From Square Meters to Pixels. Semiconductors and the future of B-to-B events.

Semiconductors are hot because of their shortage. The Spring 2021 shortage of supply of chips worldwide has caused major concerns to manufacturers in automotive, in consumer electronics, and in almost all manufacturing categories. Because chips, or semiconductors, are everywhere as the silicon bloodstream of the digital planet. What is the future of B-to-B events from this mission critical viewpoint for the future?

Nexperia is a young brand with a great history. As a standalone business, Nexperia, a global multinational with 12.000 talents on its payroll, was spun off in 2017 from NXP Semiconductors, which was itself the rebranded name of the former Philips Semiconductors business division. Before, there was a different Royal Philips NV, today’s a focused Healthcare Hight Tech giant, as a highly diverse multidisciplinary corporation from kitchen appliances to electronic components, with great challenges and even greater ambitions, whereas spin offs like ASML, the chip making machine worldwide leader (that was born out of a joint venture between ASM International and Philips but retains the reputation status of a Philips spin off in the Dutch Brainport region and in the city of Eindhoven, where it remained headquartered as a business powerhouse, or Nexperia itself have secured economic success and reputation prestige. In the context of “that” Philips of the past, the Nexperia brand was my first Brand Design project, delivering a suite of strategic assets for a newly premium, scalable, highly profitable class of devices, whereas NXP Semiconductors resorted to this existing brand, when parting from its commodity chips activities. Nexperia supplies worldwide basic components, therefore not the micro controllers or the more complex devices in our digital landscape but the fundamental chips that ensure our phones and our drones, our appliances or our cars have reliable, stable, and safe performance in terms of heating, controlling, and managing according to specifications. Nexperia churns out billions of this key building blocks of electronic motherboards and circuitry, as there are aproximately 300 hundred basic components in every new car alone. Where there is an electronics design based on an engine, a motherboard, and a plug into the electric network, there are basic components to convert engineering ideas into lifestyle and everyday reality. The semiconductors expertise at Philips Design was instrumental to our design visions of digital futures, in terms of computing power roadmaps, insights in future functions and possibilities, and a direct dialog with the engineers and marketeers shaping the industry behind all industries. Interviewing Petra Beekmans — Van Zijll, Global Head of Communications, Nexperia, for my current research on the future of events, with Filiberto Amati, MBA, was therefore a sort of homecoming in an ubiquitous, pervasive, seamless industry, on which our digital lives depend and that greatly depends on B-to-B fairs, events, and meetings, both formal and informal. Petra is a senior industry leader, who grew her design talent with true Philips “blue blood” career, shifting from medical systems to lighting, to semiconductors. She is now leading a team of 6 FTE’s worldwide, from The Netherlands to Shanghai, who support the brand with orchestrated, focused, and relevant B-to-B marketing communication strategies and campaigns, from media relations to employer branding or internal messaging.

How mission-critical and focused business events and meetings are to the semiconductors industry, and what is the vision of Nexperia as a major player in this sector, on media relations, marketing communications, and events? Of course, Covid-19 resulted in the can cancellation of both main industry events as well as closed door meetings. In Europe and in the USA, Nexperia accelerated towards digital events, both live and on demand, whereby meeting audiences and sales target prospects was possible. This was enabled by the sea of platforms where interaction is possible in multiple modalities and with multiple triggers, e.g. both on the basis of invitations as on the basis of data analytics and matching algorithms. A major worldwide event like Electronica took a late decision to go virtual, in Fall 2020, where the classic physical exhibition format was mimicked and imitated online. But how effective is this direct one on one transferring of physical events into the online domain? In 2020, a tactic rethinking of goals, tools, and allocation was forced upon everyone in almost every sphere but this was an opportunity for Nexperia to strategically rethink their portfolio with a clear understanding of its focus, the latter being the direct experience of products. As Petra vividly shared, engineers love to see, touch, feel the actual chips and their applications in motherboards or circuits, with a direct engineer-to-engineer dialog with their creative counterparts. Filming and publishing rich content online temporarily worked in 2020 but nothing will replace the direct, personal, immersive experience of individual exposure to Nexperia products and their creators. Even more so, at cultural level, certain regions will demand a faster return to physical events and fairs than other regions, as seen in the most recent China International Import Expo. This continued as planned, with the Asian teams of Nexperia working on in presence experience design, whereas the European teams in the same enterprise were focused at the same time on online migration. Of course, the prominence in a country like China of digital channels like WeChat will remain paramount -if not increase- but in parallel there will remain a strong need for personal relationships, in the best tradition of Guanxi, the Chinese art of socially connecting and networking, whereby informal micro-events likes dinners and similar convivial opportunities will maintain -if not increase- their mission-critical nature even in a highly technical industry like semiconductors. Perhaps even more so in a highly technical industry, where specifications and quality often are hygiene factors.

A next point is then, how will the business models change, in terms of shifting from centralised experiences like CES or IFA, to sensorial and tactile experiences enabled by online platforms? What seems central is the actual serendipity of fairs and industry events, and the difference in terms of distractions and relevance. A visit to CES or IFA means of course a “clean agenda” and an unfocused attention to the event itself, whereas online seminars and events have been offered in oversupply, and without guaratee of actual interest and focus by attendants. Physical events will surely come back if the vaccination campaigns will prove successful but then, the hard reality of cost management will kick in, possibly leading to multiple moments of interaction with the brand at the level of online exhibitions offered all around the year. Also, major roadshows like Philips “Sense and Simplicity” in the mid 2000s, from London to Moscow, might change at a format level, leading to more regional, more intensive, more cost-effective regional shows or traveling trucks or equivalent forms to reach out to the brand stakeholders and B-to-B customers. Innovation and the ability to experiment will be key in the future of media relations and event design / management. In the semiconductor industry, the world of massive events and advertising campaigns might give way to knowledge-intensive, focused moments of dialog with the relevant audiences, whereby the connection will be seamless as enabled by digital channels. In this inevitable transition from square meters to pixels, the collaterals worlds of catering, travel, and hospitality will have to rethink their ways and working, function, and deeper meaning. The shift will take the direction from the high intensity of mass events with high impact and high numbers of visitors, to a diluted, pervasive, and extended experience being offered with a hybrid modality, or one might say: the future of B-to-B events will be about “square meters” PLUS “pixels” — or as Filiberto and I formulated as our hypothesis, “phygital”.

Collaterals like brochures have given way to social media and therefore brand design and brand management skills will have to deeply change. In this context, B-to-B events will experience a resurrection and a renaissance in the short term, to be followed by the awareness of digital cost efficiency and the benefits for sustainability. Organisationally, this will lead to structural changes in teams, that will be more multidisciplinary and integrated in order to service brands that will be increasingly digital, that means faster, more demanding in terms of readiness of response and more generalist in terms of determining what works across channels of different nature. A new breed of professionals will be required, combining the ability of fast response with the competence of strategic thinking. The challenge for educational institutes in communication, marketing, media, event management, and all the necessary competences of brand design and brand management will be to train talent accordingly. The value of brands inevitably shifted from tangible assets to intangible perception, with the stock value being often determined by one twitter by one CEO, that might change the course of history. In a digital world where all knowledge is common knowledge, the intangible component of behaviours, consistency, and transparency will increasingly dictate the agenda of brand managers. Brand personality is central to this new context, as brands will need to embody values by sensorial experiences translated into behavioural patters and a given communication style. Ultimately, brands will be about a sense of belonging, from employer branding through branding through employees, and their everyday behaviors. It might sound like a minor change but -to brand management and design professionals- this will feel like a revolution that was long anticipated — and greatly wished for.