How to Leverage Virtual Trade Shows

For B2B businesses, trade shows serve as a key means of engaging with both potential prospects and current customers. However, due to the current pandemic and uncertainty around in-person events for the next several months, many marketers are worried about the possibility of trade shows. In order to mitigate some of these risks, companies are reallocating their budgets for virtual conferences and trade shows. However, there is a lot to keep in mind when you consider attending a virtual trade show.

Are Virtual Trade Shows and Conferences Worth It?

For some industries, virtual conferences have successfully filled the gap for in-person events. However, in other instances, they have been nowhere near as successful for attendees. That’s why virtual events need to be treated like any other sponsorship or trade show opportunity; businesses need to examine what the benefits would be. 

Pros of Virtual Events

  • Ease of Attending: In-person trade shows often required a lot more logistical planning – travel, housing, meals, moving meetings, booth setup and staffing, etc. Virtual events require much less coordination and make it easier to attend for team members.
  • Reach: Because it’s virtual, it’s easier for anyone to attend from anywhere in the world. This provides the opportunity to engage with people from across the country that may not have travelled for an in-person event.  

Cons of Virtual Events

  • Forming Relationships: According to a survey of over 2,900 respondents by Markletic, the two biggest challenges for virtual events are audience engagement and interactions. For any virtual event to create a lasting impact, there needs to be clear ways for attendees to network and for sponsors to directly engage with prospects. 
  • Distractions: During in-person events, your focus is just on everything at hand. However, with virtual events, you always have emails notifications, client calls, daily work, and other distractions that can pull your attention away from the virtual stream. 

Creating Your Communications Plan for a Virtual Trade Show

For most businesses who engage with a virtual event, the biggest mistake is that they go into it without a plan. Because it’s seemingly logistically easier than an in-person event, companies often fail to create a communications plan to engage with other attendees, sponsors, and speakers. But if you’re spending money to invest in an event, you need to invest time into planning in three areas: pre-event, during the event, and post-event.

Pre-Event Communications Plan

Once you have confirmed that you’re going to a virtual trade show, the first step is straightforward: let people know that you’re attending! Start by sharing this information by emailing your list and by sharing it on your social channels – especially on LinkedIn, where your business connections will hopefully be following you, and on Twitter, where live discussions are most likely to occur. 

After you announce that your team is attending, you should also try to find out who else is attending. Hopefully, you may gain some insights if your followers or email subscribers reply to your initial announcement. Additionally, you can find other attendees by monitoring any mentions of the conference on social media. Finally, there are some attendees that will be easy to identify, including speakers and sponsors.

Once these people are identified, it’s good to connect with them and reach out. Since many people are trying to network with limited opportunities available, it will likely be easier to set up a virtual call or virtual coffee meetup. 

Communications During the Event

Since you can’t directly walk up to people during a virtual event, it is essential to have a plan to engage with others virtually. In your planning, you need to know what channels will be available, what your key messaging points are, and your plan to follow through.

  • Know Your Channels: Ideally, the event organizers will set up a chat system through Slack or other services that can allow attendees to find other people and directly engage through the same platform. If there isn’t an in-event chat, Twitter is a good place to check, since the platform is best for live engagement and discussion. 
  • Know Your Messaging: Other people at the conference are probably there for the same reason you are: to form new connections. Your messaging should focus around building that initial relationship and connecting; one way is to ask if they’d like to get a virtual coffee for a first meeting. Additionally, be sure that your messaging isn’t salesy. By leading with that kind of message, anyone you try to connect with will assume you want to just make a sale and nothing deeper. 
  • Know Your Plan: Just because the event is virtual doesn’t mean that you can do other work during the event. Be sure to focus on the event and don’t get distracted with emails or other work. Use any gap time during the virtual event to find those new connections and start engaging with people. 

Post-Event Communications Plan

Once you’re done connecting with people from the event, be sure to add these people to your marketing funnel to ensure they get news and information from you on a regular basis. The goal here isn’t to make a quick sale; it’s about staying top of mind and forming that long term relationship.

The content that you send in your post-event communications needs to be relevant and insightful. Ideally, the content doesn’t just recap what was discussed; it takes it a step further by expanding the discussion and building on attendee questions and concerns. This could be done through several types of content, including eBooks, infographic, whitepapers, or webinars. Webinars set at least a month after the initial event are a great tactic because it showcases your experience and insights while also allowing you to feature like-minded individuals who you may have met through the event. 

Get Help with Your Virtual Trade Show Plan

If you’re going to invest in a virtual trade show, you need to invest in an effective communications plan. Need help with that? Contact our team of experts to see how virtual events can enhance your marketing communications strategy.

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