online marketing: Virtual Trade Shows – worth it?

Virtual trade shows combine some interesting elements of both inbound and outbound marketing.

Recently I convinced a firm to participate as a Sponsor for a virtual trade show run by a professional organization serving their industry.

Compared to a live trade show, the virtual version provided some distinct advantages, as well as some eerily similar behavioral analogies.

Firstly, there are obvious cost savings in travel, lodging, meals, shipping, logistics, downtime and dead tree media. 

Beyond that, a number of distinct advantages occurred.  For starters, the price tag was about half the comparable expense for a live in-person event, yet the traffic was higher than any of the dozens of events we had done in the same year.  I suspect the low price is partially due to the reduced production cost, but I can’t help wondering if prices are artificially low and might inflate in the next year or two, as virtual trade shows catch on and sponsorships become more of a premium (the old supply vs. demand conundrum).  I guess time will tell.

Operationally, the virtual event had some distinct characteristics I really liked.  For example, exhibitors had the ability to:

  • post all manner of media – video, white papers, demos, brochureware, available for unlimited download and access, and all without killing any trees.
  • empower virtual booth attendants – the sponsorship package we selected permitted the creation of 3 avatars, each represented in real life by myself and two colleagues, who would take turns “staffing” our virtual exhibit – that is, being online to receive automatically generated alerts each time a visitor accessed our virtual exhibit, and operating a chat window feature provided with the virtual exhibit.
  • track and nurture visitors – Most importantly, exhibit and show traffic was better than any live event over the past year, and it was all visible to us, not only during the event but for up to 90 days after the show dates.  We could see who had accessed each type of content, how long they visited, and any questions they had logged or discussed in chat sessions.   Any time a visitor logged in, we could see what content they were accessing and make some determination about how best to follow up.   Genius!

This last feature is roughly the equivalent of having a dedicated micro-site, laser focused on a specific audience, complete with profiling, analytics,  reporting and live alerts.   All data was stored and accessible in spreadsheet format for easy download and transfer to our in-house CRM software.  All for the same price.
If all this is not sufficient testimonial in favor of virtual trade shows, consider:    the professional organization whose virtual event I sponsored has decided to make their big annual conference a virtual event too. 

Pre-event training offered by the virtual event company was well worth attending; it kept us out of the woods and guided us in attaining successful results.

Have you sponsored or managed a virtual event?  What has your experience been?


Author note: since posting this article and linking to it from the MarketingProfs community on LinkedIn, a lively discussion thread has started *over there*.   People are commenting on the importance of face to face communication and networking opportunities afforded by attending a live event.  Others are commenting about the ease and efficiency of managing and qualifying virtual event attendees’ dataflow.  If you are a member of LinkedIn, consider joining the MarketingProfs group.  They are an engaged forum and a wealth of information. 

Or, leave your comments here and I’ll compile and update the article in a few days.  Thanks!  ~Ed

8 thoughts on “online marketing: Virtual Trade Shows – worth it?

  1. Online marketing is not merely for the contemporary product, producing a website or for letting customers purchase items ongoing. Online marketing can also include how a business owner can engage a work team. The measure of people who are examining computers, web design, and learning to host websites proves just how booming online marketing can make the employer, the employees, and the independent contractors. And with a comfortable Internet savvy team, your business profits can increase too.

    1. Interesting, Anton. If I follow you correctly, t seems you’re commenting on the article’s observation that tech companies are more likely to be successful with virtual trade shows partially because they and their audiences are more comfortable using technology to get things done…and you’re politely arguing that the ubiquity of the web for all types of business makes that observation a tenuous one. I would love to hear your experiences; this would certainly add dimension to the discussion. No doubt companies that host virtual conferences would be interested in this. Contact me to explore continuation of the dialogue; sounds like a great blog article idea. Thanks.

  2. I admire the valuable information you offer in your articles.Great post, You make right points in a concise and pertinent fashion, I will read more of your stuff, many thanks to the author

  3. “Going to a show” is viewed as, and managaed as, a company perk. Perks for the marketers, the attenders, and the press.

    Managers cannot say, “As a reward for your success on this project, I want you to sit on this WebEx for four hours.”

    As budgets have cut back, live show attendance has been more about marketing to marketers, and the biproduct of hooking up with the most successful inside achievers, and most influential press, has faded.

    Small regional shows already offer reduce travel costs and seem mostly to be uninspired. People come-and-go quickly leaving the at-any-time attendance even more disproportionally low. Vendors fall-back to the boring tri-fold, table-top displays that can never wow, and the cycle of apathy accelerates.

    The big show has also been a vehicle for presenting strategic direction. Breaking news at a small show does not get significant press. Breaking news on a virtual show would not get significant press.

    If it’s not a reward for your best employees; if it’s not a way to meet the best employees of other firms; and if it’s not a way to break strategic news, I’m left wondering what the appeal of a virtual show is compared to YouTube, and how it could follow-on in the tradition of the trade show.

    The genre of the trade show may be filed away with “whistle stops” and “green stamps” as quaint ways marketing used to be done.

  4. I’m currently doing research on live vs. virtual events, both “seminars” and “trade shows”. From the research I’ve done thus far, and the interviews I’ve conducted, there are obvious tradeoffs between the live and virtual forums.

    Some differences are obvious: the production cost of doing a virtual event is significantly less. No travel, no meals, no lodging, no room rental, no booth construction, shipping or storage, no booth space rental, etc.

    But the results and the ROI from a virtual vs. a live event are still unclear. It varies from show to show, company to company. My research, thus far, is showing a clear pattern: generally, with a virtual event, although you’ll have a lower cost, you’ll also have less engagement between the attendees and the speakers/exhibitors.

    People who log on to a webinar, webcast or virtual trade show are, of course, in front of a screen, where the “multitasking” work mode is in high gear. Yes, the attendee is “at” your event, but they are also answering email, composing a document, surfing another website or talking on the phone with the sound of your presentation muted.

    There appears to be some evidence that there is a trade-off between the lower cost of a virtual event and the number and quality of leads that result from a (less expensive) virtual event and a (more expensive) live one.

    I’ll be working on this for the next few weeks and I’ll have more to write about it then.

    1. Steve, it appears your results and the results/comments of this august group support the infallibility of the fundamental ROI equation. If you invest little (virtual trade show: online presence = divided attention) you get little (attention) in return. If you invest highly (your physical presence, a scarce commodity and a non-renewable resource) you tend to get a better return in terms of attention, engagement and PR. There are no shortcuts. I will contact you about my compiled comments from various resources and possibly collaborating on my article.



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