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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!


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