extendedThe Coronavirus made clear that there is a need to find a way to bring people together and if it is virtually, so that they feel like they’re together even when they’re not. Therefore, it is of no surprise that conference organizers try to do exactly that after the cancellation of most B2B events worldwide this year.

Especially the tech and XR (AR, VR, wearables, hearables, etc.) conferences are opting for bringing their content virtually to their community. Hence, real-and-virtual combined environments and human-machine interactions generated by computer technology and wearables, where the 'X' represents a variable for any current or future spatial computing technologies, are coming to the fore.

Exhibitors start to rely more and more on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to present their products and make complex issues understandable for trade fair visitors. What specific areas of application there are and how the significance of the trade fair as a marketing instrument will change due to digitization is what interests us.

An analogue instrument in a digital world

Unfortunately, interpersonal communication still can’t be replaced by digital technologies, especially not in the B2B area, where trade fairs are one of the most important marketing and sales tools. Exhibitors see personal contact as the greatest advantage over digital formats, which is why trade fairs remain a highly efficient instrument even in the digital age. The advantages are convincing, such as the opportunity for trust-building face-to-face contact and comprehensive customer advice, and that will most probably be good enough arguments to meet again in person when possible.

Please, keep in mind that the digital transformation in the trade fair area is about digitizing processes of the trade fair organization and offers for exhibitors and visitors - not the trade fair product itself. The trade fair organizers are required to look for ways to interlink the real world with digital channels. With mixed reality (MR) applications, exhibitors can offer a new quality of experience at the exhibition booth. Costs can be reduced, since exhibits no longer must be brought to the booth, but they are not a substitute for personal conversation.

Facing the challenges of B2B marketing communication

Formats, marketing content, distribution channels, type of products and even the role of marketing must adapt to the new digital requirements. Looking at events and trade fairs, this year has shown painfully how quickly creative solutions, an agile mindset, and technological know-how can be put on the agenda.

The fact is that the current crisis is good for VR, since due to social distancing measures, people need to be apart, but want to be together. For instance, due to the virus outbreak, HTC changed its annual Vive Ecosystem Conference (VEC) in China to a virtual world built by Engage, a product of Immersive VR Education. By advances in network technology participants could use any kind of VR and AR device, even a smartphone, to be present in the simulation. According to HTC, the Engage team added multilingual support, spatial conversations for 1:1 chats, and upgraded the server capacity to allow for up to 5k VR users live, representing a new standard for how industry events will be done in the future.

The advantages are reduced travel and production costs not to mention zero carbon to the environment! Win-win-win for organizers, speakers, attendees and the world!”

The Chinese word for "crisis” is, in Western popular culture since John F. Kennedy’s quote speech, frequently but incorrectly said to be composed of two Chinese characters signifying "danger" and "opportunity", whereby the latter means more something along the lines of "change points”. Anyway, what it symbolizes is to be aware of the danger in a crisis, but to recognize the opportunity/needed change, too.

Let’s just look at another good example to make this more clear: VictoryXR, an AR & VR school curriculum provider that also uses the Engage platform is in the process of becoming accredited in the United States (Iowa and California) as an online VR school.

Of course, we will continue having face-to-face meetings in the future, but more of them are going to use XR as things change. The time is over when marketing departments only had to print brochures and host events. Today, marketing can become a major sales driver when it embraces increasing requirements and complexity. With travel restrictions the future is getting local and sustainable, so technology, strategy and organization must work seamlessly together to succeed.

By Daniela La Marca