The Hannover Messe conference in Germany is the world’s premier event dedicated to industrial products and services. Think Siemens and its transportation systems, larger-than-life robots, machines that make machines and industrial internet platforms.
Some quick facts: the annual 5-day event is held in Hannover, Germany, with over 215,000 visitors and 6,000 exhibitors. Filling nearly 30 event halls, the event is so large it’s nearly impossible to see everything, though we did try to see as broad a cross-section of the show as possible since there are a lot of interesting components.
Branding the un-flashy
Compared to the marketing theatrics and over-the-top branding of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona or the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the newest mobile phones from Samsung or Huawei, or a global product launch from Silicon Valley’s hottest new start-up, there’s something decidedly un-sexy about the ball bearings and industrial cabling typically seen at Hannover Messe.
Of course huge quantities of money, time and effort flow through the conference, as with all major events, but the principal difference we’ve noticed is that the adjectives change at Hannover Messe: reliability, accuracy, endurance, quality, value, etc. are the focus. The sales pitches are correspondingly muted, as well- less heavy-handed and aggressive, and conversations are more thoughtful, thorough and reflective.
This brings us to a branding quandary we occasionally experience with certain clients or projects: how to brand the banal? We often reference the article “How to Brand Sand” (by Sam Hill, Jack McGrath and Sandeep Dayal) originally generated 20-plus years ago, but which we still find highly relevant to help organizations brand commodity products. The model helps to differentiate in a crowd of products and services that at face value seem very similar, which is often the case at Hannover Messe:
- In commodity products, price is often the principal differentiator, so it’s important to identify which other elements can be applied to position the product to be more attractive. Safety? Reliability? Ease-of-use? Durability?
- Market segmentation is key here, to identify clients more susceptible to differentiating factors such as quality control, value-added services, high reliability or customer service, for example. The key is to segment the market and then bundle those characteristics into a package you can sell to that segment
- Finally, focus on aligning your business operations to defend that brand and deliver on its promises
Connected at Home, Connected in Industry
A big conceptual shift at Hannover Messe this year was related to what we’ll call connected industry. We spoke with one of our colleagues at Siemens, which had a massive booth presence larger than many city blocks. She explained that Siemens was now focusing on how the connectivity systems implicit in autonomous vehicles and other mobility systems will eventually become responsible for the majority of the Internet of Things (IoT) connections worldwide.
Similarly, we spoke with another colleague at Amazon Web Services, who explained that the industrial internet can impact a wide range of types of companies. Many think of IoT as mostly about consumer connectivity, e.g. smartwatches or smart home products. After all, some reports suggest that 79 percent of U.S. households have at least one connected device at home. But her point was that the market is shifting to industrial IoT for predictive maintenance, big data, machine learning, machine-defined precision, etc. What’s notable is that IoT is pushing an industry forward that has experienced a lack of innovation. IoT can make manufacturing more dynamic, safer and in some cases, save companies millions of dollars.
Digital Twins for Added Insights
The concept of “digital twins” simply means that if you put enough sensors on an object, it’s possible to observe a digital replica of everything that’s going on inside it. Take for example a connected building. Imagine there are sensors for air quality, electric usage, people flow, elevator performance, thermal leakage, etc. With all that data, you can create what’s essentially a real-time digital model of everything that’s happening in that building, which in turn allows you to evaluate and make adjustments to the conditions inside, anticipate maintenance needs or emergency issues, etc.
This concept was everywhere at Hannover Messe and we expect to see it put into practice in many sectors. The whole country of Britain, for example, may at some point soon have a digital twin! The project would take 10 to 15 years to complete and organizations would have to work quite closely with one another to be successful, but the National Infrastructure Committee (NIC) believes that relevant recommendations could help save about 170 billions of liters of water in England and Wales that are usually lost through leaks.
Digital twins are interesting because they’re something that’s relatable on a human level. We gravitate with natural curiosity towards exploring and observing the previously-hidden. At some point in the future, it’s plausible that humans will have some version of their own digital twin, a real-time assessment of your body’s performance, everything from temperature to blood pressure to blood chemistry, analyzing various biomarkers to alert when things are out of place. Much like the success of 23andMe and other personalized-health services, we think there’s a market opportunity for digital twins in a variety of sectors.
Inevitable Industry Disruption
Hannover Messe separates from its flashier event brethren by focusing more on substance and quality. And thus successful organizations must know their market segmentations well and prepare specifically for that demographic. As a result, the branding required to differentiate at an event like this is consequently simultaneously subtler and more complicated.
The future looks bright for IoT and subsequent innovations. It’s inevitable that we will all be more connected and (hopefully) more efficient in areas of business, civic programs and sustainability issues. For broader themes, the concept of digital twins, connectivity, e-mobility and other IoT-enabled platforms were all-pervasive, setting the tone for the event. We expect to see these themes implemented in more and more sectors and are working to incorporate them into our own client engagements.