Trade Show Blues: Exhibitions Go Virtual as Virus Spreads



Associated Press | U.S. News & World Report

Fine wines and hipster gin. Hunting rifles and knives. Contemporary paintings and million-dollar sports cars. They’re all marketed at trade events that are quickly going dark across the globe due to the new coronavirus – and taking with them sales opportunities that may be difficult to make up.

Some companies are taking their shows online with virtual events they stream from their headquarters to reach customers anyway.

But marketing experts and executives warn that there is no substitute for face-to-face contact with potential clients, as exhibition companies try to total up the losses being suffered by an industry that also pumps billions into hotels, restaurants and cabdriver’s wallets.

The Geneva International Motor Show resorted to putting automakers’ product unveilings and news conferences online Tuesday after this year’s show was cancelled. BMW presented its sleek i4 electric concept car at a digital news conference from Munich, while competitors Daimler and Volkswagen held their own online events.

The Geneva show was cancelled after local authorities barred gatherings of more than 1,000 people to halt the spread of the virus, which has sickened over 90,000 people globally and led to 3,100 deaths. While some car companies were already holding online presentations before the virus in an effort to expand their reach to social media, there is no real substitute to seeing a product in person or meeting people in the industry.

“It’s not just about purchases. For many products it is also about reinforcing a kind of community building,” said Gernot Gehrke, professor of management and event-industry marketing at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Hanover.

Trade shows, which can bring sales long after the initial contact, are “a point of contact in a customer journey, if you like, that aims at a stable relationship to customers, and also to people and organizations that might become customers

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