Transporting your exhibition into a digital marketplace

Marketplaces could evolve events as we know them


Digital marketplaces can do more than mitigate the vulnerability of the physical event, they can redefine and grow our proposition to the communities we serve.

If we learned anything from our experience of 2020-21, it’s that placing all our eggs in one basket comes with a high degree of risk.

An ‘events first’ strategy can leave us unable to provide adequate service for our clients if physical gatherings and international travel are forbidden due to a global pandemic, local instability or other such factors out of our control. 

And ultimately, supporting the communities that attend our events should be our priority, rather than any particular channel or time-based event.

Consider virtual event platforms, which grew in popularity in the wake of challenges posed by Covid-19 but which quickly became perceived as ‘temporary stand-ins’ or ‘complementary fixtures’ for live events. 


To drive exhibitor value, it is essential to evolve beyond virtual events and develop an omnichannel exhibition model to help you reach out to and nurture a geographically diverse, digitally-connected global community.

Markets unconstrained by time or space

ExpoPlatform envisions such an omnichannel solution in the form of an ‘always-on’ digital marketplace that can directly connect buyers and sellers throughout the year. This should be part of a consistent, unified experience between the digital and physical event channels.

Marketplaces generally do not own any supply, nor do they provide products or services directly, deliver leads or handle the money being exchanged. Their purpose is to provide a trusted environment where buyers and sellers find each other efficiently and transact successfully.

Doing this effectively requires establishing how to find the right product/market fit for your industry, as well as comparing monetisation models and the processes and principles that make it work for you. To gain a deeper understanding of the value of marketplaces in the events industry and a step-by-step process to build such a marketplace, download ExpoPlatform’s free eBook ‘The Marketplaces Blueprint’.

If we consider the retail industry as an example, wherein marketplaces are exemplified by e-retail behemoths like Amazon and eBay, the solution is to empower the buyer to decide when and how they would like to transact with those selling a product or service. 

This sets the stage for audience growth, revenue growth and brand protection. Event organisers would be wise to consider them for the following reasons:

  • Adjacent growth. The visitors/buyers and exhibitors/suppliers you attract to an exhibition are the ideal base to launch a two-sided marketplace. The online marketplace can be sold alongside and be directly synchronised with the physical event.
  • Network effects. The more users you get, the more useful/cheap your product becomes e.g. Lyft/Uber vs. taxis
  • Barrier to entry. Ecosystems of users are the new source of competitive advantage and market dominance. Once they have a strong network effect, it becomes increasingly difficult to enter or replicate the marketplace (e.g. Airbnb vs. hotels). 
  • No inventory. As they don’t have to hold stock, online marketplaces are cheaper to operate (e.g. Airbnb vs. hotels), easier to scale (e.g. Rover vs. dog hotels) and faster to pivot (e.g. Uber Black vs. Uber)

Strategic consultancy AMR International has been saying for some time that organisers should “no longer think of themselves as pure event organisers. Rather, they need to become community catalysts – facilitating business, connections, education and advocacy”.

Do marketplaces compete with live events?

Start by asking yourself what value proposition you contribute for the markets in which you operate, and how this can be delivered through digital channels; marketplaces fall very much within this scope of engagement.

But are they a threat to your core business? 

No, is the short answer. Firstly, disruption is already here. There are likely several startups that are already doing this and it’s always better to be among the disruptors changing the face of the industry, rather than among the spectators.

Secondly, we’re underestimating the power of face-to-face events if we think an online marketplace can ever replace them.

The need to adapt and digitalise the exhibition model was already dominating headlines before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Key to our success in this new approach will be the ability to use online channels and data in an intelligent way, providing more targeted results and embracing our communities as we evolve towards an increasingly digital, year-round proposition. 

ExpoPlatform has explored this approach by developing 365 Community solutions that can help grow your professional community and create a seamless journey for buyers and sellers between live, hybrid and online events all year-round. 

It’s true that virtual events have performed relatively well in terms of engagement and content sharing. But when it comes to providing a platform for buying and selling – a core objective of exhibition businesses – virtual events on their own fall short.

Marketplaces could play a central role in helping us adapt our businesses for the new landscape we now inhabit. 

Learn how ExpoPlatform can help you build and grow your ideal marketplace. Book a demo now


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