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News I published 15 May 2021

Online trade fairs not very popular with european architects

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 has already become more multi-channel, with online sources increasing strongly. The number of media sources being used for orientation is increasing year over 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. Personal contact, for example, with representatives from the manufacturer, increased in importance despite the ongoing digitalization (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 similar media orientation research just before the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis (Q1 2020).

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 and portals specifically.

Going into detail about 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. Even before the coronavirus crisis, there were some slow and gradual changes. For example, the bigger (international) tradeshows were gaining importance at the expense 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 and innovation focus.

Due to the coronavirus 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 trade shows, 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 digitalization 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 digitalize 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 or 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 of 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 European architects that tradeshows fall into this category. Even when the circumstances favour such an approach (long-term trend towards more digitalization, the Corona crisis, and improved technical solutions),. And it’s not the case that architects are not utilizing more digital sources, as we see increased usage of digital media sources like architectural portals and social media

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