Review of Krones’ first virtual fair

It was an experiment with an uncertain outcome: our first purely digital trade fair. Like so many other things since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, our virtual booth for interpack 2020 was not the result of long-term planning but a very spontaneous – and in some points concomitantly improvised – solution to a burning problem. For us at Krones, trade fairs play a vital role, firstly because we develop complex technological products for the B2B market – and these can best be explained in a personal face-to-face conversation with the future users. And secondly because live events offer us an opportunity to nurture personal contacts with our clients, coming as they do from all over the world, outside day-to-day business as well. But what do you do when it’s impossible for the customers to visit the fair? It’s obvious, isn’t it? You take the fair to the clients – in the shape of a virtual booth on the net.

Only a few short weeks lay between the decision to sidestep the coronavirus by adopting this new approach and the virtual fair’s actual launch on 28 April. Theoretically, we could have taken some more time because the hands-on interpack 2020 would not have begun before mid-May. But – let’s not be shy to admit it: we wanted to be the first to open a virtual interpack booth.

A pragmatically enthusiastic heave-ho operation

That we would in the end actually succeed in doing that was not always crystal-clear as the project proceeded: based on a spontaneous decision, tackled in a heave-ho mode, and in its entirety translated into virtual reality by colleagues from various specialist departments working from home – there was indeed no shortage of obstacles, both anticipated and unexpected ones. But if one of these proved to be insurmountable, in the end there was invariably a feasible way of at the very least bypassing it. Summing up the project team’s mood in two words? “Enthusiastic pragmatism” seems to be very apposite.

This applies not least and most emphatically to how the live chats were implemented. On three successive days of the fair, these offered visitors an opportunity for directly exchanging news and views with experts from a variety of Krones’ specialist departments and subsidiaries. For us, this was entirely virgin territory that at first gave rise to a bunch of open questions: not only did a suitable system have to be chosen within a few short days and integrated into the website, we also and especially had to ensure familiarisation with the system concerned for our colleagues who were to be available for the live chat from home by means of video-conferencing and to prepare them for the event. And even though everyone involved gladly embarked on this experiment, and sundry technical slip-ups during training were simply laughed away good-temperedly – the questions constantly hovering in the background were these: will it pay off in the end? Will visitors welcome at all the virtual fair and live chats?

One-off experiment, or pilot event of the series?

After three days of the booth totalling 24 hours of live chats, we know the answer: right on the day the virtual booth was opened, we sent out a reminder mailing to our newsletter subscribers. Quite literally one minute later, hundreds of curious visitors were already happily clicking through the exhibits, and the chat partners were receiving the first queries. Ranging from general conversations on matters of service support all the way through to detailed questions on our products, everything was included in the mix. Measured by the number of hits and chat queries, the Varioline proved to be the clear front-runner. That is hardly surprising since it was in actual fact the prominent main exhibit on the stand.

To the question of “Was it all worthwhile?” we can with quite a bit of relief unequivocally answer: “Yes, most definitely!” Firstly, we found that our customers, present and prospective, are very receptive when it comes to virtual fairs and are eager to take part. Secondly, over the course of the project we put a steep learning curve behind us, with all of the insights gained benefiting us in our next try. Because one thing is certain: even though the virtual booth for interpack was a unique experiment for us in many respects – it is not going to be a one-off thing. The next online fair will come round for sure – and we’re already looking forward to it!