As many Marketing Professionals and Event Organizers will attest, the worth of Virtual Events will never replace that of Live Events. Shows that moved to all virtual formats during the pandemic saw huge drop-offs in participating companies and attendees. Companies that did participate almost uniformly expressed dissatisfaction with the events, and the Marketing Professionals tasked with planning their companies’ participation expressed frustration with the changing formats from event to event and the lack of metrics to quantify the return from their participation. Despite this feedback, we believe the virtual exhibit has a home as a valuable marketing tool now, and in the years to come- and here’s why:
First, we must delineate between the virtual exhibits provided by show organizers and the ones developed by companies privately for their own use. Often, virtual event organizers are offering a few stock designs that you can adjust the colors of and slap your logo onto. Almost inevitably, your booth already looks eerily similar to others, possibly your competitor’s, so has no uniqueness or reason to elicit engagement. Some higher end events do offer the option to develop a unique booth for you, but the cost is often exorbitant, the design limits are still restrictive, and the end product is not available for use to the client outside of the event. Essentially the design becomes a one-time use, and at the next show the client will need to invest in another based off of what that show’s organizers are offering (if any).
A custom-tailored virtual exhibit offers much more flexibility for a company and Marketing Professionals. Design-wise, it can be whatever the client wants. It can be a 2D “flat” design of an in-line exhibit, or, a totally immersive and navigable 3D exhibit with multiple demos and information centers. Some choose to emulate their existing booths, while others look at the relatively low development cost compared to a physical booth, and then decide to build the virtual booth of their dreams. This is much better than choosing from a few stocked options and slapping your logo on it.
Another huge plus for privately developed virtual exhibits is that they are web-hosted at a unique IP address. This means that the traffic to the exhibit can be monitored- giving insights as to who visited. We recommend tying in questionnaires for the entry into a give-away in order for visitors to provide further qualifying information. With this all being captured digitally, there’s markedly less chance of the lead getting lost as “sometimes” happens even at a live event. Since the virtual exhibit lives at the web address, it can be used outside of specific virtual events as well. Salespeople can send the link directly to clients and prospects at their will so can create a more private experience. Marketing Professionals can use in pre and post event campaigns in order to reach more targets than just the ones that attend a virtual event, and then actually take the time to navigate a virtual floorplan. Many clients create a tab to their virtual exhibit right on their main website’s landing page, and then also include a link to it from their Company Info/Bio page in the event’s directory. The versatility of a web-hosted virtual exhibit means you can use it so many different ways in order to reach so many different people outside of the confines of a virtual event.
But many may ask, “why invest in a virtual exhibit when the return of live events is right around the corner?”. For one, no one knows when that corner will be reached and live events will return. We are hoping Q3 of 2021, but we were also pretty optimistic when the pandemic first hit that live events would return in Q3 of 2020! When they do return, the landscape will definitely be different. In a recent study conducted by the Center for Exhibition industry Research, only 22% of respondents think that virtual will overtake live in-person events. However 70% of them do think that a virtual component will need to be part of live events going forward. Many companies have already put moratoriums on employee travel through the end of 2021, so those ones will not be participating when live events first return and number of exhibitors at these first live events will be greatly reduced. With less exhibitors, comes less attendees then as well, so the hybrid model will be used and virtual will need to be utilized. The reduction in attendees will also be precipitated by the initial reluctance to travel post-pandemic out of concerns of catching & potentially spreading CV-19 upon the return. So, by investing in a custom virtual exhibit to compliment a live event’s activities, Marketing Professionals will be able to reach the targets that are initially not able to or not willing to travel or participate in these initial live events. We have a few other ideas on this topic from a previous blog we published recently.
Nothing can replace the live event and what it does to bring people face-to-face in order to accelerate sales cycles and educate other companies and the public on what is the latest and greatest that companies have to offer. But as we’ve seen increasingly in every aspect of our lives, digital technologies are being used more and more to market and educate consumers. By investing in a custom virtual exhibit, companies can close the engagement gap created by the pandemic and utilize it as a lasting tool to compliment their face-to-face efforts.