Virtual Events Struggle To Catch On

It seems that we live in a world where technology is constantly revolutionizing the way that we work, live and interact with one another. Technology is continuously changing how we connect to each other. Perhaps nowhere can this trend be seen better than looking at the rise of social media. Ten years ago if you wanted to connect with a friend or pursue a sales lead, you needed to pick up a phone or set up a coffee date or lunch meeting. Now, we have countless apps and social media websites that allow us to connect with each other in new and unique ways. But, usually not face-to-face and with less of a personal touch than even a phone call could provide.

 This trend to more virtual interaction has also started to have an impact on that venerable titan of face-to-face interaction within an industry: the trade show. The countless booth displays, presentations, meetings and the like that make up a successful trade show have long been based in the face-to-face interactions that make them more intimate and more real. But, a new trend towards virtual events has been attempting to take the magic of a trade show and translate it into the virtual realm.


Virtual Events: What’s To Like?


On the surface this initially seems like it could work. One of the main criticisms of trade shows has been that even though they can be very effective at product/brand promotion and lead generation, they often come with a fairly high price tag. When you add up the cost of booth displays or exhibits, transportation, lodging, shipping/drayage, marketing and the rest, your average trade show can come with a hefty price tag. And although you can reduce these costs by making intelligent decisions (like utilizing display rentals etc.), the fact remains that these shows aren’t cheap.


Enter the virtual event. In most cases it isn’t designed to be a virtual trade show, per se. There’s just too much there that requires face-to-face interaction to really succeed. Instead a virtual event creates a place where live video streaming, videoconferencing, webpages and the like can be fused into an experience that can be attended by many different parties (including potential customers or clients) virtually, using an internet connection.


Just like other forms of digital and online marketing, this means that you can reach people at a much lower cost than you would pay for a face-to-face event. But, although the costs of these kinds of events are typically just a fraction of a real-world trade show, they also come with significant downsides.


Why Virtual Events Are Struggling To Catch On


Exhibitor Magazine recently did a survey to gauge the attitudes and feelings towards virtual events. Actually, the survey was an update to an earlier survey that was done two years ago in 2011. But, Exhibitor found that not much had changed in the interim.


The results were not too surprising. Many respondents said they had dabbled in virtual events, but that the results had been underwhelming. Yes, they’re cheaper than shelling out money to purchase your own booth displays and exhibit at a trade show, but those reduced costs mean that you are getting less visibility and worse performance in many cases.


In fact, while the number of companies which said they have used virtual events in their marketing rose between the two surveys from around a quarter to a third, many of them were significantly underwhelmed by the results. Although these types of services are apparently improving. In the earlier survey around 1/4 of the respondents said they were satisfied with the results of their virtual events. The 2013 survey showed a modestly better response with half of companies saying they were pleased.


The biggest issues stated by respondents were essentially what we’ve already discussed. The fact that there is a lower cost per lead is overshadowed by the fact that these leads are of significantly lower quality than the ones they typically get from a trade show or other real-world event.


Virtual Events Won’t Be Replacing Trade Shows Any Time Soon


The results of the Exhibitor survey show that it is highly unlikely that virtual events will be replacing trade shows any time soon. But, that doesn’t mean that they don’t offer anything of value. In the same Exhibitor survey, many companies stated that they see a utility in future events which meld elements of real-world trade show with virtual aspects as well. This could certainly be the case as there is no reason why booth displays and live events can’t co-exist with virtual videoconferences. Virtual aspects of a trade show could also allow more attendees to watch the proceedings of a keynote or other presentation.


There are many other possibilities. Webcams set up at your exhibit, could let customers interact with the live show in a variety of ways. It could even be possible for many people to virtually attend a real trade show with this technology and although these combinations of virtual and real-world show don’t allow for the same kind of cost-reduction as the fully-virtual events, other traditional means of reducing costs such as utilizing display rentals to reduce the costs of storage and shipping can certainly make trade show costs reasonable for the vast majority of businesses.

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