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Lively exchange

Expos are face-to-face marketplaces. Digital technologies allow the creation of virtual platforms, which, with proper design, can match up to the personal touch and obligingness of direct human interaction.

istinct contours, spacious glass facades and impressive pillars – that's how the exterior of the expo hall looked in virtual space. What looked like the rendering produced on an architect's draft board or a computer game was the entrance to the Virtual Expo & Conference for the event industry, in short Vexcon. Considerable love for detail was invested into the visual impression to reproduce the feel and look of an expo. A click on the entrance took visitors to the lobby, and really: you could've believed you're actually in an expo entrance hall.

The next click took visitors either to the exhibitor zone or to the conference area, where there was quite a lot to be learned. Eleven presentations were scheduled on the first expo day. The presenters/lecturers each had their own stand to answer any detailed questions after their presentation. The organizing Xing Events as well as ten other partners were represented at the exhibition centered on event-technology and marketing. The première was staged on December 5 and 6 of last year; average attendance per presentation was at between 100 and 150 persons. "We're delighted the event was accepted so well", said Antje Schwuchow, Xing Events' organizer of the show. The idea emerged in September 2017; the first invitations sent out in October 26 triggered 1,115 registrations. The password was requested by 550 interested parties, about 50% of the registrants, and 383 persons ultimately attended the Vexcon.

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As was demonstrated at the Vexcon 2017, welcoming visitors in virtual mode with a personal touch is also an option.

There are numerous options to present concepts and products in the Internet, so is there really any need for virtual expos as temporary platforms? Absolutely, said Martin Schulz. He's convinced that virtual expos are travel-time savers for visitors, exhibitors and speakers alike. The computer scientist is the owner of Ms Consult in Darmstadt providing the technical platform for staging virtual exhibitions. Expo IP is the name of the product also supplying the basis for Vexcon. Despite the travel time saved, there is still a lot of preparation time required to set up a virtual expo. Digital stands need to be designed and built, all communication material must be drafted and produced as for a real-world event as well. Personnel needs to be assigned and trained and must be on duty whenever visitors enter the stand.

As successful as the format may be, Antje Schwuchow considers virtual expos to be a flanking measure in the marketing mix and not a substitute for events requiring physical presence. Moreover, this tool is suited above all for setting up contacts and acquisition of new customers. Roland Kümin is also convinced that conventional analog shows will retain if not even increase their significance for relationship management. The chief executive officer of the digital platform provider Balluun has observed that the customer journey has changed and that customers use digital channels to considerably sophisticate their information base. However, personal encounters are essential for developing just the proper confidence-building needed for contract conclusion. Kümin is convinced that the steps leading to that moment may be digitally designed, for example by way of establishing industry-specific social commerce platforms for continuous exchange, thus upholding interaction within the industry between trade-fair dates such as are realized in technical terms by Balluun. This is certainly an option for expo organizers to occupy and utilize digital channels for their own purposes, even if technology affinity in Germany isn't quite as developed as it is in Asia. GWEN KAUFMANN