Exhibiting at traditional trade shows is one of the most utilized marketing tactics by companies targeting the industrial and manufacturing marketplace. The opportunity for direct engagement with prospects, customers and other vendors who could be potential partners or customers is invaluable and the opportunity to “shake hands” with key clients to thank them for their business is often perceived as priceless. On the flip side, exhibiting also tends to have the highest cost of other marketing alternatives when factoring in space fees, booth setup, storage & shipping costs, associated communications & promotion and travel, meal and lodging expenses. It’s also a challenging media to tangibly and quickly prove return on investment results as exhibitors have very real time and logistic demands from the show that can impact timely attendee follow-up.
It should be no surprise then that the worldwide economic situation has led to many companies having both scaled back budgets and staffs; creating a very real decline in attendance and in exhibitors at many industrial shows. The challenges facing the traditional trade show market due to the economy have only been exacerbated by the additional very real issues of travel woes & hassles due to scaling back nationwide of flight choices, the continued dominance of the web as a primary research vehicle and the explosion of social media options.
These realities have created a ‘perfect storm” opportunity for the emergence of virtual tradeshows or e-Events as a viable alternative or supplement to both attendees and exhibitors alike.
Almost everyone is comfortable interacting online today. People attend webinars and view video presentations, they earn online university degrees or certifications, comment on blogs and rate products, and engage in social networking via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Industrial professionals are no different and they have largely migrated online for work-related purposes. Online events are an emerging online option for these professionals to gain the information and insight they require for their jobs; without many of the downsides associated with the traditional tradeshow.
For attendees, online events:
- Provide opportunities to interact with suppliers in a comfortable online environment
- Give quick access to information from multiple related vendors in a centralized manner
- Avoid the hassle and expense of travel, hotels, meals, and time away from the office
- Offer a wide array of educational and professional opportunities
- Enable attendees to easily abandon the event if it’s not meeting their needs or expectations (marketers take note)
For marketers, online events:
- Provide you with many of the benefits of location-based events, including branding exposure and lead generation at a fraction of the cost and hassle.
- Help you reach a targeted, yet broad & global audience
- Offer the convenience and productivity of allowing you to remain in your office at a computer while hosting and managing an event
- Generate important and relevant sales lead information on attendees such as their interest area and online activity in a timely and organized fashion.
- Position you and your company as a thought leader
- Allow you leave the giveaways behind (no more booth visitors feigning interest just to collect the goodies!)
Online tradeshows can be highly interactive, allowing attendees to visit suppliers’ “booths,” chat with suppliers, ask questions, participate in discussions, and access content such as white papers and collateral. Much like traditional tradeshows, these events provide the opportunity for one-on-one conversations with attendees, and many attendees of virtual events gain a sense of empowerment and comfort in the ability to interact with you the way they prefer—online, from their own desks.
Exhibiting at an online tradeshow is in many ways like a traditional location-based event, complete with multiple vendors showcasing their products and services, branding visibility, and interaction with a target audience. Of course, there are no travel costs and time away from the office—for you, or your attendees.
Are there trade-offs? Sure – a chance to be face-to-face with an existing or potential customer or the opportunity for someone to see your products “in action” are two big ones and virtual experiences will never replace those in person opportunities. However, the economic, time and resource benefits of virtual tradeshows and e-Events are too big to not experience or explore.
Before you exhibit at an online tradeshow, determine what content would be most valuable for attendees, such as white papers, data sheets, and other collateral—just as you would for a location-based event. Also, line up the people in your company who will staff the booth and interact with attendees. Then, be sure to choose a virtual event that offers the following:
- Targeting of your audience and marketing to attract them to the event.
- Opportunities to visibly brand your company within the virtual environment.
- Rich opportunities to engage your audience, such as online chat, real-time Q&As, online panel discussions and more.
- Tools for attendees to interact with each other.
- Tracking and reporting of attendees’ online activity in your booth, so you can discover their area of interest.
- Complete intelligence reports on attendees with full contact information and other relevant data for your sales team to follow-up.