Remember face-to-face trade shows? Those events that – when done right – had such sales, marketing, and educational potential that our companies would happily shell out to send us across the country (and sometimes across the globe) to make sure we didn’t miss out?
Luckily for us, we don’t need to give up on the trade show experience, even given today’s challenges. The coronavirus outbreak may be preventing us from attending these events in person, but many of us are now realizing the awesome potential of virtual trade shows. In fact, in a survey targeting business event professionals earlier this spring, seven in 10 respondents said they had replaced a face-to-face event with a virtual event (at least in part). Like conventional trade shows, virtual ones give us great opportunities to network, get more attention for our companies, generate leads, learn from fascinating speakers, and just have a good time.
At Sixgill, we saw that potential, when we attended the FS-ISAC Spring Virtual Event as sponsors.. And, although we came in with high expectations, we were still blown away by the success of the event.
Of course, even the best-organized virtual trade shows don’t guarantee that you’ll realize their full potential. To make the most of this type of event, you need to take the right steps to connect with your audience before, during, and after the show.
Here are four keys to making that happen:
Although virtual trade shows allow you to save the time and money involved in travel, they are still an investment. So how can you decide whether a given show is worth it?
Naturally, the company running the show is one key factor. You want to consider what you know about that company, including how successful their past events have been and how helpful you expect their team to be, both for you and for attendees who may be interested in your company.
You’ll also want to consider who the likely attendees are. How many people do you expect to show up? Are they people who will be interested in your product? And are they people who are likely to be in decision-making roles within their companies?
Just as importantly, it’s a good idea to consider how much exposure you’ll be able to generate at a given trade show. Will you be able to get a spotlight (for example, a speaking opportunity), or are you likely to be overshadowed by other companies? What does the competition look like?
Lastly, of course, you’ll need to consider the cost – not just the price of sponsoring an event, but the opportunity cost and all of the expenses involved in planning and preparation, in running a virtual booth, and in following up after the event.
When was the last time you were at your company’s physical booth when an interested attendee walked over, silently picked up your company brochure, read it from cover to cover (or at least skimmed through it), put it down, and only then engaged you in conversation? Strange as this scenario may sound at a physical booth, this way of approaching your company is common at virtual events. Attendees are likely to read (or watch) the marketing materials you have provided before making any sort of contact with your team.
That puts your marketing content front and center in a way that it would not be in a traditional trade show. Instead of being reading material for visitors to stuff in a bag (and likely never get around to reading), the words you write – and any other marketing media you showcase up front at your virtual booth – will largely determine the impression you give prospective customers.
In short: Make the marketing materials at your virtual booth count, because they may be the only thing separating a promising lead from a missed opportunity.
That said, content isn’t everything. No matter how compelling your marketing materials are, they won’t recreate the experience of a face-to-face trade show for your audience. Trade shows are social events, and – when they’re done right – they are fun.
How can you scratch attendees’ itch for the fun and social elements of an in-person trade show? That’s where gamification and virtual interaction come in.
At the FS-ISAC Spring Virtual Event, we added an element of gamification to our booth by holding a raffle encouraging attendees to stop by. The results were excellent. Not only did this approach entice participants to check out Sixgill, but it got them in a good mood. And that matters at virtual trade shows.
It’s also important for the team staffing your booth to have the right approach to interacting with visitors in real time. Do you want to reach out proactively to every visitor who stops by, or only those who show particular promise? That may depend on your strategy and how busy your team is, and keep in mind that one of the advantages of a virtual trade show is that you can see clearly who any given visitor is before deciding whether to approach them (without attempting to read their name badge from across the room). At the same time, you’ll want to make sure your team members coordinate with each other, both to make sure that you’re not missing out on promising visitors and to ensure that only one of you reaches out to any given participant.
In addition, you can generate buzz beyond your virtual booth by fostering conversations among attendees. For example, you could use an event hashtag and encourage participants to post on social media. The point is to create an experience that goes beyond the one-way communication of marketing content, offering a fun sort of substitute for the organic social interaction of a face-to-face trade show.
It’s always a good idea to be in touch with registered attendees both before and after a trade show, but that communication takes on a different importance when it comes to virtual events.
In part, because signing up for a virtual event doesn’t involve the same level of commitment as registering for a face-to-face trade show. Virtual events may be less expensive to attend, they don’t involve travel, and many of them offer content on demand after they have ended – meaning they don’t generate the same sense of urgency as conventional trade shows.
With that in mind, it is a good idea to reach out to registered participants beforehand – especially via email and social media – reminding them to attend the event and encouraging them to visit your virtual booth specifically. Let them know how they can find you during the show, what they will find at your booth, and why it’s worth their time.
After the event, you’ll want to reach out quickly to participants who visited your booth, viewed your product demo, or otherwise showed interest in your company – sending them a message (preferably personalized) to remind them what you offer and give them useful resources. At the same time, keep in mind that some people will have signed up for the event but not attended. Fortunately, once you’ve put together a virtual booth for the trade show, you’ll have quick and easy access to your relevant content and marketing materials. After the show, you can make use of these materials by either attaching them directly to an email or sending prospective customers a link to view them online.
A big part of having a successful presence at a virtual trade show is about recreating the best elements of a physical booth at a face-to-face event. The social, interactive, and fun aspects of trade shows are key factors that make these shows work so well. By adding these kinds of experiences to your virtual booth, you can connect with your audience in a deeper way than by simply providing marketing and educational content.
At the same time, making the most of a virtual trade show requires you both to recognize that it is quite different from a conventional event and to embrace those differences. For example, the marketing materials you make available at your virtual booth take on a new significance that they wouldn’t have at a traditional trade show. And because putting together a successful virtual booth requires you to upload your most relevant content to the internet, it is easy to make this content available to attendees even after the show. It’s a good idea to take full advantage of these kinds of aspects of a virtual trade show – helping you to build connections with interested participants before, during, and after the event.
With this kind of two-pronged approach – making your virtual booth mimic the most important aspects of a great physical presence at a trade show, while also tapping into the opportunities specific to virtual events – you can prepare your team to realize the full potential of a virtual trade show.