“So, how do we tackle virtual trade shows?”
Across the events industry, this year has been an incredibly challenging one. Planners are facing the decision to cancel, postpone or pivot their approach to events they would typically host live and in-person.
This leaves exhibitors and sponsors to change their approach as well. While they would typically shake attendees’ hands on the trade show floor, they’re adapting to the brand new world of the virtual trade show. They’re interacting with attendees via video chat. They’re figuring out how to get attendees to visit their virtual booth in the first place.
If you as a sponsor or exhibitor are struggling to adjust to this new landscape, you’re not alone. You want to gain brand awareness and warm leads from virtual events. And we’re here to help.
Put these tips into practice to meet and connect with event attendees during a virtual trade show.
Before the virtual event
Brand yourself early
Pique attendees’ interest in your brand before the event has even started. Your job is to capture attendees’ attention, enticing them to visit your virtual trade show booth. This is even more important virtually. Since attendees can’t wander a physical trade show floor, your brand’s offerings need to incentivize them to click through all the more.
Take advantage of any opportunities to promote your logo on the event website. Talk to your event host about what these locations are. The goal is to get your name and brand in front of as many attendees as possible before the event even begins.
Can you sponsor a page within the event? What about the agenda? Think strategically about when and where you’d like attendees to encounter your brand, and talk to your event host to make it happen.
Another great option could be sponsoring a notification or email communication. These touchpoints are a great way to win exposure for your brand. But they also offer the chance to share a sneak peek at your products or special offers during the event.
Know your audience
Event veterans know the importance of getting to know your attendees before the event even begins. Do your homework to understand the demographics of your virtual trade show audience. Research the event content, presenters, and other vendors to know what interests attendees.
Knowing the landscape of your virtual event lets you tailor your content to your audience. This affects your approach to one-on-one conversations, video product showcases, and your virtual booth itself.
Background research is especially important during a virtual event. If your virtual event platform allows, you may be able to message or schedule meetings with interested prospects during the event.
At a virtual trade show, you don’t casually pass attendees in the hallway. But you can use the attendee community and digital features of a virtual event to connect via video, through messaging, or in your booth.
Know what to expect
Just like no two events are the same, no two virtual events are the same. And just like each venue, planner and program is unique, virtual event platforms provide unique offerings as well.
Whatever platform is being used to host the event, know the features it offers ahead of time. Can you video chat with attendees in your booth? Check agendas to schedule meetings one-on-one? Are you able to host a video product showcase? Strategize ahead of time what features you will utilize, and how you will use them to connect with attendees.
Which virtual trade show features will you use, and how will you connect to new leads?
During the virtual event
Host an educational session
Your virtual trade show booth isn’t the only place to impress attendees.
Put together an educational session during the event that offers true value to the audience. Instead of treating this time as a veiled sales pitch, stand out by showing how much you know about your industry.
Give 2 or 3 tangible learning takeaways that establish you as an industry expert. This value will lead attendees to want to learn more about how your products or services are changing the game.
This kind of session is a great time to show off not only your industry expertise but also your team. Show off the engaging, vibrant staff that bring your product to life. As they speak in knowledgeable and engaging ways, attendees will be excited to follow up with them about your industry content. These conversations can bring them to your booth and open up the door to make them warm leads.
Build a better booth
We already mentioned the importance of knowing the virtual event features your platform offers.
Within your virtual trade show booth, put your best foot forward. Like having a variety of collateral pieces in hand at a physical booth, make sure to share a range of information online as well.
Include resources that give any attendees that enter a clear picture of your products and services. Upload visual collateral, text, photos, and videos that inform attendees, while piquing their interest in learning more.
Ask the right questions
At a virtual trade show, “drive by” conversations look different than those you might have in-person.
This means that, if an attendee has entered your virtual booth, there’s a good chance you’ve made an impression on them. While they’re in your booth, they can peruse your materials, watch a live video showcase or video chat with your team.
In conversations with them, ask open-ended questions that help you understand their needs. These conversation-starters also help you quickly qualify (or disqualify) them as leads, giving you the information you want right away.
After the virtual event
Change your approach with different attendees
Even if an attendee hasn’t engaged with you, you may still have a chance to connect with them.
Your virtual event platform may allow you to view and message the individuals who “visited” your virtual trade show booth during the event. This gives you another chance at converting them to a warm lead, if they didn’t already provide their contact information.
Such features let you start and continue meaningful conversations with attendees. In addition, messaging features let you send an immediate, personalized follow-up to a warm lead or an attendee you spoke with personally.
Don’t simply send a one-size-fits-all to the new leads in your database after the event. Let them know that you care about their interest in your product with a thoughtful outreach. These strategic differences set you apart from other exhibitors and strengthen your connection to attendees.
Add value with your follow-up
Following a virtual event, your touchpoint with leads has already been digital. You may have not had the chance to make eye contact or exchange a laugh with them.
So it’s even more critical that you set yourself apart in follow-up with attendees. Think strategically about how you can provide value to leads, in order to continue the conversation with them. Your outreaches to them should be truly interesting and helpful content.
Can you ask them questions that continue to reflect on the event sessions? Can you send industry-specific content that would be useful to them? Targeting your audience is always a best practice, but a virtual event requires even more thoughtful follow-up.
Don’t just fold these new leads into your wider marketing database, but take care to make your communications beneficial to them.
Just because you didn’t connect in-person doesn’t mean you can’t give attendees branded takeaways.
Consider snail-mailing your leads small branded giveaways. Some giveaway vendors, like Cultivate, let you offer and send virtual event-specific gifts. Or offer a larger “chance to win” giveaway, as an extra incentive to engage with you.
Make sure to ask for their mailing address and any other relevant information separately! It may not be included with your typical lead retrieval information. Let them know you want to give them a piece of the event to take home. This tangible effort will set your brand apart.
Connecting to attendees beyond the screen takes being thoughtful and innovative. Set yourself apart in this new world by creatively calling back to the familiar, and stepping up to the challenges of being together-but-apart.