The challenge posed by millennials to the exhibitions industry EuropeExpert Opinion

Carolina Delpozo of Messe Frankfurt Argentina speaks to CEO Fernando Gorboran, taking a look at how the exhibitions industry is changing worldwide, and what companies need to do to keep up with the times.

Innovative, self-assured and flexible: millennials, that is to say, the generation born between 1980 and 1996, are growing up and holding more executive positions in the marketing and sales departments of companies.

This represents a great challenge for the industry of exhibitions. How do we plan attractive B2B events for this audience, who are used to living in the digital world? What do they expect from future and potential participants?

A recent study from Germany’s EBS University of Business and Law, in cooperation with Messe Frankfurt, the largest organizing company of events and exhibitions with its own premises worldwide, provided some interesting data that sheds some light on the issue.

The research indicates that, despite the advance of digitization and the wide range of online communication possibilities, millennials still value personal interaction and see trade fairs as an ideal “mixture” of marketing.

More than a quarter of the surveyed people, all young men and women from 18 to 30 years old, stated that access to contact networks is a key factor to visit exhibitions. And though almost half of them admitted to having some inhibitions about approaching unknown people, actions and networking apps facilitate this task: they use it as the first step to the necessary personal contact.

Fernando Gorbaran, president and CEO of Messe Frankfurt Argentina, says: “The industry is currently facing two important challenges that go hand in hand. One of them is growing digitization, and the other is this great generational change that brings about new needs, and a different view of the world in general that demands new kinds of events.

“Millennials know that a lot of what you can get in a traditional exhibition – contacts, news, networks – can be achieved through their phones. Why do they choose to take part in exhibitions, then? It is a discussion which has been held for a long time in the sector, but I believe we should not be alarmed. It is a matter of listening to the different target groups and aligning their needs with the corresponding industrial sector.”


Appealing to emotions, and a sense of belonging 

The research findings suggest that, in order to be attractive for millennials, exhibitions should turn themselves into more emotional experiences, something that visitors and exhibitors do not want to miss.  Specialists call this feeling “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out”).

It comes to design proposals in such a way that everybody wants to form part of this community, both before, during and after the event. For this reason, exhibitions should develop in a more precise and differentiated way, with new items such as renowned speakers and the use of virtual and augmented reality. The interactive events and the size and reputation of them are also key factors.

Gorboran continues: “In our case, we are developing more user-friendly websites, as well as implementing self-service registration systems in the premises and apps to facilitate access to information. Experiences such as live customization of a car or skills competitions have also given us very good results. Even in some events we have hired actors that interact with visitors and generate a better interaction between the audience and the exhibitors”, he adds.

Gorbarán states that the idea is not competing against digitization and generational changes, but quite the opposite: “Messe Frankfurt as a company has organized fairs for 778 years in Germany and in the rest of the world. In Argentina we have organized exhibitions with decades of history, such as Automechanika Buenos Aires or BIEL Light + Building, and we even generate new ones, such as the International Motorcycle Show of Argentina, which will have its first edition this year. This shows that the business is more alive than ever, but you have to know how to read the industry, adapt to changes and be constantly creative.”

Stuart Wood