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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!

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Case Study: Trade Show Lead Generation with American Express OPEN

April 26, 2011

Introduction

At NAB Show 2011 in Las Vegas, American Express OPEN (@OPENForum) created a game-based attraction in a lobby area that generated nearly a thousand (my estimate) sales leads.  Attendees were invited to play a Memory Match game, with an iPad 2 awarded to each day’s top performer. Read further for my thoughts on what made their approach so effective.

How They Attracted a Crowd

At any trade show, whether it’s physical or virtual, you want to attract a crowd to your space (or booth). To attract interest, location sure helps. The OPEN attraction was located in the lobby, right beyond the entrance and adjacent to the Information Desk.  Location goes only so far, however – you need to give attendees a reason to walk over to see what’s going on. OPEN achieved this with a prominent physical structure, along with an engaging host.

The host engaged simultaneously with the player and the audience, rooting the player along, while playing things up to the crowd, to generate excitement. Since the host spoke into a microphone, he garnered the attention of attendees who were walking by.

How They Tapped Into Attendees’ Competitive Juices

The brilliance of OPEN’s Memory Match game was the “score” (the time it took you to complete all matches – the lower the time, the better) and the leaderboard.  If the top score was “35 seconds,” then each contestant knew that they had to beat 35 seconds in order to win the iPad 2 (or, at least to attain the top spot on the leaderboard).

With a typical booth giveaway, you drop your business card in a fishbowl and hope that your name gets picked. The OPEN giveaway was different, because it tapped into the competitive spirit in all of us.  Contestants feel like they can control their destiny, unlike the random pick out of a bowl.  And, they’re presented with a clear goal in mind.

The game dynamic created a byproduct: an intense amount of excitement each time someone set the new “record”.  A woman who obtained the top time of the day jumped and screamed her way off the platform, as the crowd roared. It was like Tiger Woods sinking a birdie putt at The Majors – and, it drew further interest from passersby.

How They Captured Leads

Before beginning the Memory Match game, contestants needed to enter their information on the game console – the process was quite similar to filling out a registration page.  While leads from viewers (in the “audience”) were presumably not captured, all attendees who played the Memory Match left their name and contact information.  By providing a fun experience to visitors, OPEN can expect a stronger response from sales prospects compared to a more conventional show presence (i.e. without the game).

How They Provided Instant Gratification

Only a single visitor would win the iPad 2 each day, which means that 99% of visitors would go home empty handed. Not so with OPEN: they occasionally handed out $10 Starbucks cards to those contestants who showed their AmEx card. A great way to send visitors away happy, and to reinforce the notion that “membership has its privileges.”

Conclusion: Apply This to Your Virtual or Physical Trade Show Booth

Things to consider for your next trade show, whether it’s virtual or physical:

  1. Figure out how to attract attention.
  2. Tap into the competitive spirit of your visitors.
  3. Make sure your visitors have fun.
  4. Make sure a portion of your visitors leave happy.
  5. Optimize your lead gathering process.

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