Generating leads through trade shows used to be a huge and complicated endeavor. But one of the few positive developments to come out of COVID would be the rise of virtual trade shows. Last year showed us that they can be just as effective as their physical counterparts, for only a fraction of the cost, required resources, and headaches. Pandemics come and go but virtual trade shows are here to stay, thanks to their undeniable advantages. Time to 10x your lead generation with this complete guide.
- What is a virtual trade show?
- The benefits of virtual vs physical trade shows?
- The best of both worlds: hybrid trade shows
- How to plan your next virtual trade show in X steps
- Think outside the booth
- Valuable features you should include
- Top 3 virtual trade show platforms
What is a virtual trade show?
A virtual trade show, just like its physical counterpart, is an organized get-together of brands and companies within an industry. The difference is that the virtual trade show takes place entirely online. The event organizer sets up a trade show landing page and promotes the event to the audience. Visitors can register to get access to the content of the event. This content can be live-streamed or prerecorded and streamed as video-on-demand. Alongside keynote, webinar, and workshop content, virtual trade shows also offer event engagement tools such as sponsor booths and chat rooms where visitors can connect with brand representatives. These events can range from intimate Q&A sessions to large-scale international conferences.
The benefits of virtual trade shows?
Virtual trade shows hold a few major advantages over brick-and-mortar events. In a single sentence, you could say that virtual trade shows require a lower investment for a higher ROI, including attendee data and analytics. In even fewer words, you get more bang for your buck.
Virtual trade shows are cost-effective
You can set up a virtual trade show for the cost of a virtual event platform, promotion campaigns, keynote speakers and entertainment, and maybe a few bits and pieces on the side. The big expenses of physical trade shows like venues, catering, staff, travel, and lodging are no longer a factor.
Virtual trade shows are easily accessible
Virtual trade shows take place at home, in front of the attendee’s computer. Instead of traveling to the venue, standing in traffic and lines, all the attendee needs to do is click a link. The friction is close to nil. Features such as captions and automatic translations create far greater accessibility and inclusion for everyone.
Virtual trade shows can serve both live and on-demand content. With on-demand content, a trade show can truly bridge time zones to include attendees from all over the world.
That’s why …
Virtual trade shows potentially attract larger audiences
There’s no venue, no schedule, and no time zone to limit your audience size. Add to that the fact that most event organizers offer free admission (the low cost of virtual trade shows certainly allows it) and there’s practically no friction for attendees to join your event, anytime, anywhere.
And thus …
Virtual trade shows capture more leads
With more attendees come more potential qualified leads. The better virtual trade show platforms offer features for both hosts and sponsors to connect with attendees and collect leads, such as chat rooms, forms, and sponsor booths.
Virtual trade shows are highly trackable
Both hosts and sponsors can home in on their ROI for virtual trade shows. Because attendees move through the event online, reporting and analytics return detailed data of each attendee’s itinerary, actions, and interactions.
Virtual trade shows help people connect better
Thanks to the many communication features available, virtual trade shows are better at connecting people than their physical counterparts. There’s no disturbing noise, no waiting lines, names and emails are immediately exchanged, and the chat functions foster calm and undivided attention of the exhibitor for the attendee. As a shy person myself, I find virtual trade shows to be much more productive and valuable for me.
The best of both worlds: Hybrid trade shows
Many event professionals will tell you that virtual events lack the engagement and excitement of physical events and that some trades and industries don’t translate well online. Think of gastronomy or sports. Both virtual and physical trade shows have their advantages and disadvantages.
But you don’t always have to choose. 66.5% of event profs plan to use hybrid as their go-to format once in-person events resume. [EventMB, 2020]
A hybrid trade show combines an in-person event with a virtual component. This gives attendees the option to physically join your event or catch it online depending on their personal preference.
How to plan your next virtual trade show in 7 steps
Here’s an X-step plan you should follow to set your event up for success. But the truth is it’s not that linear a process. You’ll start and revisit the various steps several times during the set-up of your trade show:
Define your goals
Knowing why you want to organize a trade show and what goals you want to achieve with it is a crucial first step that will shape the whole project. Define your goals, set up your key performance indicators, and get back to them regularly throughout the process to make sure you’re still on track.
Find the right virtual trade show platform to host your event
Don’t let your creativity and success be limited by the tools you use. You have many options when it comes to virtual event platforms, but only a few will enable you to reach all your goals and offer all the tools you need, plus the professional-grade security and stability your event deserves. We’ve listed the top 3 virtual trade show platforms later in this article, to help you out!
Set up an event plan
First, choose a time and date for your event. Then set up a plan and timeline that covers all milestones, dates, and contributions of all people involved. Decide what features your event should have (think of your KPIs and goals). List and book your speakers, moderators, and entertainment. Set up an event schedule that you can publish on your registration page. Include a contingency plan to troubleshoot possible issues like speaker cancelations, technical problems, etc. The planning stage is also the time to make sure you create a cohesive experience for your audience, rather than just a string of presentations and videos.
Start promoting your event to exhibitors and attendees
The sweet spot for small events is to start promoting between 3 and 6 weeks in advance. For larger events, you should start promoting at least 6 weeks before the start of your event. Set up a landing page for your audience to register (typically, it will be the same page on which the event will take place).
Then start driving traffic to your landing page with emails, paid and organic promotions on social media, Google ads, guest posts and articles mentioning your event. Your website will be your primary promotion tool so make sure you have articles and banners in place promoting your event from your website.
Prepare your virtual event
Develop your actual event page with a lobby, networking areas, happy hours, lead capture tools, schedules, etc. Make sure your virtual trade show experience is simple, cohesive, and relevant. Offer plenty of opportunities for engagement and networking through games, polls, quizzes, chat features (from 1:1 to group discussions and Q&As). More on this below.
Start developing quality content
Create briefs for live content and develop on-demand keynotes, workshops, webinars, interviews, tutorials, etc.
Work closely together with your sales and marketing teams to follow up and close leads. Set up a full reporting and analytics package with ROI calculations and suggestions for improvement. Send relevant analytics to sponsors and exhibitors to share performance information with them and plant a seed for future events with them.
Think Outside of the Booth
A successful virtual trade show is unique and memorable. Obviously, that means valuable content for the audience. But there is plenty of little extra’s that can make your event truly stand out. Think swag bags, performances, gamification, yoga sessions, sample boxes, … the sky is pretty much the limit, so this is your time to get creative. Here’s a starting point with 10 virtual event examples and ideas to inspire you.
Valuable features you should include
Setting up a landing page with a few videos will yield a luke-warm experience at best, no matter how on-topic your content is. According to Markletic, 80% of attendees will join your virtual trade show to learn something. The next biggest reason for joining your virtual event is networking. So, make sure your event is built around that with appropriate features.
Your main hall or lobby
This is your main page, where attendees will start and where they’ll come back to between sessions. You can brand and style this page. We’ve seen great virtual trade shows with a simple Netflix-style gallery as a lobby. Other virtual events go all out and recreate the main hall of a physical trade show or a whole virtual universe in which the attendees can move around. The bottom line remains the same for any style of lobby page: give the audience a clear overview of the event with convenient navigation to the various sessions and areas, in the form of thumbnails or hotspots.
Virtual exhibitor and sponsor booths
Help your partners get the most out of your virtual trade show with ample branding options, banner ads, deep links to sponsor pages, custom content collections (company details, virtual collateral, …), and communication features with attendees.
Virtual meeting rooms and networking areas
As stated previously, networking is the second biggest reason for participants to attend your event. Foster networking with virtual meeting rooms and networking areas, appointment-based or public.
The biggest issue of virtual events is the difficulty of keeping the audience at home engaged. It’s up to you to create as many opportunities for engagement as relevant. Include chats, Q&A sessions, gamification, quizzes, polls, and surveys to keep your attendees at the edge of the seat. We’ve seen some very successful and creative uses of social media to keep the audience engaged. And it can create a buzz around your event, as a welcome side effect.
Top 3 Virtual Trade Shows Platforms
Let’s review the 3 best virtual trade show software currently available, in our humble opinion. Our main criteria were the ability to do everything we mentioned in this article, plus excellent security, stability, and scalability.
Kaltura’s virtual trade show solution is simply called Kaltura Virtual Events and is designed to make your event all about your brand, your community, and your experience. And, as we came to expect from Kaltura, Virtual Events offers unmatched reliability, security, customization, and personalization features.
Kaltura Virtual Events has loads of features that create a win-win situation for all parties involved, no matter the scale. You as a host get all the tools to create a unique experience for your audience from A to Z defined by your brand, with plenty of lead generation and data collecting opportunities to multiply your ROI. Your exhibitors and sponsors will enjoy features to generate quality leads, showcase their brand, and connect with prospects. Your audience will enjoy a highly personalized experience with plenty of opportunities for learning, engagement, and networking.
Kaltura also offers white-glove production services, handling the technical side of your event while you focus on your guests and your content. If you need reliability and flexibility for events at any scale, Kaltura is your best bet!
Bizzabo is an excellent choice for small businesses and offers a wide arsenal of tools and features to set up and manage your event, from attendee registration to sponsor features and analytics. For businesses that don’t have a website or in-house web developer, Bizzabo offers a basic website builder to create a dedicated page for your event. If it’s available to you, we do recommend using your own website.
With good customer support and white-glove onsite solutions, Bizzabo deserves a second place in this list. However, if customization features and scalability are high on your wish list, we recommend opting for Kaltura. We also read quite a few reviews stating Bizzabo doesn’t have a user-friendly interface. Bizzabo offers a free trial.
Hopin is a good solution if you want to reproduce a physical event online, with up to 100,000 attendees. Each Hopin event is fitted with a reception, an expo area, a stage, session rooms, and chat rooms. All the basic features are available, from attendee registration to analytics.
Hopin is easy to use and offers plenty of features to connect and network. If you’re planning on monetizing your event, Hopin might not be the best choice for you. In addition to its monthly subscription plan, Hopin takes a commission on each admission ticket sold. At the time of writing, Hopin did not offer a free trial.
Ready to set up your next virtual trade show? Check out Kaltura Virtual Events!