ITB aftermath: market transformation through crisis
The cancellation of travel's big trade show, ITB, marked disaster for business, while for employees they got the opportunity to avoid several intense days of meandering halls and exhibition stands, networking with distant acquaintances. But the very work we do here is essential to the survival of the marketplace.
Face-to-face meetings still allow us to have conversations we would not have digitally, and gives us a platform to connect with an audience that is hard to reach beyond our own networks. Conferences allow people to connect the dots and see the opportunities ahead, which we don't get in the confines of our offices and team. These events give us the chance to deepen relationships and explore new frontiers.
For those of us who work in marketing, our roles are becoming complex and challenging; we're working in crowded markets where we have to cut through the noise. With so many channels, and voices we have to be distinct and recognisable, we have to connect with our audiences and provide value.
Digital marketing has driven a focus on performance that has resulted in transactional marketing where we see an increase in sales but a decrease in brand affinity and loyalty. Social media is being compromised by fake news, sales messages, increasing amounts of advertising and retargeting with messy narratives.
Companies are having to ensure it has the right infrastructure, the right levels of engagement on a more personalised level, using more and more data - all of which needs to connect and contribute to commercial business goals.
And when the market is hit by a catastrophe - like we are experiencing with the coronavirus - the narrative is about the health pandemic and not on sales. Businesses are focusing on customer retention and business continuity - not market growth.
The cancellation of ITB means small and growing businesses and independent consultants are going to be hit hardest in the first instance, in time larger businesses will see the impact cancellations will have on their pipeline and survival - if not immediately felt.
On the expectation that ITB may be cancelled my agency went into overdrive, it was time to build contingency plans - what can we do to help our clients access their market, build presence and develop partnerships, if we can't do it in person? We knew we had to be one of the first to get out to market with digital alternatives.
Building the initiative
On the eve of ITB cancellation, there was enough in the news to indicate it would be cancelled within 24-hours. Insider contacts didn't give us enough confidence it would go ahead. This is when I started to put the contingency plan into place.
Using the plethora of web technologies, I knew it was possible to deliver a version of ITB to a global audience. A background in broadcasting, podcasting and video-blogging - as well as running corporate webinars, the technology was available, together with accessible digital marketing channels to have a platform to run a live virtual conference.
Making use of my long-developed contacts, calling in a few favours, and developing some new relationships along the way - with the team at Funnel TV and WHTT we launched the Digital Travel Show, all within 72 hours.
It's one thing having the technology, but it's another to have the content. This was key - not to just entice participants to join our webcast, but to grab the attention of our global audience, bring an audience to watch the programmes, and have material that could live way beyond the event.
In the last 20 years digital technologies and the internet has given us the chance to work from anywhere, live anywhere, hold video conference calls instead of in person meetings. We can even compete with the traditional media using our own multimedia marketing channels.
This has however led to an exasperation of content, all with the same narrative and all vying for the same audience. At this time in crisis, we need to look within ourselves at what is in reach; what do we do well, how and where are we experts; we need to utilise the skills and resources available to us to keep budgets trim, and we need to look toward collaboration to spread our net as wide as we possibly can.
What did I learn from the cancellation of ITB
1. It's not the end of the world. In fact, it's time to re-centre and focus on the commercial aims of the our end-customers
2. Technology is accessible and stable, providing a range of tools for the delivery of creative content
3. Your contacts are there and ready to be used, working collaboratively to solve a problem results in reaching a wider network
4. Focus on the audience, what do you want to give them. Deliver meaningful, insightful and educational content which will give your audience something to take away and implement
5. Use all the channels available to you; don't limit what you do to being purely online, and call in favours to help extend the reach of what you want to achieve
6. Be humble, transparent and inclusive - in difficult times, we don't have the time to outcast people and we don't have time for egos. By working together we can achieve more
7. Creativity - think inside your box - forget what everyone else is doing. They're all playing copycat.
8. Take a risk you have nothing to lose. Have confidence in your ideas and be prepared to learn
In my 20 years of working, I've learnt most from the mistakes I've made - and sometimes our biggest mistake is doing nothing at all!