You Ask, I Answer: Recommendations for Virtual Tradeshows?

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You Ask, I Answer: Recommendations for Virtual Tradeshows?

Krystal asks, “With many of our tradeshows canceled for this year, our president wants to look at doing a virtual tradeshow. We get a ton of new leads for new practices and expansions. We are not an industry leader by any means but would love to hear thoughts on platforms and costs associated with this. What are your thoughts?”

The key question is this: what’s in it for the audience? This is where so many virtual events fall down. A real tradeshow has a ton of ancillary benefits. A virtual one offers almost none of those. That’s the challenge you have to solve first, and software won’t fix it.

You Ask, I Answer: Recommendations for Virtual Tradeshows?

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In today’s episode crystal asks was many of our trade shows cancelled for this year, our president wants to look at doing a virtual trade show, we get a ton of leads for new practices and expansions.

We are not an industry leader by any means.

But we’d love to hear thoughts on platforms and costs associated with this.

What are your thoughts? A lot of companies, conferences, events have gone to virtual events, whether it’s just something as simple as a webinar all the way to, you know, virtual summits and things.

And they’re in a challenging place right now.

And the challenges is twofold.

One, there’s a lot of competition for eyeballs for audiences because everyone has had to move their shows virtually, but to virtual trade shows, virtual shows in general conferences, etc.

They do a really poor job of actually Answering the most important question, which is what’s in it for the audience? This is where, you know, many, many virtual events fall down.

What does the audience get out of a virtual show that they can’t get from somewhere else? So, real simple.

Think about what a virtual event is.

It’s typically, you know, speakers talking with slides in some virtual chat room, or, you know, I’ve seen some interesting attempts at cloning, like exhibit halls and stuff like that.

And it’s really clear what’s in it for the event organizer.

It’s really clear what’s in it for the sponsors.

It’s really clear what’s in it for the speakers.

It’s not really clear what’s in it for the audience.

There are many professional speakers out there that would show up at these events and give a slightly tweaked version of their typical talk.

And there’s no compelling reason to sit through that event and give your information to that event when you can look them up on YouTube and watch them there and not have to give any information over.

So what’s in it for the audience? The same is true of all the topics all the professional development.

When you look at the Trust Insights paper we did on most used social media channels during the pandemic, thus far.

YouTube is king of the hill.

People go to YouTube for everything.

So how is what you have to offer in a virtual event? Better than YouTube for the attendee.

We spend so much time lining up sponsors and paying speakers hopefully that we don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about what the audience gets.

When you think about a real trade show, a physical world trade show or conference, there are a ton of ancillary benefits, right? You get to leave the office for a few days.

You get to travel someplace you get to eat different foods may not be better, but it’s different.

You get to network in person have those moments of serendipity where you’re bumping into people in the hallways and seeing old friends or making new friends.

There are, you know, the the event parties and stuff at larger events and such happy hours and all those things.

There are the tradeshow booths where there’s virtual swag with a real swag that you can pick up little tradeshow, gimmicks and, you know, stuffed animals and all these things that you can bring home to your kids and such.

At a virtual event, you get none of that.

Absolutely know that you don’t get to leave the office, you might get to turn your you know, out of office honor or something.

You don’t get to eat anything different because you’re still at home as you should be in a pandemic.

You don’t get a tradeshow swag.

Those virtual systems that try to mimic an exhibit hall.

Really are for the benefit of the sponsor only there’s no real benefit to hanging out in those.

For the attendee, I’ve been to a bunch of, you know, virtual summits and stuff and like, go go check out our exhibit hall.

Why? There’s no reason for me to go in there.

And if what the speakers are saying is available on YouTube, then suddenly there is no benefit to trade show.

So what should your approach be in a situation like this, I would start small, start with a webinar first, your own right, as opposed to a giant trade show or trying to organize a trade or start with a webinar and see if there is even interest in your audience wanting a virtual event format of any kind for your industry, and if there is great you’ll get, you know, 50 100 200 500 attendees doesn’t matter what the number is.

And you’ll get a sense, hey, this is there’s a there’s a here here, right? There’s a there there, there’s there’s something worth paying attention to And then you can start to organize a trade show, I would not leap straight into a trade show.

If you can’t get people to show up for a webinar on an industry topic, then a trade show is going to be a big waste of time and money.

Now, on the other hand, if you managed to, you know, announce your first webinar and you get 1000 people to sign up for it.

Okay, now you’re talking now you that now there’s a there there that can say, I think there’s enough interest to justify the investment in a trade show.

So I would start small.

And if you do go the tradeshow route, I would spend a lot of time a lot of time investigating what can we offer in those ancillary benefits that you can’t get somewhere else? like YouTube, and it’s different, right.

Agorapulse when they put on their virtual summits, they do a great job of of treating it like a season on Netflix.

So there’s not they don’t try to replicate the tradeshow experience, what they looked at was, what is the virtual format that people like best? Do you want to be chained to your desk between a certain time a certain time? The answer is no, because it’s a lot harder to be out of the office when you’re not physically out of the office.

So they figured do it like a season and Netflix, you can binge the whole thing, you can just see the the episodes you want.

And it’s worked really well for them, like literally thousands of people show up for their events.

And they are fantastic events.

So don’t try to replicate the real world trade show experience, because it’s really difficult to do.

But one of the things that you can do in a virtual environment that are unique to it.

Like the Netflix example, for example, I can’t at a conference go to every session because it’s multiple sessions at the same time and I have to pick and choose which ones I want to see.

With something like the Netflix example, I don’t have to pick and choose.

Are there different speakers that you could get that would be that maybe You haven’t been on stage yet? Or are not well known.

Could you showcase some different voices, different perspectives that maybe would lend a lot more diversity to the speaker pool as opposed to say, having the same five people show up at every trade show industry event? Can you do things with digital goods? from, you know, white papers and webinars and boring stuff about to even interesting content, like music, for example? Are there things that you can do with digital subscriptions as as essentially a virtual version of a tradeshow giveaway, you know, stay till the end and you’ll get a $10 Apple Music card or something along those lines and encourage, if you do go this, the tradeshow booth out, encourage your sponsors to do the same like hey, you’re gonna have to spend some money to get people to show up at your booth.

But make it in digital goods like a free month of Spotify.

You know, a free month of YouTube TV Whatever the thing is, make it worth the time for the attendees.

That’s the key.

Put yourself in the attendees shoes.

Say what’s in it for me, what can I get here that I cannot get elsewhere that I actually want? Right? Because you can get a lot of things someplace you can’t get anywhere else but they may not be things you want.

So good question, tough question for the industry.

I hope that this advice is helpful to you.

If you have follow up questions, leave them in the comments box below.

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


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