Flares, Shoulder Pads and the Age of Niche

Shoulder Pads the iconic fashion of the 1980's

Shoulder Pads the iconic fashion of the 1980's

In this blog I put forward the argument that the Growth Success of Niche Shows reflects Fragmenting Markets and a fundamental change in the business and manufacturing landscape. 

We are living through the age of the niche as the era of 'bigger, better and faster' continues to decline in value and relevance. 

Our traditional obsession with everything 'bigger, better and faster' was the result of the old industrial model. What German industry calls 'Industrie 2.0' - the age of mechanisation and mass demand for standardised products. Back then, we were content to live with very little choice, viewing very few media channels and being part of a small selection of tribes. Fashion changed infrequently and noticeably. Think flares to shoulder pads - the very noticeable fashion transition from the 1970's to 1980's.

In 2015, digitisation coupled with the great recession means that markets and media are fragmenting and morphing more quickly and continually.

The recession accelerated change proving that there is no stronger power for change than necessity. 

The 'great' recession has dramatically changed the foundations of many industries. Not least the exhibition business. Exhibitions are markets so they will respond and reflect structural changes in their respective markets.  

Markets have consolidated. Take Europe, many industrial markets have simply gotten as efficient as they can. The weaker businesses have disappeared whilst the big have acquired or merged with the smaller reducing the overall count. 

No industry is any longer neatly organised into vertical sectors with predictable seasonal patterns of need and demand. New technology traverses multiple industries disrupting and challenging traditional technologies and the incumbent status quo. This transformation is accelerated by the recession and an increased demand for speed, flexibility and responsiveness. Over consolidated supply chains are struggling to meet this demand, bridging the gap between quality, price, speed and new value. As a result new businesses are forming to fulfil the areas of need that are being presented and this is positive development for the economy.

This is the age of the niche technology, the niche business, niche component and niche information source. We (consumers) no longer accept interruption, we want to know how products are being made, we want products that match our specific needs whilst being able to express ourselves as individuals. And customisation is key.

Before the recession had even begun, Chris Anderson revealed the long tail of niches. The core argument is that the long tail of the niches that outweigh the mainstream in terms of market share.  The long tail is still growing whilst the mainstream continues to slowly but surely fragment. Seth Godin in his book 'We are All Weird' puts forward the argument that individualisation is indeed the new mainstream.

So what does this mean for your market? I will venture that it is in a constant state of change due to these forces. For those of us in the print sector there is clear evidence for this and I think we will increasingly see changes with exhibitions.

As I've already said, Exhibitions are marketplaces so it makes sense that the content and format will change to reflect the changing dynamic of a market. In the UK, we've witnessed the demise of IPEX, a quadrennial blockbuster print show for the commercial (paper printing) industry. This show held the mantle of being the UK's biggest trade show for as long as I have been involved in the exhibitions (nearly 20 years!). Its decline was brutal, quick and incredibly unfortunate for those involved in it. It is unfair and too easy to blame the people who ran IPEX for this regrettable capitulation. Why? Because the forces of change outlined above significantly contributed to its demise. This being fragmentation of markets and media. Traditional print has had its ‘heyday’ and now the focus and opportunity is on niches. As for print technology the industrial print sector seems to be rising at the same speed commercial print declines. The fact that the InPrint Show is now the fastest growing print technology in Europe bears testament to that.

Mega shows that have dominated the general markets of our business world are in danger of fragmenting and contracting because quite frankly they lack the necessary focus and relevancy. 

Once upon a time, a week long jaunt to a trade show was like a glorified business related bar crawl. Sure business was done, but just as important was the fun that was had. Back in the good old days we didn't have to try so hard, there was plenty of business to go around, fewer competitors, less pressure on the bottom line whilst time was in relative abundance.

Today, visitors to trade shows need access to information that quickly meets their needs due to time deprivation. Show organisers like everyone else need to both think and behave differently in order to create new value. Smart products, smart ideas and smart thinking are creating true value.

But it isn't as simple as saying that we are seeing the beginning of the decline of the 'mega show' in line with the fragmentation of markets and media. The IPEX example was a stark one, but in Germany, the home of the mega show, the decline is likely to be longer due to the relative size of the manufacturing segment, the importance of trade shows to German industry and the heritage, prestige and loyalty associated with a respective industry's exhibition.

But perhaps more important to note is that we will see most certainly see the continued rise in importance of the niche show whatever traditions continue to endure. 

InPrint is a new show with a unique and focused niche profile and content programme. Prior to the launch show in 2014 there had never been a show for industrial print. Its success is proof that this niche needed its own event. Connecting the previously unconnected, this event continues to grow due to the fact that manufacturing is transforming and smart technology and expertise is needed to meet the needs of this most demanding of industries. Visitors who come to InPrint attend from the manufacturing sector. Not from the print industry something that is unique and highly valued by our visitors and our exhibitors alike.

So what?

Well for exhibitions, there is an opportunity. Because where there is change there is always a need to connect. To discover new techniques or technologies and to bring new ideas to the fore. Shows do this better than even the internet. Because people need to refine their needs, connect with people, compare and contrast products, speak to experts and if you have a show with the right focus you achieve a huge amount in a very short space of time.  To exploit this new opportunity that change presents - connecting is fairly integral. 

For the wider print world expect to see changes with our shows. Some will grow and others will decline mirroring the ebb and flow of their markets. But I believe that the general shows will struggle to stay relevant as the age of niche continues to progress. 

But whatever happens to the generalists.

Expect niche to grow.

Visit www.inprintshow.com