Comparing Physical And Virtual Trade Shows

September 16, 2010

At Focus.com, Alex Gonzalez posed a question about the pros and cons of physical and virtual trade shows.

I’d like to share an insightful answer posted by Steve Gogolak, Director of Solutions Innovation at Cramer.

Pros/Cons as an attendee

Travel – the convenience of not having to travel is great for the participant. What’s even better is being able to invite a colleague who may be interested despite not having any intentions to visit the event. It’s the “hey, Jerry would really want to see this” moment realized.

Experience – this is highly dependent on the effort put forth by the booth owner. A lot of booths fall flat in a virtual world, but the same is true in the real world. If an exhibitor understands how to use the features within the booth well, it will make for a good experience. The use of self-directed video is a great example here. The more an attendee browses through video, the more fulfilling the experience. Chat is functional and generally gets the basics across, but will not be comparable to an in-person experience until two-way video is an option.

Privacy – browsing privately is much less intimidating online than in-person. The biggest opportunity an exhibitor has with a visitor is in the attract loop. In a virtual booth, the visitor can be presented with a finite “pitch” regarding what the booth is about. They remain captive for 30-60 seconds as the watch the video, which is effectively qualifying them as a lead (if they bolt, they weren’t interested anyway). It’s hard to stand in a physical trade show booth for a minute and not be bombarded by sales people.

Pros/Cons as an exhibitor

Cost – oh where to begin. A smart exhibitor will shift funds away from travel, employee time and expensive scenery to content production. More content that is suited specifically for a virtual booth is what the best exhibitors will focus on.

Reporting – this has already been mentioned, but near-real-time data about who is in your booth, who has visited and what they did is readily available. Similar results can be achieved in the real world with RFID systems, but the cost is near prohibitive for all but the largest companies. The data that emerges from a virtual booth can keep your sales team busy for weeks worth of follow up.

Commitment – I haven’t seen that many exhibitors really commit the time to understanding what they are doing in side of a virtual booth. They need to see it as a mini-website. An extension of their online presence, targeted for the specific audience that is attending the event in question. The reality is that 95% of the time commitment is spend in content development since the actual tools to “build” the booth are so darned easy to use. In my opinion, the limiting factor is always the content, not the technology.

Re-purpose existing content from other marketing initiatives. As Dennis mentioned, you’re online… so use the assets you already have available and treat the booth as a traffic driver, feeding highly-qualified traffic into your other marketing nets.

View the original Focus.com discussion here:

http://www.focus.com/questions/marketing/live-vsvirtual-trade-shows-pros-and-cons/

About Steve Gogolak

Marketing & Communication is my passion because I love to tell stories. I love to see the look on someone’s face when I’ve hit a chord that resonates with their needs, wants and desires.

Marketing is changing. It is moving further and further away from the “blah blah blah” of a bullhorn in the hands of large companies with big budgets and more toward the targeted messages and subsequent conversations between real people and real buyers. In short, marketing is “getting real” in a big way. What does that mean? It means that companies with remarkable products and services that demonstrate remarkable passion for their buyers’ needs will succeed more quickly – and those who rely on bullhorn-style marketing to force feed their buyers will not.

I’m passionate about marketing because real stories told by real people sell – fast and frequently. I tell stories and I help my clients tell theirs every day.


Virtual Tradeshow Technologies

December 17, 2008

Virtual Worlds group

LinkedIn: Virtual Worlds group

I participate in a virtual worlds group over at LinkedIn.   A few members there asked me about a Virtual Tradeshow’s (VTS) underlying technologies.  I don’t pretend to know the full set of technologies that power a VTS, but I will list my Top 3 (in order of importance).

  1. The SaaS Engine Virtual Tradeshow platform providers often call this the “self service utility”.  What it boils down to is a 100% web-based interface that allows event organizers to build a VTS environment from scratch.  Every last detail of the event (down to the number of pixels to use on a particular image on the show floor) can be configured or selected via this web app.  While some clients will always want the extra attention of a “full service model” (where the VTS provider’s staff uses the same web app to build the entire show), consider the power of “self service” – VTS platform providers can scale their businesses by selling leases on their SaaS platform, where their clients do all the heavy lifting.  This means that the better you build this web app, your clients will create more events and they’ll create them more quickly.  This means more revenue and (possibly) earlier revenue recognition.
  2. The Chat system – Today, the power of a VTS lies largely in the text chat sessions that attendees engage in with exhibitors (or, attendee<->attendee sessions).  Platforms used to employ basic HTML to support chat, but the trend is towards client/server technologies, such as Flash Media Server (FMS).  The platform needs to account for corporate firewalls, as many firewalls are configured to block chat-like protocols – if your users cannot chat within a VTS, they lose out on a significant show feature.  If you employ a workaround – such as HTTP tunneling – beware, as some corporate firewalls can utilize deep packet inspection, to figure out that you’re trying to tunnel FMS within HTTP.  And, they then block those packets from reaching their destination, which means that chat fails.  Finally, as webcams and Skype-like video chat emerge in virtual tradeshows, keep in mind that moving from text chat to video chat means that you lose the ability to save a transcript of the chat.  This may be an opportunity for platform providers to support such a feature (e.g. auto-transcribe the audio from a video chat).
  3. Event Reporting – For event organizers, an open-ended web reporting system is useful.  Give them the ability to generate custom reports, kind of like a rudimentary business intelligence app.  For exhibitors, the creation of easy-to-understand canned reports is important.  For both organizers and exhibitors, the reporting system is critical.  Once the live event is over, the reports (and the data contained in them) are the “living record” of the show’s success and both constituencies will lean on the reports to derive their ROI on the event.

What technologies do you feel are important in a VTS?


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