Virtual trade shows were the norm during the COVID pandemic. Some more successful than others. We all look forward to meetings where you can shake hands, have dinner with customers, demo products and listen to speakers live and in-person. However, there have been some silver linings to a year of virtual trade shows. Here are my big three:
Everyone’s tradeshow budget got a big break in 2020. Even though some organizations still charged big fees for virtual booth space there was no shipping or labor cost, no renting carpet and trash cans, and no exorbitant catering charges. In addition, there is no big travel spend of flying a large team flying off to Orlando or San Diego. Many organizations reduced booth rates for virtual only meetings, making it even less expensive to participate. Much of the content created for the virtual booth can be used in other campaigns. Whether you saved the money, or spent it on webinars and video, it was an opportunity to redeploy budget. Do you really want to put all that money back in the tradeshow budget next year? Maybe it is time to relook at the ROI.
Ironically not attending in person sometimes gave better access to attendees. Since everyone was an avatar attendees were more likely to respond to a reach out through the tradeshow’s networking or social media channel. No need to try to find ways to meet key customers at the coffee shop on the second floor of the busy convention center, or try to find that prospect at the crowded welcome party. The attendee list was easily seen and the name of anyone who entered your booth could be seen and tracked. In addition, since there was no chance to ask questions at the end of the session, speakers put their emails at the end of their slides. What a great way to get direct access to thought leaders.
Most meetings left session recordings and exhibit booths available for attendees long after the meeting officially ended. Registered attendees could access sessions, and the booth, at their leisure. People who wanted to see your product, but might never have time to cruise through the exhibits at a live meeting, now had access even in the middle of some sleepless night two months later. I was getting trade show leads from one meeting booth four months after the meeting had ended.
Going forward most organizations have stated their intent to continue to have a virtual component to their meetings. It costs them little, it drives attendance and revenues, and they have built the skills and infrastructure for on-line support. Going forward companies have the option to rethink the tradeshow. Maybe it is time to scale back real-world attendance in favor of investing in a really effective on-line presence. Next year it will not be either or, but an opportunity to leverage he best of both.