The Death of the Virtual Exhibitor?
August 2021 by Carolyn Bradfield, Cloud Conventions CEO
No matter what study you read about how exhibitors viewed their experience at a virtual event, less than half of them came away satisfied. Although exhibitors could participate in virtual conferences, trade shows and events at a fraction of the cost of a live event, many of them are now choosing to sit it out the next time they are invited to virtual, opting to take a wait and see position in hopes the live event will come together down the road.
Why Are Exhibitors Dropping From Virtual Shows?
Associations, tradeshows, and conferences can’t afford for the virtual exhibitor to sit on the sidelines, especially considering that more live shows are again cancelling, have reduced attendance and have people who are more reluctant to travel.
Before we declare the virtual exhibitor dead, let’s examine why these companies are on “exhibit life support” and how we can bring them back to engage in a virtual or hybrid event.
1. Exhibitors were not offered the right package.
Although having a virtual booth provides the exhibitor a place to add content and welcome attendees, show organizers seemed to forget that these companies need and want more. Exhibitors would like to see the booth be a part of a bundle that includes advertising options, participation in sessions or becoming part of the social agenda. Show organizers would be well-advised to look at bundling the virtual booth into sponsorship opportunities and offering participation in both live and virtual as part of the package.
2. Virtual booths were boring.
Look around the trade show floor at a live event and you see incredible booth designs and graphics, great promotions and giveaways and stunning videos and presentations scrolling across the screen. Many virtual booths were only offered as places to add a logo and upload content, but not much more. Companies want to showcase their brand, wow their audience, and get them to engage, and it starts with providing a better virtual booth experience.
3. Booth staff had to sit back and wait
At almost every virtual event, staff were sitting behind their laptops waiting for the attendee to show up. Unless the show has a strategy to attract the attendee to the booth, the wait can be endless with exhibitors hearing crickets.
Show organizers can include multiple strategies ways to get the attendee motivated to come inside the booth:
- Scavenger hunts
- Directory placements and more
4. The show forgot that exhibitors are also participants.
Go to any event, and you see exhibitors walking the floor, going to the parties, and attending sessions. Booth staff can be incredibly bored if they aren’t allowed to become part of the community of people who are enjoying everything the virtual or hybrid show has to offer.
5. There were few opportunities to show off thought leadership.
Remember that exhibitors are companies that serve the industry the show represents. They want to be invited to panels, asked to speak, host roundtables, and showcase their industry knowledge. Show organizers that worry companies may be too promotional, only have to collaborate with their exhibitors to get them to showcase their knowledge not their products.
6. Exhibitors need social connections with each other as well as attendees.
Exhibitors walk the tradeshow floor at a live event, so don’t restrict them from seeing each other’s virtual booths. Provide ways for exhibitors to socialize with each other as well as fellow attendees by including them in the virtual coffee breaks and happy hours. Give booth staff a way to reach out for meetings or chat with other exhibitors as well as to attendees.
7. Exhibitors need immediate gratification.
One of the questions that exhibitors always ask themselves is, “Is anyone looking?” or “Do I have any leads?” If attendees enter the booth, the exhibitor should know right away and be able to strike up a conversation. It’s no longer enough for exhibitors to wait for the show host to hand over the data post event to show who entered the virtual booth and what they looked at. Exhibitors should have access to lead data and not have to wait until the show is over.
8. Exhibitors want a longer time to engage.
Nobody had to ship or travel to setup a virtual booth. Just because the live exhibit hall closed or the event ended, doesn’t mean that access to the virtual booth must go away. Event platforms are built to distribute content, bring attendees back for me, and allow exhibitors more time to engage and build a database of new leads. Organizers should have a post-show strategy that promotes the exhibitor long after the live show has ended.
9. Exhibitors need better data.
In a live event, badge scan technology lets the exhibitor know who entered the booth and marries that with their contact record. In a virtual booth, the exhibitor should get a lot more. They should know what pages were opened, contact was interacted with, and forms were filled out. The activity data should be merged with the contact data for the exhibitor to get a lead that is useful.
In the foreseeable future, having a virtual option to complement or replace a live event is no longer a nice to have, but now is a must have. The event industry should recognize that in general, the exhibitor experience has been underwhelming and needs to shift to attract those all-important business and financial partners back and ready to participate in both a live and virtual world.