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Blog Innovation

Placing innovation centre stage

Claar van Ittersum
Monday, 5 February 2018

Innovation is always one of the top three reasons to visit an exhibition. So how exactly do you make the future feel tangible as an exhibition organiser? You certainly need to do more than simply showcase new developments or products. But what else is there? Which exciting methods and techniques can you use? How do you connect with parties who lead the way in this evolution? And what kind of innovation content makes the biggest difference?

Innovations don’t stand alone: they have an impact, influence consumers and the market, change the rules of the game and generate constant upheaval. What’s the best way to show them off to maximum effect? Since 2014 I have been working at the RAI on ways to present innovations with impact. By taking a broader look at innovation, you can exponentially increase the relevance and value of an exhibition for all audiences. Here are some ideas on how best to do that.

Innovation looks beyond exhibitor groups
Everything starts by plotting the right contours. Do you keep track of what's happening in your industry when it comes to innovation, trends and developments? What are the main challenges? Who are the game changers in your industry? And how do you ensure that they play a central role in your exhibition platform? In this context, you have to look beyond your current exhibitor group and bring in parties who play a pioneering role in crucial future developments – many of whom don’t yet see the exhibition as a worthwhile medium or platform in which to participate.

To respond to this and build enthusiasm among actors and partners, the RAI developed the InnovationLAB concept. This concept has expanded continuously since 2014, and its latest iteration is a 2400 m² innovation stage packed with exciting concepts, an exclusive seminar programme, lots of new products and developments, and innovative construction and design: the Innovation & TrendLAB 2018 unveiled at the recent Horecava (Holland’s largest national trade exhibition for professionals in the food service and hospitality industry.)

To determine the contours of the Innovation & TrendLAB, we started from scratch with external partners and experts to map the main trends and developments. Then we gave concrete shape to these innovation themes with tailor-made experience concepts. We made sure to include partners at an early stage to jointly define how the process should look and what role they could play in it.

This led to very interesting insights for both sides: by going through this process with partners and even bringing them together around a table in dedicated meetings, we created a world in which many new and interlinked partnerships and co-creation situations could arise. In some cases, this was the source of more innovation in the relevant sector, and fascinating new propositions and developments for exhibition brands, general & strategic partners, and the market.

Shaping innovation
The best way to bring innovation to visitors, and work out the InnovationLAB concept, depends on the particular exhibition. Horecava is very well suited to physical experience. Other kinds of presentation can be a better fit for more technical exhibitions such as Aquatech, ReMaTec or Interclean.

Over the years, we have adapted the InnovationLAB to various concepts and applied it to a wide range of content and audiences. This has included a Robot Arena, challenges and pitches to investors and companies, high-quality seminar programmes for decision makers from the industry, a start-up lane and a think tank. Everything is possible: a good exhibition brand needs to stay on its toes and always innovate and surprise its audience in terms of both content and form.

The InnovationLAB concept is the perfect playground for this kind of thing: for instance, this year’s Horecava expanded on virtual reality to also include augmented reality and projection mapping which could be used to unlock content and enhance the experience. At Aquatech and the Greentech Summit, we produced a day-long livestream TV programme that was broadcast from a newsroom on the exhibition floor. All these resources can also be deployed for other exhibitions.

From a four-day exhibition to a year-round platform
Innovation remains relevant and interesting for your target group throughout the year. Use your platform to continue sharing the things happening with the innovations – technological developments, white papers, prototypes and innovations that are finding their way to the market. This ensures that your platform remains relevant throughout the year for visitors, participants and partners alike.

Dare and invest
To integrate innovation into an exhibition in a tailored way, you have to be prepared to step off the beaten path. Sit down and have a conversation with exhibitors and other partners about new forms of cooperation, talk to knowledge institutes, dare to experiment, and be open to learning. It won’t always be easy – it takes a lot time and energy and represents a major investment. But if you do things well, the process will pay for itself many times over.