December 06, 2023
By Cvent Guest

Virtual and hybrid exhibitions had started to grow in popularity even before lockdown’s struck, with a range of opportunities for increasing audience numbers, providing flexibility to exhibitors and attendees alike, and extending marketing reach. 

So, when lockdowns were imposed in countries around the globe, virtual exhibitions exploded, with organizers either embracing virtual for entirely the first time or in much bigger ways than they had done previously. At the same time, technology providers for virtual expos had to quickly up their game, developing new and extended functionality and helping their partners and clients get on board with their solutions. 

While some organizations are enjoying getting back to in-person events, others are embracing the opportunity that virtual and hybrid expos represent to everyone – organizers, exhibitors, and attendees.

Virtual Expos

Why Virtual Expos for Organizers?

One of the main considerations for a traditional expo is the venue. Finding a suitable location isn’t easy and there’s a careful balancing act to navigate when it comes to venue size. Too small, and you run the risk of running out of space for exhibitors, speaking opportunities, and attendees; too big, and you might find that you struggle to fill booths at necessary floor space rates to cover your costs.

Once you’ve figured out where you might like to run your expo, you then must deal with real-world logistics – how are you going to support interested exhibitors, who will you use for stand builds, what will a shell scheme look like, can you get the right insurances, how about F&B suppliers, electrical contractors, carpeting? There are a ton of aspects to consider before you even approach your first would-be exhibitor and find out if they’d be willing to pay to be there!

A virtual expo negates all these issues – you have nearly limitless scalability at your disposal. You can create a range of easy-to-understand virtual exhibitor options with virtual booths, video conferencing for speaker sessions, breakout rooms, downloadable content, sponsorship opportunities, and more.

You can offer exhibitors a swathe of new ways to track ROI, thanks to the connected, data opportunity that virtual  represents. Plus, from a branding perspective, the latest virtual expo tools can be tailored from top to bottom to ensure organizers can design their events to align with existing branded assets.

Why Virtual Expos for Exhibitors?

Expos represent a huge opportunity for exhibitors to get in front of their audiences. However, this opportunity often comes at a considerable cost. Virtual expos offer exhibitors the chance to connect with their target audience in a much more cost-efficient way, thanks to the savings that organizers can pass down the chain. For those that would have been taking up huge floor space at trade shows and exhibitions, the costs can be massively reduced, and this gives smaller organizations a fairer chance of evenly competing. 

The logistics challenges that organizers face for in-person expos are also shared with exhibitors who need to spend time, effort, and resources in carefully planning how to design, set up, and manage their physical booth.

Again, virtual removes these barriers and simplifies the whole process. There’s no need to spend days finding a booth-building partner and going through countless designs, organizing your team with travel and accommodation to ensure the right people can attend from across various geographic locations, or worrying that the weather will stop people from attending. Anyone from your organization can be part of your virtual booth and take part from wherever they might be in the world. What’s more, you can pass that good news on to your potential attendees, who will be able to join the expo from the comfort of their own office or home.

Exhibitors can also benefit from virtual expos with a range of ways to really leverage technology and gather rich profile data about attendees which can then be used for highly targeted marketing before, during, and after the event. By providing tailored messaging that really speaks to individuals, exhibitors will find greater engagement, increased brand awareness, and stronger ROI.

Speakers and exhibitors can also take advantage of being able to use pre-recorded content in sessions that would otherwise be live during an in-person expo. Aside from allowing for multiple “takes” on camera, this also accommodates the opportunity to edit together multiple content sources with seamless transitions; maybe swapping from one presenter to another, or to a slide deck or promotional video. You can even combine this pre-recorded content with a live presentation on the day and invite feedback, questions, and interaction from the audience. Virtual expos give exhibitors and speakers an entirely new perspective to work from and an opportunity to stand out and impress their audiences in new ways.

In addition, virtual expo seminars and sessions can be recorded and made available for attendees to watch on demand, vastly increasing the potential reach from a typical speaking slot at an in-person event.

From a data perspective, virtual expos give attendees the power to build out their own profiles (which they may do to get tailored content for themselves), and this can then be supplemented with data on how attendees spent their time, where they visited, what tracks they watched and engaged with, the content they downloaded and more. This really helps exhibitors gain a holistic 360-degree view of each attendee, as opposed to the relatively limited information they may deem to share with those manning stands at an in-person event. 

Virtual Expo

Why Virtual Expos for Attendees?

Virtual expos also present a range of benefits for attendees. First and foremost, it’s much easier to attend virtually; with no travel time or expense, you can fit a visit to a virtual expo into your usual day. There’s no need to take time out of work and you can attend from wherever you are in the world.

As with organizers and exhibitors, costs can be vastly reduced for attendees. Some expos charge attendees to visit to cover part of the cost of running the event. The lower organizing costs of a virtual expo mean these fees can be scrapped or greatly reduced, saving costs for attendees, and widening the opportunity to attend to those that otherwise may not have been able to afford to.

While attendee data is one of the key benefits that exhibitors can enjoy, virtual expos also provide a certain level of anonymity for attendees. Want to enjoy all the content of the expo but without showing your face? No problem, just turn your webcam off. Many parts of a virtual expo will be perfectly accessible without turning your camera on, so you don’t need to don your best office attire to join.

As the recipients of the content that exhibitors are putting together (and if exhibitors are putting in the right level of effort!) attendees can enjoy a multimedia-rich experience that is highly relevant to their own needs. Rather than wade through vast lists of seminars, speakers, exhibitors, and activities, and then traipse around a huge exhibition hall searching for them, attendees can quickly find what’s relevant to them. And they can then navigate around all of these with a few simple clicks. As a result, virtual expo attendance can be so much more flexible, productive, and time efficient. 

Virtual Expos and Sustainability

One key area that virtual expos provide as a big win across the board is in sustainability. Whether you’re an organizer, exhibitor or attendee, trade shows and exhibitions represent a huge sustainability challenge in today’s carbon-conscious environment. Expos produce a huge carbon footprint that is a real challenge to negate.

From kitting out, lighting, powering, and heating vast exhibition halls to haulage, transport, food waste, single-use carpeting, printing, expo signage, and more, organizers have a lot to deal with if they want to reduce (or offset) the carbon impact of an in-person exhibition.

Exhibitors have the same issues to consider when thinking about booth design and build, transport and logistics, collaterals, merchandise, and giveaways. Manning stands with staff that may have to travel from far and wide, potentially adding thousands of air miles to the companies’ carbon costs.

Even attendees need to consider their carbon impact whether that’s getting to and from the event, the printed materials and merch they pick up, or the single-use plastics food and beverage containers they might use.

All these issues come at a time when sustainability is at the forefront of the conversation and companies are doing all they can to reduce carbon footprints and offset their impact. That’s certainly not to say it can’t be done; there are ways to reduce that impact, reuse previously single-use materials, improve recycling, offset the inevitable carbon output of transport, etc. But a virtual expo’s environmental impact is massively reduced.

There may still be a carbon cost with energy use for servers, promotion and marketing, and some unavoidable travel to bring people together if even just for planning, but by comparison, this is minuscule. And that makes attempting to reduce and offset so much easier. If you’re thinking of organizing an expo and sustainability is important to you or your target audience, you should consider a virtual expo.

How to Select the Right Event Management Technology (Part 3)

Choose the Right Tech Partner

Virtual expos have come a long way since their beginnings. The demand during the pandemic has both hugely accelerated their technological development and given them much wider exposure to businesses and attendees. It’s clear that while in-person is certainly back with a bang, with all the benefits that virtual expos provide, they’re here to stay.

Utilizing a technology platform from a trusted industry expert that gives you the flexibility and power to run virtual, hybrid, and in-person events, at any scale, is the best way to ensure you can leverage all the benefits that this incredibly effective marketing channel can provide. By using a single platform, the data and insights your virtual expo delivers can be utilized across all your other event channels.

And by using technology with the right integrations, you can take this even further and empower your other marketing channels to become much more highly targeted, with compelling and engaging communications that deliver exceptional ROI.

Cvent Guest

Cvent is a market-leading meetings, events, and hospitality technology provider with more than 4,000 employees, ~21,000 customers, and 200,000 users worldwide.

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