March 31, 2021
By Mike Fletcher

What is a virtual trade show?

A virtual trade-show is a type of virtual event, run in an online environment. 

Registered attendees can navigate around a digitally-created environment, where they can interact with virtual exhibitor booths, engage with sponsors, chat to other visitors and explore show areas such as a virtual auditorium with on-demand or live streamed content, networking lounges with chat functionality or sponsored zones.

Online exhibitor booths may come in many different formats - from simple icons and banners to bespoke web pages and intricate 3D-rendered designs. 

All of this activity takes place in a hosted microsite, which is brought to users through an online platform. 

The benefits of virtual trade shows and virtual booths

  • Improved lead generation 
  • Increased brand awareness
  • Extended audience reach 
  • Cost effective and increased productivity 
  • Sponsorship revenue opportunities

Improved lead generation

Since meaningful interactions between exhibitors and visitors occur online, acquiring, measuring, and tracking new leads is improved due to the availability of the platform’s analytics. 

Metrics can range from how long an attendee viewed a presentation and what links they clicked on to what virtual booths they visited and which particular areas of the event and its content they were most engaged with. 

Detailed analytics like this make the process of lead scoring extremely easy. Whilst for exhibitors, it may mean they don’t even need to ‘man’ the virtual stand since the analytics will inform them of those potential leads who downloaded company or product information for follow-up. 

Increased brand awareness

Virtual trade shows usually stay active and open for longer than in-person events, giving sponsors and exhibitors enhanced brand awareness over an extended period of time.  

Show organizers can help exhibitors to maximize their exposure by prominently featuring them on digital marketing collateral, across social media channels, and in dedicated event areas such as sponsor and exhibitor lists that are easily searchable for attendees.

Due to the range of stakeholders who all have a vested interest in ensuring the success of the virtual exhibition, you can be assured that every sponsor, speaker, exhibitor, and event partner will also be promoting the activity across their social networks.

This increase in online and social media promotion, together with the extended global reach and 24/7 opening hours across a longer duration, means a vast potential audience can be reached online, increasing the visibility of your virtual booth.

Extended audience reach

The option to attend a virtual trade show from anywhere in the world means that the prospective attendee base is greater than that of a physical event. 

Going virtual with trade shows expands the potential numbers who will attend, which positively affects brand awareness and lead generation numbers for virtual exhibitors. Virtual events tend to see 8-10x the number of registrations compared with traditional in-person events. 

Removing attendance barriers such as the expense, travel restrictions, and environmental concerns can greatly benefit both sponsors and exhibitors because they aren’t restricting potential attendees to certain dates, locations, and times like physical events do. 

The biggest aspect of an in-person trade show is meeting with attendees—with appointment-setting being at the forefront. That face-to-face can also go virtual. 

Exhibitors should use video conferencing capabilities to make appointments easy to set-up in either a one-to-one or one-to-many setting. Attendees and exhibitors can also pre-schedule appointments with each other, helping booth staff to fill their schedules with the right virtual meetings before the exhibition even opens.

Ensuring that content remains available to download or view on-demand post-event, or by offering further digital assets such as a webinar or podcast series to carry-on the themes of the trade show, will further ensure that the life of the exhibition’s content will live-on long after the registration has closed. 

Cost effective and increased productivity 

Although staging a virtual trade show or exhibiting at a virtual booth may still not be cheap, without all those additional costs associated with travel, accommodation, food, and entertaining, it can be extremely budget positive. 

The business model for organizers is often to purchase the platform package, create the rendered booth designs, web pages and sponsored collateral, and then sell them to brands in order to recoup their outlay. 

Eliminating myriad tasks involved with staging in-person exhibitions or having a stand designed and built means there’s more time for other things. 

Exhibitors may even be able to get on with their day-to-day jobs during the show itself since they don’t have to leave the office. Manning a digital booth between certain hours isn’t necessary if there’s live chat functionality or connected contact ways in which visitors can get in touch via email, phone, or social media. 

Remember, the platform analytics will also inform exhibitors of any potential leads who download company or product information for post-show follow-up. 

Sponsorship revenue opportunities

Virtual trade shows provide plenty of commercial opportunities for sponsors, the most common of which is revenue generated through sponsorship

Sponsors can brand parts of the digital environment, host virtual booths, drive branded gamification elements, present a live streamed keynote or make on-demand content available to view or download. 

The more involved a particular sponsor is in different aspects of the virtual trade show, the more lucrative the package for the sponsor since they are gaining greater exposure, which, in turn, should result in increased engagement. 

Being able to prove how effective different sponsored packages have been in previous years via the platform’s analytics will enable sponsors to set their pricing and create increased demand. 

Unlike an in-person trade show, which is confined to the walls of the physical venue, a digital version has no such constraints and therefore the number of stands and sponsored areas can grow accordingly.

What to offer sponsors

  • Email Communications: Allow sponsors to include their logos in your various email communications, like invites, confirmations, reminders, or even dedicated sponsor announcements
  • Registration: Highlight sponsors during registration with dedicated survey questions to gauge interest or draw attention to sponsored sessions
  • Featured Sponsors: Maximise exhibitor and sponsor visibility by featuring them on high traffic areas of your virtual event
  • Sponsored Sessions: Allow partners to sponsor sessions at your event to give them exposure to target groups of attendees. You can indicate sponsored sessions on your event agenda and send lead information from session participants to your partners after the event
  • Sponsored Video Ads: As attendees log-in to a session and wait for it to start, allow sponsors to play a video ad during this time to showcase their company and offerings

How do you create a virtual trade show?

Don’t worry. You’ve done this before – just not virtually. Planning a virtual trade show involves finding the right platform that can support your goals, communicating with exhibitors, and being ready for anything. At the top of the list is making sure you offer exhibitors everything they need to make their participation in your event worthwhile. That means appointments, trade show booths, branding, opportunities to engage with attendees, and of course, lead capture.

Your needs will vary depending on the size of your event. When looking at providers for trade show solutions, think holistically. Is there an event tech platform out there that offers the virtual solutions to power your events as well as your trade shows?

Building a total event program, one that uses the right event tech to support your virtual, in-person, and hybrid events, will allow you to track results on the same platform, making success easier to define and prove. Come-up with a list of features you’ll need at your trade show and look for providers who can offer you the solution you need.

Five features to incorporate at virtual trade shows

It goes without saying that event technology is the key to virtual trade show success. Think about aspects of in-person trade shows and apply them where you can. As you plan, make sure to include the following features. 

Sponsor and exhibitor lists

Have dedicated areas within your virtual event for your sponsor and exhibitor lists that are easily searchable for attendees. They can be organized by sponsorship level to give prominent placement to your most valuable sponsors and exhibitors.

Virtual exhibitor booths

Virtual booths with video conferencing allow exhibitors to display branding, company details, and the ability to meet face-to-face with interested attendees.

Virtual meeting rooms

Attendees can meet with exhibitors right from their booth through video conferencing. You can also allow attendees and exhibitors to request and pre-schedule appointments with one another.

Inbound exhibitor leads

Help exhibitors drive inbound leads by letting attendees submit their interests and instantly share their contact information directly to exhibitors.

Exhibitor documents

Help attendees to learn about exhibitors by allowing them to upload relevant content right to their exhibitor booths, such as digital brochures, videos, and links.

How do you exhibit at a virtual trade show

A virtual trade show is still a trade show. The time and attention you’d bring to an in-person exhibition must be brought virtually. That means thinking about the tools to be successful.

  • Branding: Your booth is the best representation of your company. Consistent branding, logos, and anything to stand-out go a long way with visitors.

  • Clear video and audio: Trade shows are normally noisy, bustling affairs. But with virtual, you have total control. Ensure that those working your booth have great audio, cameras, and a reliable internet connection.
  • Virtual collateral to share: Digital collateral is better – no one can lose it! Have downloadable materials at the ready to provide attendees with more information.
  • Quick commercial pitches to intro company: Prepare a 30-second pitch and practice it ahead of time. You don’t want to stumble over the basics when you’re trying to impress during an appointment.
  • Send swag to attendees: For a special touch, give attendees a digital gift such as an online voucher or special offer. 

Looking for a virtual trade show platform? Look no further. With Cvent’s technology, you can plan your virtual trade show with the same precision as your in-person event.

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Mike Fletcher

Mike has been writing about the meetings and events industry for almost 20 years as a former editor at Haymarket Media Group, and then as a freelance writer and editor. He currently runs his own content agency, Slippy Media, catering for a wide-range of client requirements, including social strategy, long-form, event photography, event videography, reports, blogs and ghost-written material.
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