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Digital-Native Generation Still Values In-Person Expo Networking

German study confirms millennials remain trade-show-friendly, if a little reluctant to meet and greet.

Photo: Millennials: Notoriously diffident and reluctant to be photographed at trade shows.
Millennials: Notoriously diffident and reluctant to be photographed at trade shows.
Photo: Millennials: Notoriously diffident and reluctant to be photographed at trade shows.
Millennials: Notoriously diffident and reluctant to be photographed at trade shows.

Despite their digital native status and clear penchant for online interaction, the millennial generation – those born in the period 1980-2001 – still see trade shows as having a vital role to play in the overall business / marketing mix. This is seen as a key finding, given that many of the older millennials may now be at a point in their careers when they are the prime decision makers with regard to corporate participation in expos and other trade-related events.

The findings come as part of a survey undertaken by Germany's EBS University of Business and Law and commissioned by Messe Frankfurt, the organiser of a number of high-profile trade events, including Heimtextil, Ambiente and Cosmetica. Commenting on the results of the research, Wolfgang Marzin, Messe Frankfurt's Chief Executive, said: "For us, it's very encouraging that, in spite of ever-increasing digitalisation, millennials still value personal interaction, something very much at the heart of the trade-show experience."

Among the most compelling findings of the survey was the importance many millennials place on face-to-face networking – as both a business tool and a means of career development – listing this as their primary goal when attending a trade event. Overall, 18.1% of respondents – the largest figure for any one category – cited "networking opportunities" as the most important element of any trade show.

In second place, at 17%, was "publicity / press opportunities", closely followed by "strengthening relationships with existing customers" at 16.9%, which was, in turn, even more closely followed by "exposure to innovation" at 16.5%. Languishing at the bottom of the table, then, at 16% and 15.5% were "economic business reasons" and "launching a new product / service", respectively.

This sentiment was reflected in a further question, which asked millennials: "What is important to you when deciding which trade show to participate in?" "Networking opportunities" (27.5%) again took the top slot, followed by "engaging / interactive events" (22.1%) and "size / reputation of the show in question" (20.7%). The two least important elements for the interviewed millennials were "atmosphere" (16.7%) and the level of "entertainment" on offer in the host city (13.5%).

Perhaps counterintuitively, given the high value put on networking by many trade-show-visiting millennials, a sizable number of the respondents demonstrated a degree of uncertainty and a lack of confidence when it came to making an initial overture to fellow event delegates. While 50.7% of interviewees maintained that they were wholly relaxed about engaging strangers at an event without any prior introduction, almost as many (49.3%) confessed they found such a situation "awkward" and maintained that they would welcome any mechanism that smoothed the way to stress-free peer-to-peer interaction.

As a result, event organisers, regardless of level or industry sector, would be well-advised to factor in ice-breaking events that allow the more recalcitrant millennials to get on first-name terms with many of their peers and contemporaries. With this in mind, many of the respondents indicated that they particularly valued curated networking events, which facilitated introductions to appropriate third parties, and show-centric networking apps that brought a touch of Tinder to identifying the ideal business match at a Japanese fashion show or a Dusseldorf wingnut expo.

In conclusion, as well as urging the wider use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) as means to lure the geekier millennials out from behind their tablets, the report also recommended that show organisers capitalise on the FOMO phenomenon as a means of building event loyalty among this increasingly enfranchised generation.

Explaining just what this entails, Diane Robers, Professor of Management Practice at the EBS University, said: "It's really down to organisers to harness the FOMO factor – the Fear Of Missing Out – and to conceive their trade events in a way that visitors and exhibitors want to be part of their community at all costs – ideally before, during and after the event proper."

Oliver Ehrhardt, Frankfurt Office

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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