How to monetise hybrid events

Matthias Tesi Baur, CEO MBB-Consulting Group, shares a 75/25 onsite/online definition and much more of his thinking on the future shape of events.


or months, the entire industry has been talking about hybrid events and we have progressed greatly in defining and also offering first, good, hybrid best practice cases to our exhibitors and visitors. Every crisis comes with an opportunity and finally pushing digital solutions to a level that provides value to our customer is the direction we should take in the current situation.

We from MBB-Consulting have worked intensively in the last months to provide a report that contains a clear definition of a hybrid event and to create a framework that allows us to measure the depth of a hybrid event and, therefore, be in the position to rate the quality as well. Finally, we have just added a concept of how to monetise a hybrid event.

We placed the definition of a hybrid event on three pillars:

1. The change in utilising digital functions

Developing digital functions and services is not new in our industry. However, the nature of a hybrid tradeshow is different to the way we worked with digital tools before. A hybrid tradeshow should fulfil the following criteria:

• The USP of the tradeshow can be realised if a customer does not physically attend

• The benefit of a digital tool can be utilised even when a customer does not physically attend a tradeshow

However, attending a tradeshow should always be the ultimate goal for a customer to receive the full benefit.

2. The change in the meaning of the term ‘tradeshow’

So far, when we talked about a tradeshow, we meant the live show and particularly the days when a show is open for visitors.

The hybrid tradeshow describes all aspects of a platform, enabling business between exhibitors and visitors. This platform can come to life through the open days (old definition) but also through online formats such as online product tours, video on demand of conference content, digital matchmaking, online panel discussion, and so on.

In other words: We need to extend the word ‘tradeshow’ from the pure show to all formats that enable business, independently of these formats being online or offline.

3. The balance between onsite and online aspects of a tradeshow

We define this balance with a 75% focus on the onsite aspect and 25% on the online aspect. We have chosen this balance based on the strategic thought that the onsite aspect needs to be the main part of the USP and benefit and we believe that the face to face momentum is irreplaceable. However, having a 25% balance on the online aspects means that customers are able to enjoy a benefit even if they do not join the tradeshow onsite.

Based on this model the goal of a hybrid strategy is to strengthen the onsite aspect as well as provide benefit through the online aspects.

Using this definition, we developed a framework to enable exhibition organisers, show teams and also exhibitors and visitors to measure the depth of a hybrid tradeshow.

The framework first lists all available online channels such as blogs, webinars, 1-2-1 meetings, online networking lounges, etc. divided into the main online categories: Content & Resources, Networking & Communication and Brand & Product Awareness that can be used by hybrid events to provide value for exhibitors and visitors. In a second step we listed all possible exhibitor motivations in the framework such as brand building, lead generation, customer relationship management and many more. Finally, we rated every single online channel against every single exhibitor motivation on a scale from 1 (bad) to 5 (very good).

We worked with this hybrid framework and scanned more than 60 different tradeshow websites to date. The results are remarkable. At the moment our industry offers online channels in an unstructured way to exhibitors and visitors. A scan of key hybrid tradeshow websites in the food sector showed the same results: our industry is deep in an experimental phase regarding hybrid offers and clear hybrid event USP still need to be formed.

The described framework can be used as an anchor point to create such a hybrid USP, as it allows event teams and exhibitors to review past online activities and check which exhibitor motivations have been served or to build a future hybrid strategy that really serves what the exhibitor needs.

During a summer sprint of the Exhibition Think Tank to find the best hybrid event, we presented our definition and framework to all participants of the sprint and asked all groups to use the framework to find the best hybrid examples our industry had to offer in July. Around 100 industry professionals used the framework and reported back the result to the ETT Club. The results were astonishing and, in some way, shocking for our industry.

One best practice example that was discovered by the think tank came from Informa Asia. It was the online presence of Food & Hotel Asia (FHA), Saladplate and Food & Hotel Digital Week. Two examples came from Apple and Cisco. Quite eye opening that two companies we would hope to see as exhibitors are starting to create their own hybrid events now! A further example came from a company called Hopwine. This company collects product samples – in this case small wine bottles, packages a selection of up to six product samples and sends this package to the potential buyer. Once this is done the products are presented during an online session. This way the company creates a truly hybrid journey that brings sellers and buyers together.

Finally, our latest research focuses on how to make money with hybrid events. Most exhibitors do not like virtual tradeshows as much as live tradeshows but they plan to shift budgets away from onsite to digital products. This gives the industry the clear mission to develop better hybrid formats so that the shifted money stays in the industry instead of being spent with outside industry companies. In workshops we conducted it became very clear that isolated online events will struggle to make any substantial money. Instead of launching such isolated events an online strategy needs to be created that can be seen as a ‘touch point journey’ for the exhibitor to interact with buyers, to present his products or services or to conduct customer relation management. Each online event should be seen as a step on such a journey. Equally, a stand at a show or hybrid formats such as described above, are steps on such a journey. Offers to exhibitors that contain stands at show plus a wider range of touch points to the industry have a great monetisation potential as per our latest research. It is even possible to enter new forms of revenue if done in the right way: subscription and audience monetisation.