2020 has thrown all of our existing trade show plans for a loop. With COVID-19 effectively cancelling all live events and corporate gatherings for the foreseeable future, marketers have been challenged with pivoting their promotional plans.
As COVID-19 emerged in the spring, ‘virtual events’ immediately hit the marketplace as an alternative to traditional in-person experiences. At the time, little was known about this option, and very few marketers had experience with them.
Now that some time has passed, what have we learned about virtual events? Is there one clear definition of a virtual event and its’ components? Are virtual events the right choice for every organization?
Today, we are going to focus on large scale virtual events that include live sessions, education, sponsors, and exhibitors.
Virtual events vary vastly across platforms and associations in size, reporting features, cost, and customization. While companies are busy trying to evaluate the value of digital and virtual opportunities, associations are hard at work trying to identify solutions that work for both attendees and exhibitors.
So, how do you decide if exhibiting at a virtual event is right for your brand?
Keep Your Audience in Mind
Everything revolves around your target audience: What will they be receptive to? Are they used to digital channels? How do they typically engage with you?
If you decide that, yes, our customers would attend and engage with a virtual event, your next step is an audience acquisition plan. For customers, it’s not as easy as stumbling across your booth on the trade show floor anymore. Now, they need to take a bit more action to get to you.
Use a CRM, email marketing, paid advertisements, mailers, or paid search to connect with your audience and promote engagement. Pre-promotion sets your event up for successful, meaningful interaction with your customers. Because what use is a virtual space that no one sees?
If you’re looking for more insight on audience engagement, we’d recommend checking out this panel session of expert event marketers from Impact 2020, an event focused on the top issues facing marketers today.
Ask the Right Questions
Historically, exhibiting at a face-to-face conference could result in gaining a significant amount of qualified leads because the association was responsible for bringing in attendees that are your ideal customer. Everyone is still figuring out how to bring the value of face-to-face to the digital space, and it is important to remember that not everything will be done the best way the first time, as companies continue to learn and adapt.
When an association decides to take an event virtual, it’s important for exhibitors and sponsors to get as much information as you can about the event’s digital offerings.
- What are the exhibiting and sponsor opportunities and their associated costs
- How long will content be accessible for attendees?
- How do they plan on directing attendees to the exhibitor space?
- Can you link a custom digital experience to the platform, or do you have to use one of their provided templates?
- What reporting features are available to capture audience information and metrics?
Overall, the virtual experience for attendees seems to be positive. They’re able to obtain on-demand content that is accessible for much longer than a typical conference week, while in the comfort of their own home. However, sometimes the value for exhibitors is not quite there.
In a face-to-face conference, the event’s schedule ensures foot traffic for exhibitors. In the virtual space, nothing is strongly incentivizing attendees to visit exhibitors. Attendees may use time in between sessions to take calls or respond to emails, rather than ‘explore the show floor.’
If you are considering exhibiting at a virtual conference, make sure you understand your opportunities, brand exposure, and costs. There may be other digital experiences that provide more value for the financial investment. To read more about other digital experiences to consider, read our blog about digital experiences here.
Still Not Sure?
Attending a virtual event isn’t a decision to take lightly. It’s just as important as the decisions you would make for a normal in-person trade show booth.
If you’re still not sure if/what options are right for you, we’d be happy to help you navigate your decision.