Over the last few years, virtual events have seen incredible growth in popularity and yet still remain a complete mystery to most people.
Social distancing measures and the COVID-19 outbreak forced the event industry to make some uncomfortable, yet necessary changes.
Event organizers may have thought that trade shows were about to disappear altogether but the fact is, trade shows are perfect candidates for virtualization! And as event technology advances and people become more and more familiar with a digital format, the benefits of a virtual trade show become abundantly clear.
To help you successfully navigate this relatively new space, we’ve put together everything you need to know to run a virtual trade show.
This ultimate guide will break down:
- What a virtual trade show is
- The benefits of a virtual trade show
- The main features of a virtual trade show
- Services to offer that will set your virtual trade show apart
- Getting started with your virtual trade show
- Tips for marketing your virtual trade show
- And why you should run a virtual trade show
What is a Virtual Trade Show?
A virtual trade show is a virtual event run in a digital environment and hosted through a virtual platform.
Simply put, a virtual trade show replicates a physical trade show online and it has similar elements that would be included in the traditional event. This means that a virtual trade show will have a digital equivalent of an exhibit hall, a show floor, exhibitor booths, meeting spaces, keynote speeches, and educational sessions, among others.
Event organizers can take steps to include networking opportunities, product demos, and downloadable resource materials. Organizers can expect potentially larger attendee numbers while exhibitors and sponsors can expect not only more leads but better-qualified leads.
Benefits of a Virtual Trade Show
Virtual trade shows can present new and exciting opportunities, especially if you are trying to promote your brand or host an event during a time when physical events aren’t possible.
In short, a virtual trade show can:
- Provide a greater Return on Investment (ROI) than an in-person trade show
- Be offered to a larger audience than an in-person trade show
- Can provide useful marketing data
Greater Return on Investment (ROI)
Virtual events, whether a virtual conference, trade show, or virtual expo, can provide significant ROI. This is largely because an event organizer no longer has to worry about venue costs, staffing, or catering, so registration costs can be more affordable to attendees and can contribute to profit as opposed to event expenses.
Similarly, exhibitors do not have to pay travel expenses for booth staff or for physical branding materials or handouts. And because the virtual environment is not tied to a physical space, the trade show may be a viable option for a greater number of exhibitors.
Without the need for travel, a virtual trade show can reach a wider, potentially global, audience. A larger target audience means greater ticket sales and attendance numbers.
Attendees do not have to book accommodation or make travel arrangements making the cost of admission much more manageable.
By promoting your brand, company, or event to a larger audience, you will be investing in brand awareness, brand expansion, and increased revenue.
Better Data Collection
Because of the digital environment that virtual events are hosted on, a virtual event will allow you to collect data organically on your attendees.
With the right platform, it is easy to track virtual attendees as they move through the event space, such as view the virtual booths that they visited, view the materials that they downloaded, identify ways that they interacted with exhibitors, and track data on session popularity.
This information can be used in the future to provide more valuable content, improve marketing strategies, and appeal to the right sponsors.
The Main Features a Virtual Trade Show Should Have
Virtual trade shows have a number of elements and features that provide real value to event attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, and organizers. Virtual trade shows are largely powered by an events platform, which can set up an interactive experience that replicates traditional trade shows.
Here are some of the standard features of a virtual trade show:
- Interactive virtual trade show environment
- Customizable virtual booth experience for vendors
- Live chat options for networking and Q&A
- Streaming video for presentations, webinars, and branded virtual booth experiences
- Scheduled video, audio, or VR sessions
- Potential e-commerce platforms to enable on-the-spot sales
The events platform allows attendees to travel within the virtual event as if they were at a trade show in person. So, think of setting up your virtual event with a floor plan that addresses and accommodates the unique needs and requirements of each vendor.
You can set up a virtual lobby where attendees can mingle and explore the available vendors. From there, attendees can travel to different parts of the trade show.
Customizable trade show booths can allow vendors, exhibitors, and sponsors to display their brand within the confines of digital space. These booths not only include branding and messaging, but live text, video, and audio chat, product demos, and downloadable materials like product guides and specs.
Integrated into the layout of the virtual trade show should be networking opportunities such as live chat, scheduled breakout sessions, panel discussions, and Q&As. This will enable the virtual meeting participants to engage more deeply with the content and each other. It also allows exhibitors to capture leads and develop deeper brand connections.
Services to Add That Will Set Your Trade Show Apart
Listed above are the common features of a virtual trade show. But if you really want to stand out, there are a few things you can do to set yourself apart.
Consider adding the following:
Gamification: Gamification is the use of game-like elements and competition outside of a typical video game or sport setting. Implement things like virtual scavenger hunts, quizzes, and live polls. This will increase audience engagement, provide additional value, increase sponsorship opportunities, and keep people talking about the fun they had at your event long after it is finished.
Translation Services: Accessibility is the name of the game. To accommodate the needs of all your guests, consider adding live translation services. It is also a good idea to consider accommodations for individuals with seeing or hearing impairments.
On-Demand Video: Beyond language considerations, a global audience can mean multiple time zones. Allowing your video content to be downloaded or viewed on-demand means that all attendees can view and engage with your content when it is most convenient for them. It provides value to the attendees and eliminates scheduling headaches for you.
Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality: With increased availability, VR experiences are being more common. Adding virtual or augmented reality elements to your event will create a more interactive environment, increase engagement, and improve the overall experience.
Getting Started With Your Virtual Trade Show
Planning a virtual trade show is similar to planning a physical trade show but with a few unique considerations.
For more details on how to plan a virtual trade show, see our post: How to Create a Virtual Trade Show.
To get started, here are three steps to follow to ensure your event success:
- Determine the goals for the virtual trade show and your business
- Develop engaging content
- Customize your event with a virtual event platform
As with any event, you will want to establish goals before you get too deep into the planning process. Will your event focus on new product launches? Lead generation? Thought leadership?
Understanding these goals will help you narrow down your target audience and develop content that most closely matches their interests and aims.
Once you have identified your goals and your audience, you can begin to plan and develop valuable content. Find exhibitors that help you achieve your goals and provide value to your attendees.
With the customization options available with each trade show booth, exhibitors can set up and interact in the way they think is most appropriate for their brand. Be sure to add a keynote speaker, breakout sessions, group panels, and live product demos.
Marketing Tips For Promoting Your Virtual Trade Show
All the planning in the world won’t help you if you do not also have an effective event marketing strategy. Here are some things to keep in mind when promoting your virtual trade show:
Created a branded event website
Developing your event brand is one of the most important things you can do to attract the right audience and exhibitors.
A branded event website can help you share your brand message while also providing a place to find event details, exhibitor information, speaker profiles, and relevant content like blogs and videos.
The website can also act as your ticketing and registration platform allowing you to enable easy ticket purchases and collect real-time data on registrants that can be used to further hone your marketing strategy.
Make use of social media
Social media is one of the best available tools for marketing and event promotion. Create social media profiles for your trade show brand. Social channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even LinkedIn, can help you reach your target audience.
Use social media to drive people to your website and ticketing page. Post about the event and generate some buzz to drum up ticket sales.
Your events platform should integrate with social media so attendees can share their plans with their own feeds, thereby creating greater reach. Ask your sponsors and exhibitors to promote your event and their participation on their social media pages as well.
Start an email marketing campaign
Email marketing still remains one of the most effective strategies on the planet. Email marketing allows for personalization and enables you to reach your target audience in a more direct and intimate way.
Your email strategy should include email event invitations (with solid subject lines!), event reminders that include relevant information like login instructions and tech support contacts, post-event follow up emails that say thank you and includes a link to your post-event survey.
Employ traditional media
Just because your event is online doesn’t mean all your marketing needs to be. Share your event in industry publications, print media, radio spots in key markets, and television ads in these same markets if you have the budget.
Each one of these ads should push people to your social channels and your website for more information.
Run a Virtual Trade Show
Virtual trade shows provide an incredible opportunity for bringing together industry leaders, brands, and professionals in a useful and meaningful way. Virtual events and trade shows have fewer costs associated with hosting, sponsorship, attending, and exhibiting, they provide incredible value and a return on investment for all parties involved.
Hosting a successful virtual trade show requires some careful thought about attendee and vendor experience. It is important to take steps to facilitate networking and elevate the attendee experience.
To make your event a reality, and to facilitate interactions across the board, you will need to choose a virtual event platform. There are a number of platforms and software tools available to support a virtual exhibition or trade show.
Look for a platform that enables live chat, has robust 24/7 customer support, allows live video streaming, has virtual meeting spaces, easy customization, and supports ticketing and registration.
When you are ready to get started, reach out to Accelevents to learn more about how we can help you create and manage your virtual trade show.