The chance to meet with the cream of the toy business, hand picked out of the tens of thousands of people who attend the show is just priceless in terms of making progress and also in terms of career management. Over time, strong relationships begin and are reinforced every year with face-to-face meetings (in normal circumstances).
So, to then consider the challenges and opportunities of digital and hybrid shows, we must of course acknowledge that physical trade shows like Spielwarenmesse are second to none in terms of the effectiveness of doing business. But in times like these, whereby an unexpected pandemic has curtailed trade shows we obviously had to consider alternatives to physical shows in order to achieve what we needed to achieve.
Digital trade show formats to the rescue
Digital events and interactions with customers have helped most companies successfully manage business and to keep moving forward throughout the pandemic, throughout the restrictions on local and international travel and in the absence of physical meetings. It has been impressive how effectively the toy trade has pivoted to digital/remote presentation formats as circumstances required.
There are of course some drawbacks to digital trade shows and product presentations versus physical shows. Around the normal time of product previews, nearly everybody we spoke to complained of Zoom fatigue, of how hard it was to try to create magic without being face to face (physically) with customers. Both for the seller and buyer, video and PowerPoint presentations repeated ad nauseum became extremely wearisome.
Based on the feedback we received from our friends and colleagues, and based on some conversations with professional events organisers, we found that above all in a situation where everybody is stuck with a remote presentation format, you really need to try to break out from the norm which everybody else is following. This can be having presenters in interesting places doing crazy things, it might include interesting backgrounds, hiring celebrity presenters, animation, creating super compelling video introductions or playing games with the people you are presented to. While some businesses have seen lack of physical trade shows as an excuse to cut costs and to deliver very dry and frankly boring presentations, some have secured more buyer concentration and focus on their products by delivering sales information in an entertaining way.
Like all trade shows success comes from follow up. In fact, if there is one key truth I have learnt from attending 20 Spielwarenmesse shows, it is that the follow up to the show is just as important as participating in the show in the first place. This is especially the case with digital meetings and presentations, as Zoom call overload soon starts to blur one meeting into the next. Following up meetings to ensure buyers noticed the products you needed them to notice and that they have your product range front of mind is critical as they try to distil all the many products they viewed into the much smaller selection they can run.
Looking forward– Hybrid trade shows
Before too long the COVID-19 pandemic will just be a bad memory, and some degree of normality will resume. At this point we will be able to get back to enjoying those many benefits from attending physical trade shows – the ad hoc meetings in the Halls, or in the bars and restaurants, the chance to physically shake hands on a deal – all these things will return.
Alongside the return of physical trade shows though will be an enhanced digital presentation and reference capability across the toy trade. Outside of show season, the websites of toy trade shows (i.e. spielwarenmesse.de) are one of the most valuable information resources we can have. Looking forward we can expect to see ramped up digital offerings both during shows and afterwards. The pandemic may continue to affect travel for some countries and regions for longer than others, so for toy people from those affected areas, they should be able to still participate remotely to some degree henceforth.
But even long after the pandemic has faded away, toy companies should now be paying as much attention to their digital footprint for trade shows and product presentation season as they do to their booth design. It is normal for companies to spend big money on making sure their physical booths properly represent their brands and products. But the key learning come out of the pandemic should be that high quality remote presentations and maximized usage of online platforms offered by leading toy trade shows will yield good results.