The Show That Was

Exclusive Interview: Jens Heithecker – IFA Executive Director & Senior Vice President Messe Berlin Group

The 2017 edition of IFA Berlin will go down in history as one of the most innovative and also looks like having been the busiest in terms of visitors. We asked Jens Heithecker Senior Vice President Messe Berlin Group, IFA Executive Director to tell us more.

The feedback from our exhibitors and partners is overwhelming. Not only did we get more trade visitors, we think we will have more than 250,000 visitors this time. This makes us very proud, because it’s a mark in that is, in the younger history of IFA a very important mark.

More than 50% of our trade visitors came from abroad. Not only are we very proud to have these results in numbers, but to be honest, for us, in management what is more important is the mood, or emotion we created for the industry and for the retailers. We learned that the retailers were very open for all the new products. We saw that the media were inspired by the innovations that they saw here at the show. This is what we have been working for, for a long time – to make it clear, and to help to understand how innovative every year our exhibitors are; how they develop, how they work hard, how they invest.

In the past, some of the media said there was no great innovation. This has completely changed now, as people have realised this year how innovative the industry is. We did it in different directions. We communicated much more about the history of innovation at IFA, with the help of the image of Albert Einstein. Everyone understood immediately what that meant. We put together all the innovators, entrepreneurs, start-ups, research labs, and big tech companies under in one Hall – number 26 – under the roof of IFA Next. And from the first moment on, this hall was filled, and you could feel the vibe. So all of this, the communication in general, the exhibitors of new products, the long history of innovation, and IFA Next helped to create this “buzz” of innovation around IFA, and that is now going into the markets as it is well accepted by the press, the consumers and the retail.

There is a great deal of innovation in the industry, but also, IFA itself has been innovating a great deal this year, with your concepts, having the IFA Next, developing the Global Markets, and even redesigning the press room…

Everyone knows IFA, organised into segments like home appliances, audio and TV, and of course we still have these product segments, but we learned in this world where everything is connected, that this was just one way to describe our industries in IFA. We learnt there was another layer of viewing this industry, meaning how we see innovative markets into the market, and we see it really clearly in three or four steps.

There’s the long-term strategy – for this we created the IFA+ Summit with a vision for five, ten or 15 years. For the nearer future, that’s IFA Next, where we can see the new products and technologies for the next two to five years, and IFA itself as a brand show, where you can see the products for the next season. And that’s important for the consumers and also for the retail. And we have learned how the industry is organised. But additionally, we learned how the industry is organised, as behind these brands is a huge supply chain – a huge industry itself called OEMs and ODMs, and everything that is in between.

PEOPLE HAVE REALISED THIS YEAR HOW INNOVATIVE THE INDUSTRY IS

We separated this from the brands, to make it much easier for everyone to understand and to get access to the supply chain – to the backbone of these industries, that we separated in the IFA Global Markets. More than ever for all the industry insiders, it became clear exactly what IFA stands for and where they can get the information and contacts they need. So yes, we innovated, and of course we also had to innovate some areas like the press centre, and in the end, it’s a package you have to deliver. It’s a package of so many single components that at the end create this new, modern look of IFA.

Added to the conferences at the IFA+ Summit, you have instigated expert talks at IFA Global Markets, so it seems there is more and more thought leadership. Where is that headed?

Yes, we try to learn from every edition of IFA. The IFA+ Summit was introduced three years ago. We saw there was an opportunity and a need for a conference like this, and tried to find the right concept for it, and have learned a lot over the years, which is why we have arrived at the level we have today. But one size does not fit all, whether it be categories, or the steps in the time cycle of the products.

For this, there was a very special need at the IFA Global Markets, in pace with the networking and attendance of that event. It’s totally different, and more concrete. It’s the “Big deal” for the Global Markets… because some of the exhibitors only need one visitor… one deal here at the show, and they will successful for the rest of the business year. To underline this, we have communicated this year in a much clearer way, and that worked well. It is evident that the start-up people are not interested in a retail conference. The nerds and software developers are not interested in a product trade show – they want to have their Droidcon. We brought in different formats, with a very clear focus for each target group, and it’s just a start.

What have you seen this year that has surprised you?

Personally, I like audio, and to see how digital audio can create a real high-end sound, connecting the traditional analogue audio world with the new digital music, it’s really great. What really surprised me is that we have been talking for some time about networked products, and there are so many devices that are connectable now, but for the consumer, the first step was either a huge investment by installers, or a plaything for nerds. Now you can see the real benefits in an unexpected way. Imagine you are cooking and your hands are occupied and your phone rings. Now you can control the phone by voice recognition or gestures.

Or imagine you arrive in front of the fridge with packed grocery bags in your hands. Now you can ask your fridge to open the door all by itself. These are benefits in our daily lives, and this is only possible now because as a backbone we have artificial intelligence. We need the help of machine intelligence, and now real services and benefits are being created in the real world. Consumers will not see any of the artificial intelligence, just like IoT; but now we can see real benefits from this. There’s no more talk about artificial… it’s tangible, real benefits.