There is little question in the event and trade show space that online events and virtual trade shows are an emerging marketing and lead generation vehicle. According to iCongo CEO Irwin Kramer, this evolving technology allows companies to market their goods and services more effectively by breaking down physical barriers and enabling collaboration between trading partners.
It is often best for businesses to utilize this technology as a complement to a live, established event. Rather than replacing traditional trade shows, online events can be used to revitalize and extend physical events, or in many cases can be stand-alone virtual events on a specific topic or subject. Companies with heavy foot traffic at annual trade shows may view this technology as a show complement, allowing executives and international members from far reaches of the world to attend virtual show booths and round-table discussions and build a more vibrant membership community.
Let's take a step back. What is an online or virtual event? Online events are live expos, trade shows and conferences that use rich media to provide a superior user experience. Online events replicate the feeling of attending physical events by utilizing three-dimensional graphics, audio and video, communication tools and the platform's rich media capabilities.
Attendees are able to participate in actual presentations, visit exhibit booths to learn about a company's products and services, communicate with company representatives and network with peers. Attendees, exhibitors, sponsors and presenters use text, audio, video and voice technologies to interact throughout the multiple venues in the event.
Virtual events provide value to exhibitors by allowing them to maintain ongoing communication with their customers and members, extend the time frame in which content and information can be communicated, effectively recruit qualified personnel and enhance valuable sales leads opportunities. Online events are not fixed in time. They present themselves in a whole new context, unfettered by the obstacles hampering traditional, physical events.
As your business explores the possibilities and feasibility of hosting an online event or trade show, the following are tips on how to best maximize the return on your investment.
- First, you want to create value for exhibitors by providing targeted lead generation to the exhibiting companies. When researching your software options, be sure you can obtain pertinent user data such as detailed attendee reports (tracking attendee's movements, for example). Information on an attendee's participation in discussions, materials gathered and entrance into an exhibitor's booth shows interest level in products and services. In effect, every click of the attendee should be obtainable.
- On-demand virtual events greatly expand opportunities for user participation and feedback, allowing for a richer blend of event and other related content such as white papers and newsletters. Keep these components in mind with an eye on incorporating archival material. Virtual events serve as more compact and flexible packages of knowledge base and marketing material for those organizations.
- Virtual trade show and online event technologies are competitive with other forms of content distribution channels. It is important to keep in mind that this technology is more cost-effective than producing actual physical events. This is due in part to eliminated travel expenses, new members attracted, and decreased facility costs and marketing expenses. When considering whether or not to run a virtual event or add this as a complement to a standing event, remember that virtual shows are often more naturally suited to wider distribution, thus generating greater revenue over the long run.
- When reviewing various software applications, research how the technology will allow your business to package and archive materials or data and its overall ease of use. The way both attendee data and materials are packaged on the platform's back end is critical to ease of use.
- In taking advantage of virtual event technology, businesses and organizations must keep an eye on additional revenue sources. This technology can allow you to generate significant revenue from advertisements and key sponsorships connected with well-produced and targeted online events.
Virtual trade shows and online events are integral parts of a broad branding and content business mix focused on maximizing new opportunities. This new event paradigm turns shows into stronger marketing, lead generation and community-building tools. Before jumping in, we hope the above tips help you and your business sort through the differing technologies on the market.
Irwin Kramer is CEO of iCongo, a leading developer of e-business systems and software.