Digitalisation Of The Exhibition Planning Process – Why Haven’t We Moved On?

Matthew Funge, Managing Director & Founder, Your Stand Builder

The digital age is fantastic for so many reasons – convenience, speed, expanded audience – and in modern life it is almost unthinkable to live without certain technological innovations. To many around the world these days certain industries or services have become synonymous with market – leading disruptive technology solutions: Uber for taxis, Airbnb for holiday rentals, Amazon for retail…the list goes on. It seems that now, in 2020, almost every mainstream industry has seen a technological revolution that has improved processes and made it easier than ever before to access their market. It seems strange, therefore, that the global exhibition industry has not.

With an annual valuation of USD $137 billion (source: UFI), making it the 56th largest economy in the world alone, it would be expected that this industry would be at the forefront of innovation, leading the way and setting an example for others to follow. It’s not that there haven’t been exciting new technologies released into the industry in recent years, of course there have been many, however these have often tended to be related to “on-site” processes which simplify a particular activity during the event opening hours only as opposed to anything which might happen before or afterwards. Digital lead capture is a prime example – a fantastically convenient and easy tool which has undoubtedly saved exhibitors endless hours on an exhibition stand by avoiding the need to manually write all contact information and file away safely for future use. Instead there are now many tools which instantly capture all contact details of a visitor by either scanning their badge or taking quick photo of their business card on a smartphone. It’s an amazingly useful technology which has certainly improved our industry since being introduced, and will continue to do so for years to come. It is, however, for use on-site and on-site only. Of course the data is stored and can be used in the future for following up on leads and marketing your products or services to those who have shown an interest, but the actual technology itself improves a time consuming on-site process faced by exhibitors in the exhibition halls around the world almost every day.

It’s worth remembering that in the grand scheme of things, the on-site processes are actually among the simplest in the whole cycle of exhibiting, and are almost always much less of an inconvenience than the incredible amount of work which goes into planning for these types of events. The preparation process often starts many months ahead of the show opening date, and involves so many different activities such as booking your stand space, sourcing a stand supplier, sending product stock to the venue, making travel and accommodation plans for staff – just to name a few. Why then, has this part of the exhibiting cycle been left almost untouched by technology? Many, if not all, of these processes are still approached the same way they were 10 or even 20 years ago which in the new digital age seems very strange indeed. As we know already humans are naturally creatures of habit, and if certain ways of doing things have worked in the past they will automatically become the “go to” way of doing things in the future, but does that mean they will always be the best way? Almost certainly not. The vast majority of people are often wary of anything new, which they don’t have previous experience of or that they perhaps don’t fully understand, and this often stands in the way of opportunity for improvement. Event professionals everywhere would surely benefit greatly from embracing change and allowing new technologies to shape the way they approach the exhibition planning process, and could end up saving significant time and money by doing so!

As an example, at our event tech startup – Your Stand Builder – we’ve completely digitalised the process of exhibitors find high quality, reliable stand builders around the world for their upcoming event schedule, bringing the whole process online on an innovative web platform. We wanted to bring these two vital groups of the industry together in a single place to streamline the exhibition planning process by providing a valuable tool which can save users time, money and stress by completely modernising buyer-seller communication. We believe we have found a better, quicker and easier way of approaching this activity and we’re delighted that it has been so well received by our global industry since our launch in 2019. It’s a positive start for sure, but so much more can still be done to truly bring exhibition planning into the modern world – and we should certainly be excited to see what the future holds as technology advances even further.

So next time you begin to plan your company’s participation at an exhibition – whether as an exhibitor or as a supplier – it might be a good idea to pause and think for a while before picking up the phone or typing a lengthy email. Which parts of your process can be digitalised, and what are the potential benefits to you of taking a new, modern approach? What tools are put there for you that can make your professional life easier? The answers might well be surprising, and if you open up to new ways of doing things you could end up with a lot of spare time to put towards other areas of your job which in turn will increase your efficiency and throughput of work which can only be a good thing for everybody involved.