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What Virtual Trade Show Booths Can Learn from The Apple Store

June 18, 2011

Photo credit: The Pug Father on flickr.

Introduction

Want to create a virtual trade show booth that moves prospects along the sales cycle towards a purchase? Head into an Apple Store and apply a few lessons from your visit.

A recent article in the Mercury News referenced a Yankee Group analyst who “estimated that Apple Stores pull in about $5,000 per square foot in revenue per year, blowing away even Tiffany’s roughly $2,700 per square foot.” While I don’t expect virtual trade show booths to directly sell products, there are many lessons we can learn from The Apple Store.

Make Yourself Indispensable

With the list of services above, Apple transcends beyond a “store” to become a technology adviser, consultant and partner. When you click to reserve a Workshop, the web site asks, “What would you like to learn?” When you click to make a Genius Bar appointment, the web site asks, “How can we help you?

When you have questions or need hands-on technical support for your Apple products, you can get friendly, expert advice at the Genius Bar. Found in every Apple Retail Store, the Genius Bar is home to our resident Geniuses.” (Apple’s description of the Genius Bar.)

While visitors to an Apple Store are predisposed to purchase an Apple product, visitors to your virtual trade show booth are more likely in need of a solution to a business problem.

Every virtual trade show booth should have a Genius Bar – a set of Subject Matter Experts (SME) to help visitors solve their business problems. While Apple’s Genius Bar provides product-specific advice, your Genius Bar should focus first on solutions (for your prospects) and secondarily on your own products and services. Make yourself indispensable to your prospects.

Make Your Products Readily Available

Photo credit: James Cridland on flickr.

Apple Stores are unlike any other retail environment. The entire width (and length) of the stores are all about the products. There’s a nearly endless supply of iPods, iPads and Macs for potential customers to try out. Of course, in a virtual trade show booth, you can’t provide an storage array to touch and feel.

You can, however, build digital representations of your products and invite booth visitors to “touch and feel” (digitally). I mention related technologies (to enable this) in the “Touch and Feel the Products” paragraph of my Virtual Trade Show 2.0 post.

If you’re a software company, you should find ways to allow visitors to interact with your software directly in the booth. If you’re a design agency, your virtual booth should reflect your design principles and capabilities.

Provide a Call Button for Assistance

On a recent visit to an Apple Store in Northern California, I noticed that every product had an iPad 2 next to it. The iPad 2 provided product specs and featured a neat button to “Talk to a Specialist.”

All too often in virtual trade show booths, visitors leave the booth feeling “unloved.” In a prior post, I wrote about a flight attendant call button for virtual events, which could be used to request technical support, among other things.

All virtual booths should have a “Talk to a Specialist” button. Booth visitors who click the button are likely to be your hottest leads, so you’ll need to ensure that your “geniuses” are available to take the call.

Conclusion

First, make yourself indispensable to prospects. Then, give them the product to “try before buying,” while making “geniuses” available to answer the “call button.” That’s the lesson I learned from The Apple Store.

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Introducing Virtual Trade Show 2.0

May 7, 2011

Photo credit: “LAUNCH Music Conference” on flickr.

Introduction

In the virtual extension of this booth (above), will I be able to play all those cool-looking guitars?

Previously, I wrote about ways in which the physical event experience can be brought to virtual events.  Then, I attended one of the world’s largest and most prominent trade shows, NAB Show in Las Vegas.  Based on that experience, I’ve concluded that there’s so much more that virtual trade shows should be offering.

There’s nothing quite like the face-to-face experience of a physical trade show. Whether you’re producing a 100% virtual trade show or providing a digital extension to your physical trade show, I build upon my previous  post to consider additional ways to bring face-to-face experiences online.  That’s right, it’s Virtual Trade Show 2.0.

Private Meeting Rooms for Key Clients & Prospects

Physical trade shows are great for providing TLC for your VIP (“tender love & care” for your “very important people”).  When your executives invite key prospects, clients or partners into a private meeting room, it results in some “intimacy” (away from the hustle and bustle of your booth) and it signals to visitors that they’re important. In this way, trade shows are great for establishing, and then developing relationships.

In a virtual trade show, private meeting rooms could be a feature for premium-level exhibitor sponsorships. They’d allow you to have “multi party” dialog (i.e. your executives and your visitors), in an area that’s separate from the virtual booth.  To encourage the “intimacy,” all parties should be encouraged to enable their webcam, so that they can be seen and heard. Sight and sound builds relationships better than the keyboard.

Touch and Feel the Products


What do you sell?” – in a virtual trade show, you explain your product offerings – or, you point to documents and links in your booth. In a physical trade show, you bring your products to the prospects and have them touch and feel them. Throughout NAB Show, exhibitors were doing demos of their software, removing line cards from servers and showing off their latest chips, devices and doo-dads.

Virtual trade shows need to provide a better “touch and feel” experience.  Exhibitors should have the capability of placing 2D, interactive representations of their products in their virtual booth and allow exhibit staff to show visitors how the product works.  To date, virtual trade shows are all about the “tell”, but they should move to the “show and tell” and then the “show, tell and play.”

Relevant Technologies

Some technologies that may enable this include Equipment Simulations, LLC – check out their LiveDrive demo, which allows you to interact with a fire engine.  Another technology to watch is Kaon v-Stream – Kaon pioneered the use of interactive kiosks and v-Stream now enables a similar experience, delivered over the web.

Exhibitors Make an Impact by Delivering Core Services

Too often in virtual trade shows, there’s a “wall” that separates the core elements of the show from the exhibitors. The problem here is that exhibitors “fund” the show, which means that the show won’t go on without happy exhibitors.  As such, exhibitors ought to be integrated into the experience, so that they become “core” to the show.

As an example, the image (above) is not the food court at NAB Show. It’s one half of an exhibitor’s booth!  Judging by the crowd that stopped by for a bite or a drink, this exhibitor became a “core element.”  And you can bet that after many visitors finished their snack, they walked across the way to learn more about the exhibitor’s products and services.

Virtual trade show producers will need to find ways to integrate exhibitors into the core experience, without allowing the exhibitors to be too promotional (it’s a delicate balance).  Sponsoring a “virtual food court” would be one thing, but having exhibitor staff “hound” all visitors with private chat requests would not be wise.

Conclusion

Trade shows have a rich history that goes back hundreds (thousands?) of years.  Virtual trade shows have a history of less than ten years. It’s time to draw upon history to help shape the future.  Leave a comment below and share your thoughts on how you’d design virtual trade show 2.0!


FOCUS Best Practices Report: Exhibiting at Virtual Trade Shows

December 28, 2010

Introduction

FOCUS.com has published a Best Practices Report, “9 Best Practices for Exhibiting at a Virtual Trade Show“.

The report features insights and tips from Roger Courville (1080 Group), Dave Lutz (Velvet Chainsaw Consulting), Shannon Ryan (FOCUS), Cece Salomon-Lee (PR Meets Marketing), Tom Wieser (CGS VirtualEvents365) and myself. We’re all FOCUS Experts and contribute to virtual events (and other) topics on FOCUS.com.

Download The Report

You can download the report here:

http://www.focus.com/research/research-briefings/sales/best-practices-exhibiting-virtual-trade-show/

A Related Webinar

I did a related webinar with FOCUS titled “From Fad to ROI: How Smart Marketers Succeed with Virtual Trade Shows”.  You can view the on-demand webinar (or the associated slides) by following the links here:

https://allvirtual.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/live-webcast-how-smart-marketers-succeed-with-virtual-trade-shows/

Join the Discussion

The report was generated from a question posted to FOCUS.com – feel free to join the discussion by adding your own thoughts about exhibiting at virtual trade shows:

http://www.focus.com/questions/marketing/virtual-trade-show-best-practices-best-practices-exhibiting/


Your 5 Step Guide to Virtual Trade Show Success

November 13, 2010

Over on the INXPO blog, I provided a 5-step guide to exhibiting at virtual trade shows.  The five steps are:

  1. Define your mission statement
  2. Assemble an all-star team
  3. Build and promote your presence
  4. Engage with prospects
  5. Qualify and follow up with prospects

If you’re exhibiting at a virtual trade show for the first time, follow these steps and you’ll be on the right track.  Here’s a link to the full posting:

Exhibiting at Virtual Trade Shows: Your Five Step Guide


Live Webcast: How Smart Marketers Succeed with Virtual Trade Shows

October 26, 2010

“Now, more than ever, B2B marketers are sponsoring virtual trade shows because they are cheaper and can attract larger audiences than live, in-person events.  Next year and beyond, B2B marketers will be able to choose from 100s of virtual trade shows. In other words, what was once considered a gimmick is now a part of the B2B marketing mix.  But just signing up as a sponsor doesn’t guarantee success — a proper plan and execution does.”

That’s the lead-in to a Live Webcast that I’ll be doing with Craig Rosenberg (@funnelholic) and FOCUS  (@FOCUS).  Register to view the Webcast on-demand:

http://www.focus.com/webcasts/marketing/fad-roi-how-smart-marketers-succeed-with-virtual-trade-shows/

View the slides:


How To: Generate More Effective Virtual Trade Show Booths

October 19, 2010

My local farmers market had a “Vote 4 Your Favorite Booth” contest.  While the contest was active, I noticed that the fruit vendors were much more engaging and the amount of free samples increased dramatically.  The fruit stands had become more customer-friendly as a result of the competition.  This was a great thing.

I immediately thought – virtual trade shows are a lot like farmers markets – how about creating a similar contest?  Let’s consider a “Vote For Your Favorite Booth Contest” at your next virtual trade show.  The benefits:

Attendees Take Notice

The contest causes attendees to take notice, especially if you offer up prize(s) for voting.  The contest provides attendees a framework (and context) for their booth visits.  Now, when they enter any exhibitor booth, they are paying more attention to what’s there, to judge the current booth to other booths they visit.  Ultimately, they will need to determine their top vote, which requires a certain level of engagement and awareness as they move from one booth to the next.  And that’s a good thing for exhibitors.

Exhibitors Boost and Optimize their Presence

Ever sell a home or condo and host an open house?  I bet your home was de-cluttered and nearly spotless.  And I bet some of you baked cookies for the occasion.  A booth contest is a lot like the open house: the host knows that its visitors will be evaluating the space.  This results in:

  1. More captivating and refined booth imagery
  2. Booth content that aims to please (the visitor)
  3. A higher level of booth staffers
  4. More engagement from booth staffers (just like at the farmers market)

With everyone “raising their game”, this means that exhibitors win and attendees win as well.

SaaS: Sampling as a Service

In the picture above, a fruit stand placed a large assortment of samples in labeled bins, allowing visitors to sample for themselves. I call this Sampling as a (Self) Service!  The idea here is to allow “prospects” to sample your “products” (on their own) and then have a “staffer” come by to see if they have any questions.

The same could be done in a virtual trade show. Place your products in your virtual booth and allow visitors to take them on a test drive.  Let them do their thing, but check in with them from time to time to see if they need assistance.

Logistics

Here’s how the booth contest could be run:

  1. Heavily promote the contest prior to the event
  2. Educate and inform exhibitors on the ground rules
  3. Create meaningful incentives for attendees to vote
  4. Announce the winner two-thirds of the way through the event. This leaves the remaining one-third of the event for the winner to receive the benefits (traffic to their booth)
  5. Create a badge or logo that the winner can place on their web site and share via social networks

Conclusion

The virtual booths at some events can be underwhelming.  A contest can encourage and motivate the exhibitors and create a win/win/win for attendees, exhibitors and you.


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