It’s the talk of 2020. Virtual events have filled your calendar. "And as a business owner, you’re probably thinking you should get involved," the team with Quadrant2Design says. "If trade shows have long been part of your marketing strategy, exhibiting at a virtual trade show might seem like the obvious thing to do. But have you thought about how you are going to get people to visit your booth?"
"It’s been a tough year for all of us. Marketing has never been more important. However, we don’t want you to throw your marketing budget away on a whim," they add. That's why they've crafted the top three mistakes virtual exhibitors make. "These are things you want to avoid if you’ve booked a stand at a virtual trade show."
What is a Virtual Exhibition?
Exhibitions are industry-specific events that allow businesses to display their products or services to a targeted audience. People visit exhibitions to find new suppliers or businesses to work with. These shows attract huge international audiences. The UK’s largest venue, NEC Birmingham, boasts over 182,000 m² and can hold over 100,000 people.
Virtual exhibitions offer the same experience but in an online environment. Businesses use virtual exhibition stands to highlight their products and services to a niche audience. Visitors log-in to the digital environment and can make their way from one virtual stand to another. There is also the option to book one-to-one meetings via video call and attend webinars and keynotes.
Aren’t we Going Hybrid?
"Yes. Hybrid events are quickly becoming the ‘new normal’ but we have a way to go before large gatherings can happen in-person. The exhibition industry will transition to a hybrid format with each event having an online presence as well as a physical presence."
According to the team with Quadrant2Design, this is for two reasons. "Firstly, trade shows attract international audiences. Travel restrictions and local lockdowns will make that impossible for the first half of 2021. Including a virtual space for exhibitors to showcase their brand will increase visitor numbers, offering more value," they say. "Secondly, there are things we have all liked about virtual exhibitions. From a visitor’s perspective, you don’t have travel costs or long queues for lunch. From an exhibitor’s perspective, it is easier to collect lead data for future marketing."
Yet, there is a problem. "When the UK government banned mass gatherings, event organisers switched to a virtual platform. Although virtual events had been steadily growing in popularity, the industry was not ready for such a big shift."
"The organisers promised the same experience that you would expect from a busy trade show hall. Of course, this was not the case. Virtual events were new and exciting at first. But 300 Zoom meetings later people lost interest and visitor numbers started to drop. It became apparent that the virtual event organisers had to offer more."
Virtual Exhibition Stands
A virtual event is not the same as an in-person event. As with any comparison, it has advantages and disadvantages. Event organisers and exhibitors were guilty of treating both types of show the same, they say.
"While the organisers have started offering more content, exhibitors are still trying to build virtual exhibition stands. Literally. They are asking for 3D, interactive stand designs that sit on a unique domain. It was cool at first – but what’s the point? An online environment gives exhibitors thousands of opportunities. Yet, they are trying to recreate what they have been doing at in-person events throughout their lifetime. And now they’re wondering why nobody wants to visit their stand."
According to the Quadrant2Design team, these are the top three reasons that nobody wants to visit your virtual exhibition stand (and how to avoid them). "If you’ve found yourself feeling flat after a virtual trade show, you’re not alone. Exhibitors weren’t ready for the virtual shift and everyone has spent this year chasing their tails," they say.
"If you have a space booked at an upcoming virtual exhibition, you’re in luck. These are the top three mistakes that exhibitors make when it comes to their virtual exhibition stand. Avoid them at all costs."
1. No Pre-Show Marketing
Simply having a space at a virtual exhibition should not count as marketing. You are responsible for telling people what show you’re exhibiting at and inviting them to come and chat with you.
"Funnily enough, people do this really well when it comes to in-person events. Social media, content marketing and email marketing have all proven effective. Consider changing your email signature and distributing a press release to industry-specific publications as well. If you want people to visit your virtual stand, they have to know it exists. Use a pre-show marketing calendar to help you strategize."
2. No Incentive
Everyone knows the way to a trade show visitors heart is freebies. How many times have you left an event with a bag full of branded pens, mouse-mats and USB sticks?
"Exhibitors use promotional giveaways to incentivise visitors over to their stand. This is a tradition that has been lost in the virtual transition. Obviously. Your visitors can’t pick up a free pen online. What they can do is enter competitions. Exhibition stand games are popular amongst visitors and exhibitors. All a delegate has to do is fill out your contact form to be in with a chance to win a grand prize."
Think about your prize (because this is the real incentive). Take advantage of the budget you have saved by not paying for promotional literature and giveaways.
3. No Engagement
In-person trade shows are all about atmosphere. With so many people with a shared interest under one roof, it’s hard not to be excited. "Because of this environment (and strategic exhibition stand staff), people naturally engage with each other. It doesn’t happen like that online. Most visitors are at home with a comfy pair of trousers on waiting for the advertised speaker sessions. Unless they actively look for your stand, they are unlikely to engage with you. You have to find them!"
Just as your staff would have done in the venue, seek out prospects and interact with them. Invite them to enter your competition or watch a product demonstration. It is your job to engage potential customers.
Nailing a virtual exhibition
Now you know the biggest mistakes that virtual exhibitors make, you know exactly what not to do, the team with Quadrant2Design conclude. "The event organiser’s job is over once you’ve booked your space at a show. It’s your responsibility to tell people you’re exhibiting, encourage them to visit your stand and engage with attendees. Don’t let your virtual exhibition be a flop. There is no reason that you can’t make this strategy is a huge success. Most of all, good luck! This has been a tough year and we all deserve a break."