B2B Marketing: Take established tradeshow best practices and adapt them for an online audience with virtual events
“Many tradeshows have experienced a decline in attendance and exhibitors in recent years. In addition to companies cutting back on their tradeshow attendance due to financial reasons, many attendees are also scaling back their tradeshow participation, due to travel costs and time away from the office. Virtual events eliminate some of these issues.”
The above quote is from Chris Chariton, Vice President of Supplier Marketing & Marketing Services at GlobalSpec – the engineering search engine. To help you incorporate virtual events into your marketing mix, we conducted a virtual interview with Chris…
Let’s start with the obvious question – what is a virtual tradeshow and how is it different than a webinar?
Chris Chariton: Virtual tradeshows go beyond a webinar or webcast, as they include elements of both an educational conference and a tradeshow. A typical webinar lasts between 30 and 60 minutes, and is usually focused on a single topic.
On the other hand, virtual tradeshows encompass a “conference” portion featuring many different educational sessions with a variety of speakers, as well as a “tradeshow” component including exhibitor booths, live chat and networking.
The platform for virtual tradeshows is much more comprehensive, the interactive capabilities are greater, and they offer additional multimedia opportunities, including video.
In what situations should marketers use a traditional event? When should they choose a virtual event?
CC: Two reasons why marketers use in-person events are the opportunity to be face-to-face with an existing or potential customer, and the opportunity for someone to see your products “in action.” Virtual events also provide this interactive ability for one-on-one discussions.
Additionally, the economic, time and resource benefits of virtual tradeshows and online events are too big not to experience. They can serve as a complement, a supplement or a replacement to in-person events, as they offer lead generation, branding and networking opportunities – much more conveniently, and without travel, hotel and entertainment costs.
However, you will want to evaluate each individual event for itself, determining the quality of the audience, the “fit” with your company, its products and services, and other factors.
How should we approach a virtual event differently than we would approach a traditional event?
CC: We recommend that you approach a virtual event in a similar manner that you would approach a traditional event. Having a successful presence requires effort, so you want to be sure that you have a solid project plan in place.
You also want to create a content strategy that ensures that you are outfitting your virtual booth with the content that is most relevant and valuable to attendees, and that positions you as a thought leader.
Much like a traditional tradeshow, you want to interact with all of your virtual booth visitors as well. Know who the subject matter experts are, in case you need to pass the person off for a technical discussion. And understand the content of the collateral that you have on hand, so you can offer them the appropriate materials.
Maximizing results is key. After exhibiting at a virtual event, you want to follow up on opportunities – like you would for a traditional tradeshow, or any other marketing initiative for that matter.
And while there are many similarities between virtual events and traditional events, there are some differences – without travel costs and time away from the office being a factor, you can implement a cross-departmental team to staff your virtual booth and participate in online chats, especially during high traffic times. So in addition to the traditional sales and marketing folks who typically staff your in-person booths, you can also invite engineers and other subject matter experts to attend.
How do you incorporate social media into virtual events?
CC: We use a variety of social media channels – including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter – to promote our events, both prior to the event to encourage registration, and during the event to attract and engage attendees. For each event, we have a dedicated social media strategy designed to drive interest and registrations, as well as attendance.
How do you determine the value of participating in a virtual event?
CC: To maximize your virtual event investment, select one that will help you effectively achieve your marketing goals. Before participating in a virtual event, there are a number of important criteria to consider.
First, understand the audience for the event – both the quantity and the quality to expect, including the titles and industries of the attendees.
Next, ask yourself if the topic is relevant to your target market, and a good fit for your business. Inquire how these events are being promoted, both pre- and post-event. And understand the support you will receive as an exhibitor. Will you have a dedicated client services manager assisting you? Is the technology platform secure? All of these will help you ensure you are making the right decision.
Like an in-person tradeshow, virtual events can position your company as a thought leader, and deliver branding, exposure and qualified sales leads.
You can hear Chris discuss virtual events at Frost & Sullivan’s GIL (Growth, Innovation, and Leadership) 2010: Silicon Valley in San Jose. Chris will be presenting “Building Brand Exposure, Generating Leads with Virtual Events” on September 15th during the “BtoB Marketing: Best Practices” breakout session.
Our own Brian Carroll (CEO of InTouch , our sister company) will also be presenting in that session – “Playbook for Marketing and Sales Alignment: How to Collaborate to Optimize Lead Generation Programs.” If you’re interested in attending, you can visit Brian’s blog for a discount code.