many productive personal meetings in a short time. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that on-site fairs and conferences with a clear positioning in terms of content will continue to be an attractive communication platform in the future - perhaps even more than ever.
For exhibitors, this might mean that the visitors you meet on-site could be the more interesting discussion partners - after all, the topic tends to be more relevant for them than for those who drop by online.
For the organisers, this is a tricky situation: on the one hand, it is attractive to provide, via an online channel, to the exhibitors some contacts who cannot be brought to the fair in person - for whatever reason. On the other hand, it means investing some of the energy in a target group that may only be of secondary importance for the exhibitors' business development.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating
We are happy to take on this challenge - after all, we want to continue to set the qualitative standards among the Coil Winding exhibitions and conferences.
Therefore, we are working on the prototype of an event that could bring together on-site and online: Virtual Coil Show and Coiltech Deutschland 2021.
The timing for such a test could not be better: In 2021, long-distance travel will continue to be complex and difficult to plan. This applies particularly to intercontinental travel to trade fairs. So, if there is a situation where a hybrid component can be of benefit to exhibitors and visitors, it is now.
When interpreting the information, it is important to bear in mind the following methodological restrictions:
- online survey 2020: invitation via e-mail and post in LinkedIn to all our visitors, possible visitors, exhibitors and potential exhibitor
- period of data collection: 11-28 December 2020
- languages: English, German, Italian
- respondents: 257, of which
- 47 in English, 81 in German and 150 in Italian
- 19 answers from younger than 35, 162 from 35-55-year-olds, 74 by over 55-year-old, 1 no info
- 87 visitors of online events, 33 exhibitors or speakers, 13 organisers of online-seminars, 123 persons not participating at online events
- survey visitor satisfaction Coiltech 2019: we have used this poll to compare because it is the most recent one in which we asked comparable questions (in 2020, we focussed on how the attendees perceived our hygiene- and safety measures).
Contact person for any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
Citations permitted provided this reference is given: "Online survey "Experience with Virtual Fairs and Events" by QUiCKFairs/Coiltech, December 2020"; please inform us about the use in your publication.