THE NEXT NORMAL: THE NEW DIGITAL AGE OF TRADE SHOWS
As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, 73% of trade show organizers report they have cancelled or delayed at least one show. As COVID-19 continues to impact industries across the board, widespread willingness among retailers and suppliers to share best practices, learn about new industry developments, and potentially recoup losses, has only grown making trade shows even more valuable and important. As a result, show operators and producers are now moving their events online, launching virtual shows, engaging in digital and social media-based programming, and leveraging video conferencing tools.
OPPORTUNITIES OF DIGITAL TRADE SHOWS
Companies within all industries are scrambling to redefine how they do business in our rapidly digitizing world, and trade shows are no exception to this rule. Like in many industries, the transfer from physical to virtual isn’t seamless and some functionality is lost. Still, technology has come a long way. While many worry that digital trade shows can’t fully replicate the live demos, networking, and product sampling that take place at an in-person event, others insist they can approximate many of the main elements—like presentations, roundtable discussions and breakout sessions—that make shows valuable to suppliers and consumers alike.
Virtual trade shows have existed for some time now, and while none of us believed we’d be pushed into them so soon, many can recognize the obvious benefits that accompany these virtual events. Exhibitors will have the potential to capture attendee data like never before, with the ability to see exactly who visited their booths, how long they stayed, when they dropped off, who they talked to, and what information they requested. In addition, virtual shows offer a unique opportunity for a one-on-one interaction with attendees. These unique benefits could improve ROI for many companies as this information will provide a more seamless connection between exhibitors and attendees, making follow-up on potential leads easier.
Online shows will also offer exhibitors the opportunity to explore and experiment with innovative new exhibit ideas—and quickly change the ones that don’t work. Unlike physical trade shows, exhibitors won’t have to worry about foot traffic or other design constraints, and many hosting platforms will have several multimedia tools that can assist in display design.
Not to mention, the reach of these virtual shows will come at a much lower cost than traditional trade shows. Not only will exhibitors save on hotel and transportation costs—there is also a lover environmental impact, which could lead to tax incentives for many companies. Low overhead could also mean that exhibitors will have the opportunity to explore new markets without affecting the annual budget and attend non-traditional shows for wider reach.
CHALLENGES OF DIGITAL TRADE SHOWS
While digital trade shows offer an opportunity for companies to recoup money and make valuable connections during uncertain times, brands will have to step up their game if they want to entice attendees to stay for the length of their presentation. Exhibitors will need to offer a unique value to attendees.
One simple way to incentivize prolonged attendance is by simply providing a forum for networking during your presentation. One of the most obvious differences between virtual trade shows and in-person trade shows is the atmosphere—watching a presentation is widely different sitting on your couch at home than it is at a physical venue. Therefore, an important value for exhibitors to provide for their attendees is the opportunity to network with other attendees. There are many ways to do this, from enabling an audience chat room during the event to hosting live Q&As where audiences can up-vote questions—brands could even build breakout rooms for different audience interests.
Similarly, digital trade shows will need to hold audience attention in a way that in-person trade shows don’t have to. While there are many ways to add excitement to an in-person demonstration, brands will need to be cognizant of the shorter attention spans of online audience members. By adjusting the pacing of slides, switching speakers, and including mixed media within presentations, brands will be able to fight drop-off.
LOOKING FORWARD: A SYNERGY OF DIGITAL AND TRADITIONAL
Digital shows are an important next step in the evolution of business, and not just because we live in an era of digitization. Digital shows provide an effective, omnichannel strategy for vendors and retailers which comes at a low cost (due to money saved on travel) and provides the potential for new ways to assess and analyze attendance and interest.
Unsurprisingly, retailer sentiment for attending trade shows in-person remains strong, and physical trade shows will likely remain as buyers will still want to meet at industry events in person. However, digital trade shows—and even year-round digital marketplaces—will undoubtedly become a permanent part of the B2B landscape.
3 WAYS TO SUCCEED IN A DIGITAL TRADE ENVIRONMENT
Operating in a virtual trade show environment presents new challenges to participants. In order to help you succeed, our team of experts has crafted these three tips:
Polish up your digital sales assets. By nature, a virtual trade show is...well, virtual. Therefore, your team should make sure that all digital assets, including pitch decks, sales catalogues, order forms, or other marketing materials are optimized for digital access and use. To get the most ROI from your efforts, it’s critical to not only include these digital assets for attendees to access, but also to incorporate them into your presentation as much as possible for a cohesive experience.
Have your technology prepared. While it may go without saying, preparing any necessary technology beforehand is paramount to a successful presentation. Make sure all computers are charged and updated and that you have a strong Wi-Fi connection to avoid any technical glitches in your presentation.
Dress the part for real time video calls/breakout sessions. Similarly, make sure all presenters have dressed appropriately for the presentation, whether it’s in business attire or matching company polos — this continuity and professionalism will add to your presentation.