While geared toward different audiences and set in different locations, traditional trade shows have tended to follow similar rhythms. Exhibitors set up booths to display their products and services for attendees. Thought leaders present and hold educational sessions. Networking opportunities are available to establish further connections.
This year, companies have been forced to abandon the original playbook for trade shows and pivoted to a new way of thinking: virtual trade shows. Even for businesses well-versed in hosting online events like webinars, the transition from in-person trade shows to virtual trade shows is naturally complex as it invites in new dynamics that need to be translated into the virtual world.
The best way to think about virtual trade shows is reimagined versus restrictive. With the right approach, you can successfully replicate the value of an in-person trade show in a virtual event — and we’ve got some helpful tips on how to make it happen.
1. Define the focus of your trade show
2. Create a cohesive user experience
3. Offer up ample opportunities for engagement
4. Have follow-up measures in place
5. Get the word out about your event
Let’s take a dive deeper into each of these tips.
Like a physical trade show, the planning of a virtual trade show begins with a conversation around strategy. Thinking about the event from a high-level perspective, consider what areas are of interest to your target audience and how these areas relate back to your business goals.
Let’s use the example of a pipe solutions provider who offers radiant cooling services. While the radiant cooling sector represents a lucrative market, they’ve found that a lot of their audience is concerned over potential issues with radiant cooling systems (e.g., humidity, condensation). A virtual trade show would offer the perfect platform for the provider to educate attendees on how to properly design, install and maintain radiant cooling systems while promoting the benefits of their products and services.
Once you’ve established the general focus of your virtual trade show, you can begin to map out content ideas to support this concept and connect with internal parties and partners who you’d like to have involved in the event.
Traditionally, trade shows are designed to offer guidance to attendees every step of the way. Daily schedules are provided, with signs throughout the event space to help direct attendees to the appropriate rooms. Meanwhile, staff is on-hand throughout the event to answer questions and provide further direction where needed.
Virtual trade shows should be planned with these same concepts in mind. When attendees land on your virtual webpage, they should be able to easily locate and access resources of interest — whether it’s tuning into a breakout session or watching a product demonstration. The combination of clear, concise messaging and CTAs throughout the site creates this intuitive feel.
Just as important as the flow of the virtual trade show website is the attention to branding. From the imagery that’s displayed to the messaging used, the trade show should remain aligned with the core values of your business and build a natural connection to your brand identity.
Keeping the conversation going is a vital part of any trade show. Attendees naturally crave dialogue — and it’s important that event hosts create avenues for it to happen. Thanks to advancements in technology, the same engagement opportunities that work at physical events can be recreated in online trade shows.
Let’s think about this in the context of a virtual booth. In addition to offering digital brochures and other marketing collateral, you can invite event attendees to talk to staff at your booth via live chat functionality — or for added convenience, let them schedule meetings with booth personnel via Zoom.
The same functionality that enhances your exhibitor booth can do the same for your partners. With more opportunities to directly interact with prospects and have meaningful conversations, the more likely partners are to see the value in the event and want to set up their own booths.
While it’s one thing to engage with attendees during a virtual trade show, the conversation shouldn’t end there. With your products and services top of mind post-event, it’s a prime time to build upon this interest and help turn prospects into customers.
A good place to start is enrolling all trade show visitors into a follow-up email nurture campaign. This series of emails can be used to promote resources that align with the focus of the trade show — from top-funnel blog posts to bottom-funnel case studies — with the ultimate goal of helping move prospects down the right path to becoming a customer.
Google ads can also support these efforts. By targeting event contacts with relevant ads, your business can remain top of mind while prospects search for industry-related products/services.
A virtual trade show can have all the right elements — but if it’s not marketed well, chances are attendance will be low, and you’ll fail to reap the benefits of the work you’ve put in. To get the most ROI from your efforts, it’s critical to plan and budget for a multi-channel marketing strategy.
Let’s start with the contacts who are already in your database. You can send an email to these contacts inviting them to register for the virtual trade show and follow this up with subsequent reminder emails to those who haven’t yet registered. Related posts on social media platforms can complement such efforts — from basic registration reminders to keynote speaker spotlights.
Then, there’s the advertising side of the equation. With a budget in place, you can connect with industry trade publications to identify advertising opportunities, as well as promote the show to look-alike audiences through Google and Facebook ads. This investment will inevitably get the event in front of more people who already have a natural interest in the topic.
Trade shows are a big revenue generator for many companies. Rather than miss out on these sales opportunities, virtual trade shows offer a way to reallocate your resources and budget so you can recreate the magic of traditional trade shows online and continue to bring in new leads.
As an inbound marketing agency, Kuno Creative is well-versed in helping companies pivot to a digital marketing strategy — and the shift from physical trade shows to virtual trade shows is no exception. Learn more about what it’s like to work with us.