The company had already offered two editions of its virtual happenings PlanetIMEX, which lasted a week with an idea of a “virtual event”. Based on these experiences, and after listening to their community, they conclude that rather than a virtual event, the solution is an online community in a very flexible format, with various opportunities for learning and connections. “The IMEX BuzzHub is designed to give tangible value to our buyers and suppliers and, ultimately, to set them up for success at IMEX America,” explains Carina Bauer. “With so much of our industry still in flux, and expectations and attention levels changing so fast, we’ve added plenty of time and space for networking, for meeting new people with shared interests and for business conversations. We’ve combined the formal with the informal, all the time remembering that people want to get a fix on the current state of the industry and, most importantly, the ‘who’s who’ of its community.”
The show is still the real thing. Carina sees clearly that the physical trade show will remain the centre of the IMEX experience. “Online works a little bit but does not provide the experience nor brings the same value. Good trade shows are the marketplace hubs which make things happen. You can’t replicate the power of a trade show online”. And this is especially true in an industry where human relationships are vital, and clients can be anywhere around the world and are not easy to reach. “Small companies don’t have the ability to meet many clients, they need the trade shows for that”, she adds. Sure, a good online matching system should work and people can have one-to-one meetings online: “But that just doesn’t work well; commitment is much lower online and you lack the quality of a face-to-face meeting”. You also miss the serendipity which brings you new opportunities and ideas.
Technology and human behaviour still make online connections imperfect. One limit of online connections is that technology is still imperfect compared to human decisions. “We are on our third platform of AI to introduce you to relevant people; it is good… but is still not efficient enough compared to a trade show. When people select their appointments prior to the show, they use their human judgement which we see is still much better than AI”. Another limit is what you have experienced in this past year: “Online, commitment is very different. If you travel to an event, you are really present, committed; which does not really happen online”.
Buzzhub: keeping people connected. “The idea of Buzzhub is not really to substitute the power of face-to-face interactions: it is to connect people on a personal level. We focused on what was of value to our community now. We could not do the Frankfurt show since the beginning of the pandemic, and we know from our conversations and focus groups that people have lost connection, so we thought how we could help them in this context, putting human connections at the heart of the solution and helping them build relationships with other professionals. We also learned about what people want to talk about, what expertise they want to give, and crowdsourced the content”.
The result is a complete platform combining connections and education. “We offer a number of activities: keynote sessions, four buzz days dedicated to specific themes and combining speakers and traditional content, with opportunities for one-to-one networking. And in June we will have the “let’s talk” sessions, short curated events on specific roundtable topics with facilitators, where people can share their experience. We are also playing with networking technologies involving fun activities”.
Buzzhub is also a platform for IMEX’ partners too: MPI, SITE, the GCB will organise sessions in the platform.
A free, year-round platform. The platform is used for both shows, and is free for anyone, even without being an exhibitor or attendee of the shows. One objective is also to broaden the community: “We know many people don’t come to the show, for instance marketing people or PA’s, who don’t see themselves as meeting planners. This platform can get them to participate and connect, even if they don’t participate in the show”.
Not an online event: a new way of thinking the physical/digital complementarity. “We held two editions of planet IMEX last year, a one-week long event, akin to an online event. We are very happy to have done it, but did not want to hold another week-long digital event. Rather than thinking about it as an online event, we think about it as digital. We are also happy to experiment and to offer the learnings to other planners so they can see what they want to apply”. So rather than a one-off moment, all the content is bite-sized with the idea that people can join when it suits them, without giving up days of their time. In this, the idea is not a virtual event, rather an online community which keeps connected in a flexible way as suits their agenda.
A complement to the shows. The idea is that people connect online and then meet on the shows. It could end up being a year-round community for the meetings industry. In this highly uncertain world, where we are all trying to understand how physical and digital will complement each other, it will be interesting to see how this new format will work.