Brochures, posters, cardboard displays, a screen here and there: Apart from trade shows with a digital focus, the exhibition world is still predominantly analog. Technologies such as VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality) and MR (Mixed Reality) offer completely new opportunities for exhibitors to stand out from the monotony of trade show presentations.
The primary focus is on trade shows for the provision of information, the presentation of new products or services, the making of contacts and, of course, business. But anyone who has ever been to a trade show – whether for business or pleasure – knows that that's not everything. Visitors also come with the expectation of experiencing something. This means that exhibitors who manage to make their trade show offerings into a more emotional experience receive more attention and more visitors. This also applies to the B2B trade show environment. But how can specialist topics be presented in an entertaining way and combined with experiences?
AR, MR and VR are perfect for infotainment presentations that combine information about products and services with 3D visualizations and possibilities for interaction. For example, it can virtually enable trade show visitors to look inside an engine or control an industrial irrigation system. Such an experience not only makes an impression, but also helps people memorize the new information.
However, to ensure that virtual presentations at the trade show stand are successful, it's important for exhibitors to choose the right technology for themselves. Because AR, MR and VR are fundamentally different from each other and offer completely different presentation possibilities. The following aspects can be helpful in deciding on one of the technologies:
With AR, virtual objects can be displayed in front of real space backgrounds and viewed via smartphone, tablet or screen. The big advantage of AR applications is that they do not require additional space. Rather, they virtually expand the stand – theoretically even infinitely – and offer visitors more content than would otherwise be possible in the booked exhibition space. This makes them perfect for exhibitors with a large product portfolio, for example.
Another advantage of AR is that the provision of additional hardware is not absolutely necessary, as they already have the visitors in their pockets: You can easily use their own, private smartphones to see the AR content. This also means that complicated instructions and lengthy support by the trade show staff are eliminated.
Last but not least, with the help of new WebAR technology, the virtual trade show presentation can also be called "to-go content". Visitors to the show can also access web-based AR applications outside the show and share the virtual content with others. You don't need to install an app for this, just visit a mobile website.
The only drawback of AR is that the immersion level is lower compared to MR and VR. Users can only view the virtual content on digital screens; the environment around them does not change for them. But with the wealth of benefits that AR brings with it, there's also a tiny taste of bitterness. Yet a clever concept can compensate for such deficits with an interesting and simple user experience.
Mixed reality exhibition productions make holograms appear in the real exhibition environment. "Mixed reality" is perceived by visitors with the help of MR glasses. MR is the right choice when it comes to visualizing content in an impressive way that's difficult or impossible to exhibit at a trade show. This can be services and complex relationships such as a global logistics network or even products like industrial machines.
In order for the combination of real space and holograms to work optimally, it's important to coordinate exhibition space and virtual content in advance. Since most MR glasses are still tied to cables, the visitor experience should take place in a demarcated area for security reasons. In addition, staff at the booth should be ready and able to introduce visitors to the MR application and help them with technical difficulties.
VR is the technology with which exhibitors can immerse their guests in completely new worlds. VR glasses hide the real space and put users in a completely virtual environment in which any form of presentation is possible. VR is especially useful for trade show appearances, especially if entire sceneries are to be experienced. Tourist destinations, underwater worlds or deceptively real flight simulations are just a few examples that make the use of VR in the trade show context worthwhile.
In order to make the immersive experience convincing, the users must be able to move as freely as possible while doing so. At the same time, they cannot perceive the real space. Exhibitors therefore have to allow for additional space at the exhibition stand that's available for the VR experience. Ideally, it's a separate, dedicated space. The VR experience should also be accompanied by staff who help visitors with problems.
When it comes to the question of whether AR, MR or VR will ultimately be the right solution for your own trade show communication, taste and budget certainly also play a role. In itself, each of the three technologies has the potential to transform a trade show stand into a trade show attraction. Provided the technology is not used just to be used. But rather because it's the best way to package and communicate your own content. AR, MR and VR should not be the purpose, but rather the means for a better and more inspiring presentation of the show.
*See also the article (in German) "Messen für Menschen" (Trade Shows for People) on p. 20 of the magazine Logistics Pilot, issue June 2019.