Interview: "No 6 hours in front of the PC"

On January 10, Hardware digital, the first digital event based on Conteo platform technology, opened its doors. Matthias Baldinger, founder and CEO of Conteo, talks in an interview with Urs Seiler from about how it works and why he still has concerns about virtual trade fairs.

(Interview published 11.01.2021 on

Mr. Baldinger, you published an article in Expo Data in summer 2020 where you questioned virtual trade shows. On January 10, 2021, Hardware digital, the first digital event based on your Conteo platform technology, opened. How do you explain this contradiction?

I still believe that the visit to a trade fair cannot simply be reproduced virtually. The idea that a visitor sits down in front of his computer for 6 hours at a stretch, "visits" exhibitors, listens to presentations, talks with colleagues, etc. - in other words, just as the visitor would spend 6 hours at the physical trade show - is unrealistic in my opinion. People behave very differently online than on site.

In addition, certain things that are important components of physical trade shows don't make sense online. Example: Have you ever heard the phrase, "Come meet me in 2 months at virtual trade show XYZ"? No, because why would I wait 2 months to make a video call with an existing contact at a virtual trade show when I could set it up right now?

If it's not about creating the trade show experience virtually, what is the goal?

Trade shows have a variety of different functions for visitors and exhibitors. Many virtual trade fairs try to map all these functions digitally. We have taken a different approach. Together with our customers, we asked ourselves in which functions we can digitally realize the greatest possible added value for exhibitors and visitors and focused only on these. This has resulted in a concept that is very different from the usual virtual trade fairs and concentrates on the essence of the trade fair format. At the same time, many other functions are deliberately omitted - e.g. networking functions that Linkedin & Co. are better able to map in our opinion.


What do you mean by the essence of the trade fair format?

What makes a trade fair attractive for the visitor? That all relevant suppliers of an industry come together in one place and present their innovations, offers, stories, exhibits, etc. This makes it easy for visitors to get an overview of what's on offer and what's going on in the industry.

This is exactly what we create with our digital event solution: a place where visitors can discover the innovations, offers and stories of the leading suppliers. Hardware digital, for example, gives professionals from the hardware and tools industry a glimpse of what's on in their industry in spring 2021.

At the same time, we do not "expect" visitors to sit in front of the computer for 6 hours at a stretch. The hardware digital is open for 2 weeks. During this time, the visitor comes into contact with the hardware digital again and again and spends a little time on the platform. This is much more in line with the way people get information on the Internet: sometimes 10 minutes here, sometimes 5 minutes there, sometimes a 15-minute webinar here, sometimes a live stream there, and so on.


2 weeks seems like a long time for a trade show. Are the exhibitors willing to look after their stands for the whole time?

No. But they don't have to. I think one misconception about many virtual trade shows is that of simultaneity. Yes, at physical trade shows, everyone is there at the same time. Digitally, it's different. A big advantage of the Internet is its asynchrony. That is, a visitor can, for example, read a post about an exciting new product at 8 p.m. on his smartphone (at a time when no one is working at the exhibitor) and request a callback if interested. This example is much more in line with the way people get information on the Internet than the 6 hours at a stretch in front of the PC.

This is also more convenient for the exhibitor. He does not have to "assign" employees to look after the trade fair (and get annoyed if not enough live requests come in), but can handle the messages and callback requests when it suits him.

Still, how do they manage to keep the momentum going for two weeks?

For this purpose, we have created something new: applause. During a physical trade fair, a kind of "competition" takes place between exhibitors for the attention of visitors. And the winners in the end are the exhibitors whose contributions (i.e. exhibits, novelties, etc.) the industry talks about.

It is precisely this competition that we are trying to digitize. Visitors can applaud the exhibitors' contributions in a playful way. During the two weeks, the industry will vote for the most popular entries in various categories, which will be honored at a live-streamed closing event.

For exhibitors, applause is a great lead generation tool, because they can see which visitors applaud their contributions. These are hot leads to generate new business. At the same time, applause gives exhibitors an incentive to mobilize their contacts for the digital event.

And how is the industry taking this competition?

Very positive so far. Exhibitors are already starting to use the tool in other ways than they intended - which I see as a positive sign. For example, one exhibitor is giving away an Ipad among all visitors who applaud his entry. I don't think this will be enough to win in any category. But it is a way to generate leads in a simple and low-threshold way.

I would be happy if your readers make their own picture of the hardware digital. You can participate free of charge here:

Hardware digital is an event organized by Messe Luzern and Swissavant. What role do you play as Conteo?

We are a service provider for the organizers, providing the platform technology, adapting it for the event and assisting the exhibitors in creating their contributions.

We are familiar with various forms of cooperation with event organizers, from the pure service provider model to revenue share models where we share the risk. This can be particularly exciting at this time, as in a revenue share model there is no upfront investment for the organizer and the business case is always positive.

Your solution for digital events seems to be doing well. Do you want physical trade shows to come back at all?

Absolutely, and I have no doubt they will be back. If the pandemic has taught us anything: People want to meet in person and for real. We are all tired of the eternal video calls and all the sitting around at home. We want to meet again and experience something.

But that doesn't mean that trade shows don't need to evolve. I think expectations of digital solutions have risen in all areas of life - including trade shows.

What do you think are the digital expectations for trade shows?

The information behavior of visitors has been changing for several years. The pandemic has now accelerated this. This change requires a paradigm shift from trade show organizers. Until now, I have often perceived the attitude that organizers don't want to reveal too much about the event to visitors, because otherwise visitors wouldn't have to come. Today, I believe the exact opposite is true. People don't just go anywhere anymore; they are used to being able to get information in advance. For example, if I'm thinking about buying tickets for a concert and I can watch a great video of a performance by the band, this is more likely to lead me to attend the concert.

Trade show organizers must be able to serve this need. To be able to do this, they need to know what exhibitors are showing at their booths. This is exactly what we are developing the Conteo platform technology for. On the platform, exhibitors can present what there is to experience at their booths. And visitors can discover exciting things based on their interests and visit the right exhibitors in a targeted way.

Please finish the following sentence: "If there were no trade fairs, exhibitions and events in 2021, Conteo ...

... support its customers that their events can nevertheless still be held digitally. One of our customers has now gone so far as to say that he will no longer cancel any trade show. When registering, exhibitors are already offered two ways to hold the event: one physical and one digital. A few months before the trade show, a decision is made as to whether it will be held physically or digitally.