Online trade fairs not very popular with European architects
The corona crisis has impacted society in many ways, but it also impacted the construction industry. In some countries the entire industry ground to a halt, building volumes took a big hit and the production was severely hampered by supply chain issues and lower productivity levels.
One way in which the construction industry has been impacted might be less obvious, but the impact is very profound; the changes in orientation behaviour. In the last couple of years, the orientation behaviour of, in this case, European architects, already become more multi-channel, with online sources increasing strongly. The number of media sources being used for orientation is increasing year on year.
It's very interesting to note that architectural portals, manufacturers websites, and social media usage were growing rapidly before the corona crisis.
That being said, as a result of the traditional nature of the construction industry, personal contact remained very important. In fact, personal contact, for example with representatives from the manufacturer, increased in importance despite the ongoing digitalisation (or perhaps even due to this, as a counterbalance).
But then a global pandemic hit us. To track the changes in orientation behaviour, we decided to focus on this topic in the European architectural barometer Q1 2021 report (quarterly survey amongst 1,000 European architects in 8 countries). We have a good basis for comparison, as we conducted a similar media orientation research just before the outbreak of the corona crisis (Q1 2020).
Now there are many interesting trends and outcomes in this report. For example, the accelerated growth of digital media sources used in general and online webinars and architectural platforms/portals specifically.
Going into detail for all of the trends and changes would make this article way too long, so I would like to focus here on one particularly interesting observation revolving around tradeshows.
Tradeshows have always been a very important venue in the European construction industry. Obviously, even before the corona crisis, there were some slow and gradual changes. For example, the bigger (international) tradeshows were gaining importance, at the cost of the smaller local shows. Furthermore, the very nature of the tradeshows has been slowly changing, moving away from a more narrow product focus to a broader solution & innovation focus.
Due to the corona crisis, the organisers behind the various tradeshows in Europe needed to adapt. It's become quite clear that regular, physical tradeshows were (and still are) not possible. The initial reaction was to postpone the tradeshows, hoping for better days. After that, many tradeshows opted to go for a digital approach. You would think that this would be a good bet, given the ongoing digitalisation and the improved platforms that could accommodate such events. But, as the title of this article already suggests, these online variants are not very popular, at least amongst architects.
Almost 70% of European architects state that they do not participate in online trade fairs. When asked about the physical tradeshow, the numbers are reversed. Almost 75% of all European architects state they would like to participate in physical tradeshows again. I think this has to do with the nature of tradeshows. It's all about connecting (personally) and physically seeing and experiencing new products and solutions. Trying to digitalise this is very difficult and there are many digital sources already available that do this already (and perhaps better). Furthermore, this also fits the general trend we see; a longing for the return of physical/personal events.
Now there are some key differences per country. About 60% of all architects mention they do participate in online tradeshows in Italy. In the Netherlands and Belgium, this is only 20%. Furthermore, when we asked the European architects about their opinion about online tradeshows as a good source of information, the majority were more negative than positive. Again, there are some key differences per country, but overall, more architects were negative than positive in all countries except for Spain and Italy.
Overall, we can conclude that not all events in the construction industry can easily be converted to an online format. It's obvious from the data we collected from the European architects that tradeshows clearly fall into this category. Even when the circumstances favour such an approach (long term trend towards more digitalisation, the corona crisis and improved technical solutions). And it's not the case that architects are not utilizing more digital sources, as we clearly see increased usage of digital media sources like architectural portals and social media.
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