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Q: What can you expect to get when you sign up for a virtual exhibit?

A: It depends.

by Candy Adams, “The Booth Mom®” DES | VEMM | CTSM | CME | CEM | CMP | CMM

I thought being in a California COVID lockdown was isolating until I recently spent two long days being the equivalent of a Walmart greeter in my most recent virtual exhibit.

This exercise-in-futility was acting as the chat moderator for a virtual exhibit at CES 2021. There were 26 virtual show floor hours over the span of the two-day show. Being in the Pacific time zone, that meant getting up at 4 a.m. (which was 7 a.m. EST) and staring at my laptop screen, waiting for some of the anticipated 50,000 virtual attendees to drop by.

Take a guess at how many visitors I chatted with. Give up? A whopping six! These included:

– My client, who dropped by the first morning using her attendee badge to see what the visitor experience looked and felt like

– One visitor who stopped by once each day fishing for competitive info we can’t provide

– Three visitors suitcasing – trying to sell us marketing and software services.

Although my client did implement a robust PR and social media campaign, I learned from other CES exhibitors that the underwhelming virtual traffic to our exhibit wasn’t uncommon. Knowing that made me feel somewhat better about our pathetic numbers.

But just like you can’t rely on foot traffic at a live event to generate sufficient qualified leads, you can’t rely on show management to drive attendees to create the perfect virtual exhibit climate.

What you can do is understand exactly what the platform that the show offers provides that will help you engage with visitors. Then by process of elimination you can look at other options for your own promotion—before, during and after the virtual event—before committing to their virtual program. And you can always approach show management to integrate your own sponsorship ideas, making them an offer they can’t refuse. This lets you maximize their promotional offerings and supplement them with other marketing activities to boost your engagement, and hopefully, exceed your marketing goals!

 Virtual Exhibit Expectations

Virtual shows are like snowflakes: No two are exactly alike. In order to understand how visitors will find and engage with your virtual exhibit, you need to ask show management these questions before signing the exhibit contract on the dotted line:

  • Reaching Your Target Audience
    • What is the show’s anticipated total virtual attendance, what is this number based on, and how many of those are in your target market? What will the access—and cost—be for attendees who only want to visit the exhibits?
  • Show Floor Hours
    • What days/hours will the virtual exhibits be open? Are there any unopposed hours—like those at a live tradeshow—when there aren’t any scheduled conference sessions or keynotes and only the virtual show floor will be open? Is there any time scheduled before, during and after educational sessions and keynote presentations for attendees to visit the show floor? Are exhibitors allowed to schedule after-hours networking sessions (a.k.a. happy hours or birds-of-a-feather roundtables) to connect with prospects?
  • Time’s of the Essence
    • In what time zone(s) will your staff need to work to cover your virtual exhibit’s activities? How many complimentary exhibit staff virtual badges will you get? Will there be times when you anticipate needing more—or less—staffing in your exhibit?
  • How long is the “show”?
    • Are the exhibits on the virtual exhibit floor open for an extended period of time after the virtual event closes (such as 30 days to six months more)?
  • The Virtual Venue
    • What technology platform has show management chosen? Are the virtual exhibits running on a separate app? What options do you have to engage visitors through this app? Will the visitors be familiar with this app or have to muddle their way through finding out how to engage with you? Are there multiple tiers of features available for exhibitors?
  • Getting There
    • How many steps does it take from an attendee logging into the virtual event, visiting their sessions, and then to relocate to your exhibit? How do they know what their options are to interact with it and your staff? One show had a neat feature that when each new visitor approached the booth, a brief welcome video would auto-magically start to roll to engage them.
  • Where’s Waldo?
    • Will visitors choose your company’s name from an alphabetical list of all exhibitors, search for your product/service category by keywords, or pick from logos based on the fee paid for your virtual exhibit? To create the serendipity that’s lacking in virtual shows, some shows let attendees have the chance to spin a virtual wheel to randomly pick exhibitors to visit.
  • Making Personal Connections
    • How will your virtual exhibit staff be represented and introduced to visitors? In your exhibitor profile, will there be staff photos and bios explaining their background, experience and expertise to connect with the most appropriate staffer? Will your staff interact with visitors as avatars or just by name through audio/video/written chats or in one-on-one private meetings? Does the platform offer meeting scheduling or a speed-dating feature?
  • You still need visual with
    • What will your company’s virtual exhibit look like when visitors stop by? (And will the platform even let you see your virtual exhibit in its finished form? Don’t laugh… some of them don’t!) What’s the visitors’ critical first impression of your virtual exhibit when they arrive? What, exactly, will they see, hear and experience on their screen? Will the platform only let exhibitors choose from a few generic pre-designed 2-D virtual exhibit backwalls that can be uploaded with or without graphics, and with your company’s or social media logos and links? Or will you be able to upload or link to a more complex 3D exhibit design that’s a better visual representation of your brand or product? Will you be allowed to livestream or upload pre-recorded videos or product demonstrations? If so, what are the limitations on their file size or run time? How many digital .pdfs of spec sheets or white papers can you display in your virtual literature rack?
  • Promo Plans
    • What are show management’s plans to promote exhibitors’ participation and drive session attendees to the show floor? Is any type of pre-show promo planned via e-brochures/catalogs of exhibitors, social media, email blasts, product showcases or virtual swag bags to attendees based on the level of virtual exhibit sponsorship package purchased? Will attendees be able to participate in show floor scavenger hunts or other competitive games like trivia challenges or passport contests with points-based leaderboards and raffles or prize wheels? Some shows have even upgraded virtual exhibits that are participating in prize giveaways into a separate “raffle hall.”
  • Will the pre-registration list be available to rent for any type of pre-show marketing? Beware of emails offering the “official” show list. They’re scams as shows don’t sell their attendee lists and generally only rent them to exhibitors for one-time use.
  • Sponsorship Tiers
    • What premium sponsorship levels are there to drive additional traffic to your exhibit and upgrade your engagement with all attendees? These could include sponsoring quarterly email blasts, keynotes, infomercial sessions or moderating a panel discussion, and even mentions of your virtual exhibit to boost thought leadership and brand awareness; bottom-third advertising on the screen of sponsored sessions or slides; unstructured networking events or roundtables to attract birds-of-a-feather into conversation or private networking rooms for more intimate conversations.
  • Sales and Incentives
    • Are exhibitors allowed to set up marketplaces to sell products from their online exhibit?
  • Are show specials, discounts or coupons for savings on products/services allowed to incentivize attendees to check out exhibitors?
  • Exhibit Staff Size and Makeup
    • How many complimentary virtual exhibit staff logins will you receive for your staff to monitor and interact with your virtual visitors? What training will the platform provide on the virtual exhibit app to prepare the chat room moderator and exhibit staff to maximize engagement with visitors?
  • Who’s Who?
    • What virtual badge information will your staff have access to when a visitor arrives in your virtual exhibit? Will your staff be able to record any customized info about their conversation for follow-up?
  • Data’s King
    • What PII (personally-identifiable information) and aggregated show data will be provided to you about all show attendees, your virtual exhibit’s visitors, and how long they engaged with each of the various digital assets of your virtual exhibit? Will you get their contact and demographic information from registration, the sessions they’re attending, personal responses to polling and Q & A? And, of critical importance is knowing how long until you will receive the promised PII after the show.

Many of these virtual exhibit’s options are controlled—and limited—by the platform’s programming, the length of time available between the decision to pivot from live to virtual, the bandwidth required, and the price exhibitors and attendees are willing to pay.

CANDY-ADAMS-Candy Adams (pictured left), known throughout the exhibit industry as “The Booth Mom®”, is a hands-on exhibit project manager who’s just earned her seventh  industry certification, and, as of CES 2021, hit a milestone of 500 shows under her belt! As an accomplished veteran exhibit marketing consultant and exhibit staff “boothmanship” and exhibit management trainer, she specializes in sharing her knowledge and expertise to guide exhibitors through both the live and virtual tradeshow mazes, assuring they maximize their return on investment while cutting exhibiting costs. A prolific award-winning writer and trainer on exhibiting best practices, she’s published more than 400 articles and blogs and trained tens of thousands of exhibit managers on all aspects of tradeshow exhibit management in her 29-year career. For more info, visiwww.BoothMom.com.

This story originally appeared in the Mar./Apr. 2021 issue of Exhibit City News, p. 26. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_mar-apr_2021

 

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