The good news is that we do not have to be afraid. Trade shows, while still certainly struggling under current economic conditions, appear not to have lost their basic value as a cost efficient, significant business opportunity. In fact, according to a 2010 CEIR Survey, 76% of attendees rate face-to-face interaction with potential vendors and suppliers very or extremely important in performing their job.
Also, according to BtoBonline, 94% say it is important or very important to be able to view online content after the event has occurred.
What does this mean from a marketing perspective? It means that the recent push for online/virtual events, as well as full-scale transitions from integrated marketing (including traditional tactics) to 100% digital marketing plans are not the end-all be-all of the modern trade show marketing campaign. However, virtual events are beginning to prove their worth as a driver for the live event.
So, how do we utilize a virtual event to drive attendance to the show? The first thing to understand is that the virtual event cannot (for now) exist as a stand-alone event. It MUST come as an extension of the live event. While IAEE research shows that 40% of virtual events aim to be self-sustaining, we also know that live content is the most popular content of virtual events. So, for now at least, it is up to show producers to capture enough engaging content to make people want to attend the virtual, and eventually the real event. Show floor interviews, product demos, and education sessions all make the list of engaging (and more importantly, desired) content.
The second important factor is the overall purpose of the virtual event. Some show producers make the mistake of promoting the technologically progressive nature of the event, as opposed to its actual value to the attendee. The event should be focused on what it can do for the participant, NOT about what it is doing for the trade association.
Ultimately, the physical, face-to-face interaction achieved at trade shows remains as one of the leading drivers of attendance. The virtual event, by nature, will never achieve the tactile stimulation of a live trade show. People experience trade shows with their five senses. They are able to see, touch, and experience what they are after, allowing them to make more educated business decisions.
Eliminating a physical event and converting to a virtual one at this point seems to be, frankly, a bad idea. Converting your marketing campaign to 100% digital is not be the best plan either. And please don’t ever think email is free.
Is the trade show industry progressing? Certainly. But it can’t escape essential business interaction – face to face, solidified with a handshake and a smile.
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