No question that the coronavirus already has made a massive impact on our lives. The lockdowns and quarantines have made us work from home using tools to communicate such as Zoom, Skype, Teams, Go-To and many more. We see empty airports and closed shops everywhere so obviously; everything has already changed. The ever-recurring question is whether everything will revert to "normal" after the crisis or the changes impact everything forever?
In a series of conversations over the past couple of weeks, a surprising development is becoming more and more evident. Tradeshows have lost their importance from at least one perspective. Tradeshows can't be the centre of product launches anymore.
For decades the four years cycle of drupa has been the natural cycle of product developments. With the postponement of drupa, four, maybe even longer, product development cycles planned around the 2020 edition, has caused many headaches in the industry. Some vendors may be able to continue the development of products and wait till drupa 2021 before publishing information about these. Others can't wait since years of planning, and even months of launch preparations, need to push the products. Customers and market demands don't change because of a virus, and many vendors have chosen to launch their products despite everything.
So many vendors have now decided never to develop products in cycles based on a tradeshow like drupa. The question is, of course, how this influence the importance of a tradeshow in general? A couple of days ago, the American organization Association Print Technologies (APTech) held a virtual conference with more than 400 attendees. Canon Solutions America also announced its thINK Ahead event to be virtual in 2020, and companies like HP have already conducted virtual press conferences and more.
Nobody questions the need for having physical rendezvous's, though these will most likely be under other conditions after the corona as well. Will we shake hands with people we don't know? Will we hug close friends? Will the 'french kiss' disappear completely? Many questions that will impact how we interact but also raise the questions why Tradeshows should be held?
The simple answer is, yes!
When the things we know are questioned, it naturally leads to considerations about the alternatives. And the alternatives are often better. Events such as the ThinkSmartFactory event last year, was way more valuable for Horizon and their partners. Of course, fewer attendees, but as General Manager, Global Business, Yoshihiro Oe from Horizon International explains - "we can show end-to-end solutions in a way that isn't possible at tradeshows."
We also know for a fact that exhibitors at drupa often aren't able to influence the location of their booths and therefore can end up with partners far away from each other, creating a logistic nightmare.
We have also heard from significant players, in the industry, that the number of new qualified leads and the ROI of shows like drupa is decreasing.
The result of the corona is evidently that quite a few vendors will re-think their product launch strategies. It will also lead to considerations about participating at the large tradeshows - a lot of rumours are currently about major exhibitors considering not to attend the re-scheduled drupa - so quite exciting to see who will exhibit and who won't.
It's however, also a fact that many vendors will NOT plan their future product launches around drupa anymore. I believe it will lead to a higher level of competition and more frequent product launches since when new products are ready to be launched - why wait for a tradeshow?
The networking part and the physical get-togethers will find new ways I believe. With all the electronic communications tools around, certainly, we can easily communicate, but the physical interaction is way more important than we might have thought before the lockdowns.
Seeing the closed retail outlets, the closed airports, the empty streets are really sad and being such an indispensable part of our culture makes it difficult to believe this won't come back. However, online businesses have thrived during the crisis, and we should all remember that what drives the development of new things is, of course, how we as consumers react. If we want tradeshows, the consumer can force the industry to think different - but I find it unlikely since even drupa is maybe too big - to be really fun?
With crisis and recessions, innovation thrives, and I am a firm believer that humans will always find better solutions to all the problems we face. History has so far proved me right.