The ongoing pandemic has changed the very foundation on which many sectors within manufacturing and others B2B industries were built. Trade shows, which have long held an important place in helping businesses find new customers and contacts, have needed to reinvent themselves to fit within the virtual environment businesses must now operate.
In order to adapt, the number of virtual trade shows exploded in 2020. While a virtual setting may not seem like the ideal environment for a trade show, an event largely based on the exchange of business cards and face-to-face engagement, the concept has quickly taken off.
For businesses and industries that once relied heavily on trade shows as a means of growing sales and making important new connections, finding a place in these new virtual environments is paramount to revitalizing lagging revenue streams.
Fortunately, when given the time and proper attention, businesses have discovered that presenting a strong presence at virtual events can have a significant impact on finding and developing the type of leads they need to thrive.
Virtual Events Offer a High Level of Engagement
For veterans of the trade show circuit who are used to setting up booths in cavernous convention centers and hotel ballrooms, the idea these types of events can succeed virtually may seem hard to believe.
Yet, the pandemic necessitated that organizers embrace one of two options – Either give up on trade shows entirely until a time when social distancing and wearing masks in public fades from society like polyester pants and platform shoes, or find a way to host these types of events safely.
Considering the alternative, event organizers were quick to make the necessary changes in how they hosted trade shows in 2020.
In a survey from last July conducted by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, among organizers forced to cancel at least one event in 2020, the shift in the number of virtual offerings they planned to host increased from 69 percent to 81 percent when compared to an April survey. The number of planned virtual trade shows also increased from just 15 percent in April to 41 percent by July.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, an increase in the number of virtual events was met with increased interest from decision makers that found these types of events as a convenient solution to their need to find new suppliers.
What enables virtual trade shows to excel is their ability to overcome the biggest obstacle these types of conventions normally face – attracting a high number of attendees.
Traveling to convention halls, staying in hotels, paying for meals, and losing employee productivity when out of the office all contribute to businesses needing to make a significant financial investment each time they agreed to send someone to attend a trade show. Virtual events eliminate nearly all of these hurdles, making it easier, more affordable, and more productive for a business to attend.
Not only have virtual trade shows seen an increase in the number of people registering and attending, they’ve also demonstrated the potential to improve user engagement.
A survey conducted by the virtual event company MarketingProfs found that 84 percent of virtual event attendees take some type of action, with 77 percent of those individuals taking the time to download information offered by a vendor.
Interest is clearly there for what virtual trade show have to offer, and attendees have shown an overwhelming willingness to actively engaging with businesses when given the opportunity. With the U.S. still months if not a full year away from life returning at least somewhat back to normal for most people, virtual trade shows are not going away anytime soon.
If your business was once a staple at trade show events, the question now becomes how do you attract virtual visitors so you’re well positioned to maximize what this current trend has to offer?
The Dos and Don’ts of Virtual Trade Shows
Even with attendance high and visitors willing to engage, if your virtual trade show booth lacks any type of meaningful interaction the results you receive are bound to disappoint.
Survey after survey has found that visitor experience declines without the presence of some kind of meaningful interaction. This means having more to offer than a few one-sheets visitors can download and print. A PDF of your available inventory or an outline of your capacity to create won’t wow those responsible for deciding who they give their business.
The same lessons your business has learned in how it markets itself in-person needs to remain its focus even when operating in a virtual space.
You must continue to stay focused on how you can help customers solve their challenges. You do this by demonstrating how your business can help create value rather than maintaining focus on what types of products and services you sell. Customer engagement remains the key to conveying value and separating yourself from the competition.
A successful virtual trade show booth offers an actual physical presence. Visitors to your booth need to have the option to reach out and connect to a representative in real time. Not just a chat box where questions can be asked and answered, but where an actual meeting between a representative that engages with and gets to know the potential customer can occur.
Just as a physical booth would have members of your sales team in attendance to connect with those walking by at a convention center, your virtual booth needs to have that same level of interaction available. With live video conferencing, the ability to schedule and meet with visitors – whether in communal Zoom meeting rooms or on a more personal one-on-one basis – can successfully recreate what traditional trade shows had to offer in terms of establishing meaningful connections with new customers.
Successfully positioning your business to succeed in the virtual conference space also means embracing a few other key characteristics. If you hope to increase customer engagement, your virtual booths need to include:
- Both on and offline availability. A virtual trade show must operate on a 24-hour schedule. Since your staff can’t be available at all hours and in all time zones, your booth needs to feature the ability for visitors to reach even when no one is online so they have the option of connecting at a later time.
- Cross platform compatibility. Just as your company’s website needs to work on multiple platforms, your virtual booth needs to function just as well when viewed on a smartphone as it does a desktop or tablet.
- Augmented reality. Moving your booth to a virtual space enables you to create unique environments that help to actively engage the imagination of visitors. Building a physical booth to resemble an oil rig, the floor of your manufacturing center, or other industry specific venue that customers never have the opportunity to visit would usually prove too costly. But in a virtual space, you can customize a booth to tell a story about your business in wholly original ways that will easily separate you from the competition.
- Real-time updates. Moving at the speed of business requires staying flexible and having the ability to easily adapt. One of the worse things a business can do is make its customers a promise it cannot keep. Once built, you still need to have the option of quickly making changes to your booth so that the information presented remains accurate and up to date.
Virtual trade shows are positioned to become the new normal for the foreseeable future. Even in a post-pandemic world, many types of businesses will choose to continue having some type of virtual presence at trade shows. Finding a way to operate in these new spaces offers your business the opportunity to successfully reopen the important sales funnel trade shows represent.
If you need assistance building a virtual trade show booth that will meet the needs and expectations of your customers, LocalFresh can help. Our team of designers and sales representatives have the tools and knowledge needed to help you build a booth that will enable your business to stand out and attract the type of customers you need to thrive.