Sleeping_at_Virtual_TradeshowEveryone is scrambling to do virtual trade shows, but how do you make them work?

To understand what’s happening and how to leverage virtual events we’ll:

  • Share our experience in an early-on virtual show
  • Revisit why trade show marketing works
  • Top mistakes of the virtual trade show
  • What to look for when considering participating
  • Tips for getting the most from your marketing spend

Our foray into the virtual trade show  world

I started the year excited about using trade shows not only to drive my clients business, but also to generate new business ourselves, and then March arrived. The show I was planning on attending in June was on hold, and then finally cancelled – but then an opportunity appeared to participate in a virtual show in April. It promised all the networking and content of a regular show, so we jumped on board. On the day of the event we were second in a series of presentations that ran throughout the day. During our presentation roughly 60 of the 300 registered were in the virtual booth, we had 1 question come through and then it was time for networking…but no one was in the virtual networking space (and there was no break time between sessions and networking). We watched a few more presentations…no one was very good at live video presentations back then and eventually dropped off. All in all, not a great experience, and not what I’d expect from a trade show.

Why do we do trade shows?

B2B marketers have long relied on trade shows as a primary tactic for driving business. The benefits are numerous – your key target audience is all in the same venue together, you have an opportunity to meet and chat with many more prospects than you would in a normal day – and casual conversations can turn into business opportunities without either side being aware of where the conversation was headed. Your prospects are also in key learning mode, they’re away from their offices, able to window-shop products and services, able to dig deep on educational content related to their business challenges and while they are visiting a nice location with beautiful weather, they also know that when they get back to the office their team will want to know what they learned and what ideas they have.

The end goal of any trade show is to start conversations with potential prospects and provide the foundation for both the prospects and your team to qualify interest and opportunity.

But we now find ourselves in a world without physical trade shows (or at least very limited opportunities). Travel has stopped. While we see our team members every day in online meetings (from our bedrooms, kitchen counters, etc.) we’re not spending the time engaged with non-team members planning for the future. With that said however, we are still in need of new products, services, and innovations. We’re starting to read some of those email newsletters we’ve been ignoring for years, we visiting our favorite industry trend sites and we’re searching for answers.

In the midst of all this, we’re getting a flurry of email invites to virtual trade shows. By now you’ve likely attended one or two, and like us,  you walked away feeling like it was a waste of time, you didn’t learn much, the speakers were flat (and during the presentation your cat walked in front of the camera, the kids needed lunch, or you just zoned out after spending way too many hours/days/weeks staring at a screen).

The Common Mistake of Virtual Trade Shows

The biggest issue we come across today is that the virtual trade show providers are trying to deliver the same experience in the online world as what you’d expect offline. They go to great lengths to pack content into full day sessions, offer virtual booths and show floors and promise interaction with the show visitors.

But that’s not how prospects  interact online. Internet research/learning starts out in a much more casual environment…we spend our time on 60 sec TikTok videos, 140 character tweets and the anonymity of online research without being hounded by salespeople. How many of us really have a day (or even the attention span) we can spend staring at our computers? (Virtual Trade shows always seem to forget we need bathroom breaks, downtime to check email, or maybe a chance for a short walk in your neighborhood).

What to look for?

My best advice as you consider any virtual trade show opportunity is to review the format, pay close attention to how it’s being offered/delivered and who the real audience will be. We’re seeing a lot more success with shows that span many more days than they did in person – with shorter segments and breaks. Yes, there’s attrition during the event, but we also see that when there’s choice, prospects will attend the things that are important to them.

I also can’t stress enough how limited the networking/interaction opportunities are. The reality is that most people aren’t going to “walk the virtual show floor” or pop-in just to say hi. All those “great networking things we’ve always offered” are going to feel like you’re standing around in an empty room.

How to get the most out of your marketing spend

The key to virtual success is understanding what’s available surrounding the show (and what components you can add within your own environment to help support the effort). Some key questions to ask:

  • Are their email opportunities before and/or after the event?
  • Is the show  content integrated into more than just the show site/pages?
  • How can you get your content to the audience in a way they want to absorb it?
  • How can you’re brand/offering be prominent without being a distraction/annoyance to the attendee?
  • Can you measure the results (in meaningful ways to your business)?

Over the last several months we’ve helped several of our clients generate success from their virtual trade show efforts. For the most part,  success didn’t come from the day of the event, but rather through a series of additional communications and programs we did surrounding the event. Using a  combination of search (paid and organic), email marketing, content engagement and social media efforts are the key to making your event successful. The results have started conversations and established some new relationships. If you’re getting ready to embark on sponsorship of a virtual trade show (or even just considering it for your marketing mix), contact us to schedule a time for an initial (no obligation) discussion.