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The future of matchmaking in the exhibition industry

My article in the magazine Exhibition World issue 2/2016:

The perfect exhibition matchmaking solution remains a golden goose, but entering the visitor’s mindset is the key, says MBB Media’s Matthias Tesi Baur.

As companies enthusiastically debate the opportunities that online brings for matching a visitor’s interest online, companies are fighting for attention with new innovations to help bring better informed visitors to shows with better customer satisfaction rates representing the end goal.

Having so many different event organisers working tirelessly on such a hot topic for such a long time would, one would assume, have resulted in the highest industry matchmaking standards and a range of world class solutions. The truth is, however, that registering on some event websites still leaves users with the feeling that the industry has not even entered the ‘nearly there’ stage of matchmaking solutions.

No solution really seems to hit the nail on the head yet. So what is blocking the exhibition industry in its quest to provide good usable matchmaking solutions for its target groups and what have we missed in the last decade?
The industry is hot on the trail of the allusive solution, according to Gunnar Heinrich from Adventics, who says matchmaking is one of the top 10 fields the exhibition industry is investigating but many of them are lacking business success. But there are some good examples too. One pioneer in the field of digital matchmaking is Messe Frankfurt with their website productpilot.com. “Product Pilot was the inevitable answer to the always growing demand of 365 online matchmaking also between the shows and the traffic on the website has never stopped growing since the launch in 2006” says Klaus Reinke, chief of corporate strategy and operations, Messe Frankfurt.

Another is UBM which celebrated some success with a matchmaking service offered at their Food Ingredients shows. Interestingly this service does not rely on one particular technology. The success is based on a methodology where visitors’ interest is captured in person, and then using existing technology and social media channels, they find a match with an exhibitor and feed this match back to the visitor again in person. A match making solution using the strength of a face to face meeting – what a surprise for the ‘face to face industry’.

The big lesson that can be learned from this example is that, while the never-ending search by the industry for the one and only ‘one stop shop’ matchmaking technology could prevail in the future, it seems one stand alone solution might be a bridge too far. Instead, technology might need to be combined with people power and a range of strategies.
A successful matchmaking solution is first and foremost not a technology. It is a methodology that helps the potential show visitor to find the product or service they demand along each step of their journey. What that helping hand looks like varies according to what stage the user finds their desired solution.

If the user has not visited the relevant show, this helping hand might be offered through a post in a social media channel. If the visitor has registered, it might come in the form of a featured exhibitor in an email. When the user visits the show, it might be a face to face meeting, as demonstrated at the Food Ingredients show.

Combining these different “helping hands” to create a “solution journey” that offers the user help at each single step during their search for products and solutions could be the winning formula to providing a world class matchmaking methodology. This means stepping back from the idea that one technology will solve the users’ demand.
Once we’ve moved away from the holy grail of a one-stop shop technology driven solution, we can start to understand what matchmaking could look like in future. Matching a business interest needs to vary depending on the situation. Importantly, a user will not always have a trade show in their mind when they try to find a matching solution for their demand.

A perfect match to a business problem is not always a product or a service. Whilst some might feel that this might hurt our marketing directors it could offer a huge opportunity for the industry once we understand that matchmaking starts far before a user even thinks about visiting a show. It could also be a press article, a piece of research, an association or another business user who has not thought about visiting a specific trade show. Matching solutions can come in different forms at different times.

The matchmaking of the exhibition industry in the future will capture the users’ interest wherever and whenever he needs help and it will start in many ways from social media to face to face and even independently from the show that is relevant for the user.

It may even start at a point when the user doesn’t even realise the show that is relevant to him. It will also provide the specific piece of help the user needs at exactly the right point in time and not more.
By having matched a first interest the opportunity is then to nurture the user and provide him with more solutions that fit his needs to lead him finally to his most relevant show – maybe as an exhibitor or maybe as a visitor.

In this way the matchmaking of the future will be a holistic solution that nurtures potential exhibitors and visitors and it will be far more than matching existing visitors’ needs to existing exhibitors’ solutions. We need to step back from the idea that only one technology will help us and we even need to step back from our shows a bit to understand how a matchmaking methodology that is purely based on the user’s need can help us to develop the exhibition industry.

Please review the article in Exhibition World magazine.

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