This is probably going to be ironic, taking the fact that Jublia is a event tech startup, and we should be evangelising on digital benefits for your business, rather than the opposite.
However, after reading this insightful article on Harvard Business Review, I believe it should be put into the context of our industry to provide an alternative viewpoint.
I would like to present the 4 points discussed in the HBR article, and put them in context of our industry.
1. Network effects: The winner does not always take all.
Network effects can drive consolidation and in some cases inevitably, there’s only one big winner in the game (like Facebook in the social media category). However as the article explains that while, “many business models that make extensive use of digital technology have network-type properties”, it is also a “misconception to think that network effects inevitably and always lead to a winner-take-all market”.
In our industry of exhibitions and conferences, there is typically no winners take all situations. The fragmentation of our industry is a strong testament to this and as well as the fact that while we have huge events in every industry, these huge events actually command a minority market share in the industry itself.
Therefore, while digitising your business can give you an edge over your competition (especially when your customers have to make a choice), it is not going to drive out all competitions as “digital disruption” are known for.
2. Complements are not substitutes.
The second misconception, as the article notes is that “digital disruption is that new technology will inevitably substitute old technology, rendering it obsolete”. A few years ago, virtual events were all the rage and many people feared that their underlying event business model is threatened by virtual events. However, virtual events found itself to be a hype, and died out not long afterwards.
Virtual events never managed to replace in-person events.
However, what led on from there was the digitisation of events, where digital tools are introduced as complementary to the event itself, rather than replace it. While some organisers introduce digital marketplace platforms, they were only aimed at bolstering the event brands, in a bid to provide a more wholesome buy-sell experience with a mix of hybrid digital and onsite experience.
The article could not have said it better: “Business models and competitive advantages are complex systems. This means that they consist of multiple elements – some of them tangible; some intangible – which interact with one another, meaning that it is their combination that makes it work. In many markets, digital will just add one new factor to the mix or replace one element, but not often all of them. This means that in many businesses, digital technology will complement and alter the incumbents’ existing resources and capabilities, but it certainly won’t always entirely replace them altogether. Therefore, when making strategy, the focus should be on identifying complements, rather than assuming complete substitution.”
I will let you decide if the “event apps will replace your physical catalogs” pitches that you are receiving from vendors make any sense now.
3. Geography (still) matters
Basically this points prove why exhibitions and conferences still holds a huge lead on digital platforms where physical interactions must be facilitated. This also tell us that the technology that you may employ in your events should not be left to work out itself. You always need a team of concierges/specialists to ensure that your customers is getting the maximum value from your events with the right digital tools to automate and ease the facilitation process (for example, meetings scheduling is an impersonal process that can be automated).
This is why Jublia always advocate a Technology-First approach, rather than a Technology-Only approach to your events.
4. Speed? Not so fast.
Hype versus the real deals. Digitisation of events have brought opportunists who sell hypes, rather than technologies that really work. The results of ‘all-in-one digital platforms’ and ‘features laden event apps’ have been paltry at best.
While early adopters may get a bigger lead on their peers, it is important to benchmark the underlying claims made by providers, to see if you are really riding on a hype train, or the real deal. To do that, set key KPIs against the providers claims to see if the technology really works, and if it translate to tangible benefits for your organisation, and constantly iterate the technology use-cases against how your customers are reacting to them.
And as the article sounds out: “If your company is in an environment in which new technologies come and go quickly, you may need to slow down rather than speed up. Given the level of market uncertainty, you will really only be able to distinguish the fads from the more substantial developments after some time has passed. It may sound paradoxical, but in an environment of rapid change, sometimes trying to match that speed can backfire.“