Virtual Events 101: Tips For Building Your Virtual Booth

April 13, 2010

Your company is exhibiting at a virtual event and you’ve been assigned the responsibility of building your company’s virtual booth.  You’ve had plenty of experience assembling a physical booth, but never before have you built one virtually.  What’s your first step?  To immediately resist the urge to start the virtual build.

Set/Confirm Objectives & Goals

The objectives and goals for your virtual booth should align with the goals for your company’s participation in the virtual event. If you do not set the direction yourself, be sure to round up the necessary decision makers and have a documented set of goals – publish them internally and be sure that all stakeholders have a copy.  Sample goals include:

  1. Obtain contact information from “X” number of prospects
  2. Generate “Y” number of meaningful prospect engagements in-booth
  3. Yield “Z” number of qualified sales opportunities
  4. Generate “X%” of brand uplift, as measured by “Y”

It’s absolutely critical that goal definition be your first step, as it drives the decisions you make regarding the build-out of your virtual booth.

Content is King

The main elements of a virtual booth are (1) content [e.g. images, signage, videos, documents, links, etc.] and (2) virtual booth staffers.  Your first job is “content curator” – review all content available and be selective about which content you’ll place in your booth.  It all goes back to the defined goals – the content you select should align with the goals.

So if your goal is demand generation, find the same White Papers that your marketing team is using to generate sales leads across the web.  If your goal is driving awareness around a product launch, grab that 2 minute video of your product manager and have it auto-play when visitors enter your booth.  Besides documents in your marketing library, be sure to cobble together useful links on your web site, along with third party articles, blog postings and product reviews that reinforce your objectives.

Booth Labels Are Like Headlines

Content in a booth is typically housed behind a set of “booth labels”.  Your next job is one of headline writer – you’ll want to craft captivating “headlines” for the booth label, along with attention-grabbing titles (and descriptions) for the underlying content items.  You’re like the home page editor for your favorite content site – you need to figure out how to write headlines (titles) that will grab your visitors’ attention.

While you certainly want to avoid the “bait and switch” (e.g. writing a label/title that intentionally deceives), your labels need not literally reflect the underlying content. For example, if you assemble a set of blog postings from your company’s blog, you need not label these “Blog Postings”. Instead, organize the blog postings into themes – a set of postings on best practices could simply be labeled “Best Practices” in your booth.

While I suggest you do not change booth labels while the event is live (that would significantly confuse your booth’s repeat visitors), you’ll want to review the activity reports from your booth to learn from the labeling decisions that you made.  You’ll begin to figure out what worked and what didn’t – and can use those learnings for your next event to more effectively use labels/headlines to achieve your goals.

Use A Call To Action – Not A Declaration

For signage within the virtual booth, I prefer to use a call to action (e.g. “Ask Us Why 2010 is The Year of The Hybrid” above) over a declaration. So instead of declaring, “The world’s leading producer of plastic widgets”, try a call to action, “Ask us why plastic widgets are the new metal widgets”.  The call to action initiates a conversation with your visitors, rather than telling them what they should know.  If visitors enter your booth’s group chat and proactively ask the question stated in your call to action, then give yourself a pat on the back.

Stand Out From The Crowd

You’ll likely have competitors exhibiting in their own virtual booths, which means that a key part of your job is to figure out how to separate your booth (and company) from the crowd.  Greenscreen video (aka an embedded video greeter) has been used at enough virtual booths that it won’t make your booth any different.

Instead, try an offbeat video that’s not yet made its way to YouTube.  Or, how about an avatar of your CEO whose mouth movements are synchronized to the words s/he is speaking.  Perhaps an animated avatar is the new greenscreen.  Thinking further outside the box, how about bringing one of your products to life – personalizing that product to the point where it speaks and delivers a message to visitors.  A good example (in general – not in a virtual event) is the DCX Man character created by Brocade:

Source: Brocade (dcxman.com)

Further information can be found here: http://www.dcxman.com/whois_dcxman.html

Optimize Your Content For Search

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not the sole domain of your web site or blog – it applies to virtual events as well.  How can this be?  Well, most virtual event platforms provide basic and advance search capabilities – they index all content in the event (e.g. documents, links, Webcasts, etc.) and some platforms even index the contents of uploaded documents.

As a result, keep SEO in mind for selecting documents to include in your booth, along with the labels, titles and abstracts that you use to catalog your booth content.  Taking a step back, be sure to write an SEO-optimized description for your company and booth – if attendees search for a key term and your booth is at the top of the search results, then all is good in the world.

Subject Matter Experts as Booth Staffers

While you’ll certainly want sales reps and sales engineers as booth staffers, it’s critical to work subject matter experts into the staffing schedule.  A visitor who asks specific product or service questions is a hot prospect – and telling that prospect “let me get back to you with an answer to your question” becomes a lost opportunity.  Even worse, that opportunity could fall into the lap of your competitor, whose booth is only one click away.

If you’re a technology vendor, try to have your product manager, chief engineer or event your CTO available within the booth.  While some technology folks may not be comfortable face-to-face with a customer, most feel quite at home in a text chat session.

Optimizing For: Demand Generation

If you’re looking to generate sales leads, cobble up all your best lead gen content – the latest White Papers, Case Studies, product sheets, videos, podcasts, customer testimonials, etc.  Be liberal and selective at the same time – that is, ensure there is a good mix of content choices, but be religious in making sure the content you select aligns with your goals – and relates to the theme of the virtual event.  The beauty of a virtual event is that registration occurs once – but all activity with your content is tracked.  So you’ll have rich activity profiles at your disposal to help you separate the cream of the crop leads from the visitors who came simply to enter your prize drawing.

Optimizing For: Thought Leadership

Are some of your co-workers experts or luminaries within your industry?  If yes, then have them be staffers within your booth!  Visitors will have a natural inclination to engage with them – and they’ll be able to funnel the ripest opportunities to sales reps within your booth.  If your employees have not achieved rock star status within your industry, leverage some of the luminaries to produce content on your behalf.

Perhaps it’s a research report authored by an industry expert – or, a video interview (hosted by the expert) with your CEO.  Better yet, a Webcast within the virtual event that features the expert(s) who provide a presentation prior to your own speakers.  If the experts are available to attend the virtual event, invite them to provide Q&A within your booth, as they’ll serve to draw interest and engagement from visitors.

Conclusion

While much of the logistics occur “online”, building a virtual booth will take longer than you think (if done right).  Be sure to clearly define your goals first – then, make sure your booth achieves those goals.  Take planned breaks from the virtual build to assess whether your booth aligns with the stated goals.  Finally, be sure to study activity data from the live event so you can make improvements for your next event!

Related Links

  1. Browse the Virtual Events 101 Index Page
  2. Download the eBook, “Virtual Events: Ready, Set, Go

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


Virtual Event Adoption By The C-Suite (CIO, CMO, etc.)

May 8, 2009

In my former role as a b-to-b media industry product manager, I developed product packages that utilized audio podcasts for delivering IT-specific content to IT practitioners and IT managers.  The conventional wisdom at the time  (early on, at least) was, “CIO’s will not download and listen to podcasts”.  I wasn’t so sure about that – after all, podcasts made it easier for busy executives to consume content they wanted – when and where they wanted to consume it.  So why wouldn’t a busy executive leverage technology to make her day more efficient?

Lo and behold, a CIO speaker at an event I attended was asked about the different content types he leveraged to get his job done.  He mentioned that he takes a 30 minute ferry boat ride to and from work each day.  While most boat passengers are reading the daily newspaper, this CIO would listen to IT-specific podcasts on each ride – and, he insisted that each downloaded podcast be 30 minutes long (or less), so that he could listen its entirety on the ride.

With virtul events, I’ve heard from event organizers and event sponsors who wonder whether the CIO (and her companions in the C-Suite) will adopt virtual events and virtual tradeshows.  I think the answer is “yes”.  First, let’s characterize some of the C-Suite occupants:

  1. CEO – may be too busy to attend virtual events – but, will occasionally make the keynote appearance to kick off a virtual event.  Many CEO’s do not use a computer, but most carry PDAs.  This means that the path to CEO participation in virtual events may be via the PDA.
  2. CMO – they see the value of virtual events as a marketing and lead generation vehicle, so one of their key roles today is in funding and approving budget.  As for attendance, my feeling is that they’re interested in doing so.
  3. CIO – like with podcasts, virtual events enable and empower an executive.  The CIO can attend a virtual event to peer network with like-minded CIO’s and not miss a day in the office to do so.
  4. CTO – intimate with technology, the CTO is virtually a slam dunk to participate (pun intended).
  5. CFO – not so sure about CFO’s, but I will note that IBM Cognos produced a virtual event called Virtual Finance Forum 2009 that targeted finance executives.  Cognos produced the same event in 2008 as well.

B-to-B publishers have caught on to the notion that CIO’s will attend virtual events, as past virtual events have specifically targeted the CIO.  Two upcoming events are taking a similar approach:

  1. CIO Virtual Forum: Navigating Through Dynamic Times (May 19, 2009 – CIO.com and Cisco)
  2. CIO Summit:  Driving Business Value and Customer Value in the Global Economy (June 10, 2009 – InformationWeek)

In my experience with technology focused virtual events, I found that of all registrants, 7-9% had senior IT titles (CIO, CTO, VP of Technology, etc.).  So an event with 1,000 registrants would have 70-90 of them be CIO’s or CTO’s.  Why would the C-Suite attend a virtual event?  I think there are a few primary benefits:

  1. Conveniently network with like-minded peers – one of the draws of attending an event is the ability to network with other attendees.  With a virtual event, a busy executive can do so without losing a day outside the office.
  2. Efficiently connect with partners and customers – an online experience can’t re-create the dyamics of an in-person interaction, but it does allow a busy executive to connect with many more partners and customers than could have occurred in-person.
  3. Extend your social graph and social presence – some C-Suite execs have enthusiastically adopted Twitter, Facebook and other social networks.  Industry-specific virtual events allow the executive to further expand the social graph.  And of course, they’ll be tweeting about the event as soon as they login.

What has your experience been – has the C-Suite at your own company attended a virtual event?


What Cost Per Lead (CPL) Should I Pay for Virtual Tradeshow Sponsorships?

December 28, 2008

 

Flickr (TheTruthAbout)

Source: Flickr ("TheTruthAbout")

For online marketers responsible for lead generation, the name of the game is Cost Per Lead (CPL).  While it’s not the be-all, end-all, CPL is certainly top-of-mind for marketers – and in this economic environment, CPL is receiving heightened attention from the online marketer, her CMO and her CFO (and possibly even the CEO).

So let’s get the numbers out of the way first.  For B-to-B virtual tradeshows (VTS), I’ve seen CPL’s in a range of $15-$50 for worldwide leads.  The low end reflects events where the organizer has over-delivered on leads or priced the sponsorships reasonably (or both). The high end reflects a more focused event or an event that has slightly underdelivered.  I’ve seen a few events fall outside this range, with CPL’s as low as $10 (or even lower) and as high as $70.

So you’d want your sponsorship to be within this range.  But, I think that for VTS, “What is my CPL” is not the right question!  The following questions are more applicable:

  1. What’s the quality of the audience and does it match my target profile (e.g. geography, purchasing authority, has budget, etc.)
  2. What level of interactions did I have with the attendees
  3. What was my cost per sales engagement and how does that compare to my other marketing activities
  4. What was my cost per customer acquisition and how does that compare to my other marketing activities

So as an example, I’d be fine with paying a CPL of $60, if the resulting cost per sales engagement was lower than my other marketing programs. Remember a key point about these leads, though – they are shared with the other exhibitors at the event.  As such, it’s important to:

  • Distinguish your company at the event – attract visitors to your booth and generate interactions with sales prospects.  If you put in the hard work here, you can short-circuit the lead nurturing and lead follow-up stages – as you can find prospects who are in the later stages of their purchasing decisions and very receptive to hearing more from you.
  • Distinguish your company after the event – follow up with prospects intelligently and promptly.  Don’t forget that if you do your job at the event, then the after-event steps become much easier.

Like with most purchasing decisions, shop wisely – and rememer that there’s much more to the equation than just the CPL price tag.


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