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?

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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

Buying and Selling 2.0: the High Performance Model

Rapid technology advancements have benefited buyers and sellers alike.  Buyer-accessible information and buyer-controlled technology help buyers research, evaluate, discuss, recommend, check references, review pricing, and even negotiate purchases.  Sellers, meanwhile, have access to new tools and information that help them to engage their communities, nurture buyers, identify high potential prospects and guide the sale, while keeping the broader community appropriately engaged.

The biggest challenge for buyers and sellers now is filtering and managing all that information.  Buyers have more reference material, and sellers have more data to aggregate and analyze from a broader array of touchpoints.  Which inquiries are ultimately worthwhile?  How can you nurture them all over time to identify worthwhile prospects, nurture the buyer community, maximize your success, and avoid costly mistakes?

A complicating factor is organizational transparency.  Buyers demand it, and can now interact with Marketing and Sales at will, often vacillating between the two, making it difficult to determine who “owns” the relationship at any given point in time.  As a result, Sales and Marketing must collaborate like never before and jointly own the relationship – integrating their efforts, sharing data on a common technology platform, and tightly managing roles, responses and responsibilities – to help manage the discontinuous, often backtracking buyer relationship.  If done poorly, the Sales Funnel sprouts “leaks” which often manifest later as lost sales, customer dissatisfaction, damaged reputations and inter-departmental friction.  Done well, the sales funnel becomes better managed, and the process of qualifying sales leads, concentrating on high potential buyers and nurturing the broader community is enhanced.

All of this is only possible with an integrated technology platform and an aligned organization.  The sheer volume and complexity of buyer activity is too great and too nuanced to manage otherwise, and the impact on the buyer and the seller is too important to neglect.

In sum, both buyers and sellers have heightened expectations these days.  Buyers gravitate to sellers who provide consistent, reliable treatment with every contact.  Selling organizations require tighter integration of sales and marketing functions to effectively provide that consistent treatment, guide each buyer’s journey, and nurture the community at large.  With the strategic guidance and alignment of roles and resources, the marketing and sales organization can collaboratively make significant gains in performance and measurably improve overall results.  When the sales team spends more time in high potential sales meetings and less time prospecting, you know you have successfully tuned your organization to the higher performance model.

How have these new realities affected your role and your organization?

What challenges have you overcome?

Love to hear your stories.

~Ed

The Customer has Spoken – twice: 2 reports on social media business benefits

For the organization still trying to decide whether social media is a trend or a fad and therefore useful for business, consider the following two studies.

From Business.com: The 2009 Business Social Media Benchmarking Study

Ben Hanna, Ph.D. recently authored and published via http://www.business.com this 45-page study, which provides insights into business social media usage provided by nearly 3,000 North American business professionals.  The report covers utilization by individuals as well as adoption by companies.  Here are a few of its observations.

1. Nearly half of all US adults now participate in social networks, and regularly use these networks to find business-relevant information such as product information, peer reviews, and product support.  So many people regularly use social networks that it is impractical to pigeon-hole them demographically and therefore imprudent to dismiss your customers and prospects as not likely users.

The top 3 most popular social networking sites, not surprisingly, are FaceBook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  Ironically, according to Robert Half International, 54% of company CIOs surveyed ban the use of Facebook and Twitter at work – similar to how they once banned Internet surfing and personal email.

2.  Nearly 65% of respondents reported using social media as part of their normal work routine, including reading blogs, visiting business profiles, or using Twitter to find information and communicate about business related matters.

3.  The most popular use of social media resources for business are:

a – accessing product and service information

  • attending webinars or listening to podcasts (69%)
  • reading ratings/reviews for business products or services (62%)
  • visiting company or product profile pages on social media sites (61%)

b – communicating about product and service information

  • participating in online business communities or forums (51%)
  • reading or downloading business related content on 3rd party content sharing sites (50%)
  • asking questions on Q&A sites (49%)
  • subscribing to RSS feeds of business related news or information sites (35%)
  • Participating in discussions on 3rd party sites (29%)
  • Using Twitter to find or request business related information (29%)

One interesting statistic ought to pop out above: over half of all survey respondents participate in online business communities or forums.   In other words, it is highly likely that your customers and prospects are talking about you, your customers and your competition right now.
 

From MarketingProfs.com: 11 Twitter Success Stories

This paper, available at http://www.marketingprofs.com , provides detailed case studies on 11 companies who measurably achieved their ROI objectives using Twitter as a communications channel.

Examples include building community, managing customer services, selling, prospecting, raising branding and awareness, and fund raising.

The paper is prefaced with a very useful how-to guide called “Essential Twitter Tools” for making use of Twitter-related tools, gadgets and resources to get the most out of Twitter.

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Have you read these studies?  Are you attaining business benefits through social media?  What results are you getting?   Reply / comment below.

~Ed