5 Steps to Succeeding with Virtual Trade Shows

Thomas Paris
February 24, 2021
5 Steps to Succeeding with Virtual Trade Shows

Trade shows have been a popular marketing and sales channel to connect with new prospects, generate leads, and build relationships within the industry. It’s also one of the best places to showcase and demonstrate your product and service offerings.

As the pandemic brought about a whirlwind of change and forced organizations to go remote, many trade show organizers quickly pivoted to become virtual trade shows. And although the move has been swift, it hasn’t exactly been smooth. The drop in audience engagement and interaction, limited networking opportunities, and technical complications have emerged as key concerns around virtual trade show participation.

While these concerns are partially valid, the advancement in event technology platforms are humanizing the event experience. With a little help from such platforms and this five-step guide we have created, you can organize a successful virtual trade show.

What Is a Virtual Trade Show?

A virtual trade show is an online exhibition/expo that lets exhibitors organize an immersive experience for attendees through a virtual trade show management platform. The platform enables exhibitors to showcase themselves through 3D trade show setup, branding, and other event engagement tools.

Exhibitors set up their virtual booths, hold virtual demos, interact with delegates/attendees, and most importantly, generate leads and sales. For attendees, virtual trade shows are open for specific segments of the target market depending on the nature of the trade show.

A screenshot of Gamerjibe's virtual tradeshow platform that shows people crowding around an exhibition space, taking a product demo.
Virtual trade show platforms can add intuitive interactive elements that support broader sales and marketing goals | Source: Gamerjibe

A typical virtual trade show will also include:

  • Presentations
  • Workshops
  • Press conference
  • Networking lounges
  • Industry award ceremonies

5 Steps to Organize a Successful Virtual Trade Show

Use the following five-step framework to plan a successful virtual trade show:

Step 1: Identify the Value(s) for Attendees and Exhibitors

Position your virtual trade show well to connect with the right target market. Identify the benefits your virtual trade show can provide to your attendees and exhibitors and link them to your business goals.

For example, a Martech Trade Show; in the rapidly changing marketing landscape, it is imperative for marketers to be aware of new and upcoming martech tools, which can get overwhelming. Plan your virtual trade show in a way that educates marketing professionals on new tools and applications and communicating this through interactive workshops and demos. Martech providers can perceive this opportunity to showcase their new products via workshops while driving brand awareness.

Being an organizer/intermediary, you facilitate this exchange while bridging the information asymmetry.

Step 2: Pick a Robust Virtual Trade Show Platform

The virtual trade show platform can practically make or break your event, and we’re not exaggerating. While picking a trade show platform, choose a platform that offers a more consolidated feature set as it will help you streamline your marketing efforts. Also, ensure that the platform is device agnostic, comes with a mobile app, and adheres to the accessibility guidelines.

A state-of-the-art virtual trade show platform will offer the following features:

  • Website builder (including landing page and form builder)
  • Social media and email marketing
  • 3D virtual booths with customizable branding and design features
  • A diverse content repository that supports photos, audio, video, and documents like presentations, brochures, flyers
  • Communication tools like live chat, video chat to schedule live demos, workshops, and meetings
  • Engagement tools such as surveys, feedback, and gamification features.
  • Networking features like networking lounges, breakout rooms, and virtual spaces for 1:1 meetings.
  • E-commerce features like product listing, shopping cart, and payment gateway integration to enable transactions between vendors and attendees
  • Dashboards for the organizer and vendors
  • Customizable analytics reports
  • Integrations with third-party analytics and CRM tools

The list is quite comprehensive, so make a checklist of the features you need and then shortlist a few top platform providers and opt for a live demo before zeroing down on a solution.

Here are some popular platforms we recommend:

  • Remo
  • Gamerjibe
  • Hopin
  • Hubilo

Step 3: Iron Out the Trade Show Experience

Virtual trade shows are still uncharted territory for many. Design an experience where attendees can navigate virtually with little assistance. Here is how you can improve the trade show experience:

  • Have the program agenda, contact information, and FAQs available on the landing page.
  • Segregate the sessions based on their formats such as workshops, breakout sessions, and live demos.
  • Categorize the exhibitors based on their niche so that attendees jump right to the section they are looking for.
  • Create a walkthrough video that demonstrates how to use the platform, i.e., navigate through the virtual trade show.
  • Have a dedicated support staff in place for live chat, email, social media, and phone to respond to incoming queries.
  • Develop an omnichannel marketing strategy to share this information across multiple avenues. This includes both inbound (blog, social media, newsletters) and outbound (advertising, digital PR, industry publications, email) channels.

Step 4: Make Networking Your True North

Getting to communicate with industry peers and vendors is probably the marquee attraction of a trade show. Streamlining the communication between exhibitors and attendees is the key to improving the trade show experience.

Create an ecosystem where attendees can interact with exhibitors, exchange virtual business cards, bookmark interesting vendors so that they can revisit them later, and schedule meetings via video chat. Built-in e-commerce features can help both parties close deals on the spot.

A screenshot of a virtual trade conference's networking event in action with digital avatars having conversations in real-time.
The networking experience is perhaps the most crucial indicator of virtual trade show success

And that’s not all. Creating event-specific communities or groups can enable participants to follow-up to continue their discussions, exchange information, and close deals. Apps like Cvent, Hopin, Bizzabo or IMs like Slack can help you create micro-groups so the communication is streamlined and participation is easy.

Step 5: Help Sponsors and Exhibitors Present Their Best Self

The exhibitors and sponsors drive a significant chunk of sales in the early stages of the virtual trade show. Help them build their brand to work together toward generating engagement, leads, and revenue at the virtual venue.

As the organizer, here are a few ways you can help them drive brand awareness:

  • Allow exhibitors to customize their booths. Depending on the sponsorship package, exhibitors get more customization options (colors, shapes, fonts, etc.), more space, and placement at prominent locations.
  • Give a shout out to your sponsors and exhibitors via email and social media. You can also run a paid campaign promoting their content or collaborate with them on new content pieces to help them gain more visibility.
  • Run creative ads, announcements, brochures, social media mentions, and offers on the exhibitor booths.
A picture of Hublio's product screen adapted for the Power Up Incorporate trade show
Leverage hybrid event platforms to discover better sponsorship, sales, and marketing opportunities | Source: Hublio
  • Send the contact details of exhibitors and sponsors to the attendees in advance so that they can instantly schedule a meeting.
  • Create breakout rooms for exhibitors that allows them to run live demos and workshops for attendees.

Conclusion

People have become accustomed to attending virtual events, but many still find it challenging to grasp the concept of virtual trade shows. To dispel these doubts, plan and execute your virtual trade show in a way that encourages everyone to participate, attendees or exhibitors alike.

Also, track the organizer’s dashboard to measure and improve performance. Design separate surveys for exhibitors and attendees to understand what they like and how you can improve future events.

We hope this five-step process will help you plan your virtual trade show effectively.

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