How to be a better exhibitor: Lessons from the Mobile World Congress 2017

Entrance to the World Mobile Congress Halls 8 & 8.1. © Christian Langenegger

Barcelona’s largest yearly event has come and gone. The Mobile World Congress attracts the world’s leading mobile technology companies and now over 100’000 attendees. I was present for the four-day event. The size was impressive. Daily I walked 10–13km through the ten halls.

Of the over 2’200 exhibitors, some of biggest stands this year belonged to Nokia, Huawei, SAP, Lenovo, Vodafone, Samsung, Verizon, Mercedes and Orange. DJI and GoPro also had fairly significant stands. From the size of these exhibitors you can deduce the following:

1. Mobile needs devices and a few companies are going to make a hard play to be the dominant device producer. Despite not being present with a stand, Apple devices were everywhere, showing how much might this giant still wields.

2. Mobile only works with a network, and we won’t be able to connect the world without network providers. The players in this field are safe.

3. Car companies have started to embrace mobile technology for optimising travel and transport. As 5G spreads, Mercedes and other car manufacturers are betting on autonomous cars. Other car makers who were present: BMW, Renault, and Jaguar to name a few.

4. Cameras are taking to the sky. I say this because drones were everywhere from hardware manufacturers to simply being on display. Exactly where the drone economy will go is still open. Currently, it seems to be primarily for photography and videography with some gaming.

Those were my biggest technology takeaways from the Mobile World Congress. However, from a consulting and user experience point of view, I observed much more.

Many congresses could stand to learn a great deal from the MWC. First, the Congress starts online and at the airport. Registering online and having an event app is now critical. Passes should be collected upon arrival. For the Mobile World Congress, this meant picking up my visitor badge at the airport. Getting my pass was easy and I waited no more than 2 minutes to get my personalised badge. This procedure saves visitors time when they go to the event and also allows for any troubleshooting regarding registration to happen away from the event when people aren’t desperate to enter. From public transport to providing guests with passes and city guides, visitors are made to feel welcome, and procedures are easy. The organisers of the Mobile World Congress even have digital boards in the city with telephone numbers for help should any visitor find themselves in distress.

With all of the positives of the event, there are several lessons from this Congress that need to be shared.

1. Print is far from dead: Stands still hand out far too much paper that rarely gets read and is just tossed into the garbage. With many people travelling on budget airlines and severely limited in baggage size and weight, few have space or want to carry kilograms of paper home, where it will most likely end up in the recycling. The answer would be for catalogues and brochures to be downloadable via beacons. If you’re thinking that giving a USB stick full of documents, think again. I own a 2016 MacBook Pro.I don’t have a standard USB port. In the future, more and more computers will cease to have these ports. Furthermore, most pamphlets and information will probably be read on a mobile device while the visitor is travelling on public transport. Having it on their phone would make much more sense and use fewer resources.

I only took a few brochures, but even these were too many.

2. Business cards are still flourishing: Even at the Mobile World Congress with all the technology, people still find it important to hand out a physical card. What this along with the paper flyers shows is that the physical still has a firmly precieved value and that we will mostly likely live in a hybrid digital-analoge world for quite some time. A good business card is printed on heavy paper, has a nice design with all important information and if possible have an easy way to transfer information from the card into digital form.

Lots of business cards

3. Companies are poorly represented: Most companies lack the representation they need at a trade fair. This issue is complex with a blend of subtle and often not so subtle sexism as well as failed planning. Using attractive women in provocatively cut clothes to attract visitors might sound like a simple plan, but it reflects poorly on any business and industry. This is further exacerbated by the fact that the “bait people” often know nothing about the product or service they are there to represent. What’s even worse is when a so-called expert, most often a man, comes over and also does not have the answer to more detailed questions and inquiries. Time is precious, and many people dread going to conferences, partly because it involves so much follow-up regarding information that should have been available at the trade show. For this reason, it is much smarter to have knowledgeable people at your stand. It shows respect to your employees as well as to your customers and partners.

Along with the exploitation of women, sexist ads like these are widely used.

4. Your visitor doesn’t understand your value proposition: The majority of the stands I visited did not understand the value proposition that they were offering. Representatives need to be able to answer the fundamental questions: What does your product, service and company do and why do I want/need it? Have clear talking points, clear examples and case studies. Don’t lose people in your jargon, assume everyone is from outside the industry. If they’re from the industry and understand the acronyms, they’ll start using them. In the technology sphere, hands-on models and prototypes are great. Let people experience how easy your solution is. I was interested in a drone at one stand. They had models out in a netted area flying as a demo, but when I asked if I could test it after a short explanation, I was told no. The person at the stand insisted it was easy to operate, but wouldn’t let me operate the drone, though it was in a closed in area. Needless to say, I left unconvinced.

This company let you experience their product. One of the few.

5. Even in person metrics are often false: Today we are so concerned with metrics that we forget value. A numbers of stands that I visited asked if they could scan my badge to show I was there, but then didn’t engage in a conversation with me or explain their service. Again here, there was an element of sexism, as it was usually young, attractive women asking men to scan their badges. The real measure of a successful stand will be down the road when your company closes lucrative deals with customers and partners. Just because I visited your stand doesn’t mean I understand what you do, how you can help me, or how we can work together.

6. No one wants your freebies: Many stands continue to give visitors small items they can take home. Items that few visitors want are stress balls, water bottles, hats, in general, bulky items or things that don’t look good. Again here, chances are that you’re spending money and using resources on things that your clients don’t want or need. That said, food items do well as do pens, because they can either be consumed immediately or are light and serve a purpose. Most people don’t want to wear a hat flashing your brand, nor do they want a t-shirt with your logo. I did get a nice pair of socks, though, which shows that you just need to rethink what you’re giving away.

Even food items need to be thought out. What’s a fortune cookie without a fortune? How hard would it have been to word this either as: “You will visit cn.matomy.com” or to have a fortune on one side and the call to action on the other? I still have yet to visit the site.

7. Companies are seldom brave: When Apple took the standard headphone jack off of their iPhone, they did it unapologetically. It showed conviction, though they should have taken that off of the new MacBook Pro, too. Amazon has already released videos about their shops what will allow customers to walk in, take what they’re looking for and walk out without having to reach for their phone or wallet. Where was this innovation at the Mobile World Congress? Why did it take 15 minutes to grab a pre-packaged sandwich and pay for it in person? Mobile companies should work with the Congress organisers to allow visitors to experience the future. A dialogue should be opened between organisers and exhibitors. Instead of merely experiencing a virtual world on a Samsung phone, the entire trade show should be a trip to the near future. In the 1960s The World’s Fair had visions of the future that guests could experience. With the advent of the digital world, allowing visitors experience the world of tomorrow more easily than back then. Let’s see it happen.

To conclude, The Mobile World Congress was an interesting experience that highlighted trends in the growing Mobile industry. More than evaluating specific companies, though, it made sense to see trends across stands. One of those trends was how even the mobile experts have been hesitant to confidently adapt their technology, and the other was that companies would do well to invest more time, money and energy into really speaking with the public and not just trying to sell or generate false metrics. A Congress, especially one as large as MWC offers a company a fantastic chance to personally speak to clients, partners and potentially new customers and strategic partners. You need to listen, respect their time and have clear answers.