Sometimes it seems like everything is going virtual. A virtual Tupac Shakur performed at Coachella this past April, Wii Sports lets you play anything from virtual golf to virtual bowling, and there’s even a website that lets you make virtual sand art. More importantly, for those in the software business, many tradeshows are going virtual. In fact, industry experts expect that by 2015, more than 25% of tradeshows will be conducted in a virtual environment.
This is a game-changer, no question about it. Below are some advantages and disadvantages of virtual tradeshows, followed by cut-and-dry conclusions about when virtual tradeshows can work to your advantage and when they’re virtually useless.
1. It’s Green
Virtual tradeshows eliminate the transport of people and materials, which reduces the carbon footprint of an event. They also eliminate the production of materials that will go to waste after an event, such as handouts and posters that are branded specifically for “XYZ-Event, 2012”.
2. It’s Logical
Especially for those in the software industry, it makes sense to utilize new technologies — after all, that’s what you’re encouraging your buyer to do. It’s also a strategic advantage to have your target already at a computer because it allows you to show your product in action. In some industries, benefits are best described in person, but in the software industry, it takes a computer to really show off what your product can do.
3. It’s Easier to Track Lead Generation
Virtual tradeshow platforms make it easy to provide prospects with downloadable materials, and many offer built in tracking, lead management, and attendee profiles so you know exactly who is downloading what. Plus you save money on printing! Speaking of money…
4. It’s a Good Way to Save Money. BIG Money.
If you’ve been to tradeshows, you know what I’m about to tell you. If not, prepare yourself – it costs a lot. I mean a lot. You have to pay for employee time, travel, lodging, and meals, your booth space, your physical booth, your booth furnishings, carpet for your booth space, internet, electricity, shipping to get all of your stuff to the show, and a deep tissue massage after you see the bill for all the other stuff. There is absolutely no question that exhibiting at a virtual tradeshow costs significantly less.
5. It’s Time-Saving and Long-Lasting
Virtual tradeshows not only allow you to save time on travel, many also house your virtual booth for up to a year after the actual event. That means that the money you pay for your space isn’t buying you a few days, it’s buying a more long-term marketing platform.
1. It’s Not Exactly Exciting
With virtual tradeshows, your audience doesn’t have all the excitement that goes along with a live event, so they’re not necessarily as engaged. They could be shopping in another browser window. Heck, they could be out shopping down the street from their computer. The point is you have to work harder to catch the attention of attendees because they are not immersed in an atmosphere of enthusiasm and excitement.
2. It’s Technically Vulnerable
Virtual tradeshows open the door for a number of complications. You might have trouble connecting at the time of the show; your virtual booth might utilize technologies that require attendees to download plug-ins (which, trust me, they will NOT want to do); and, the layout of your virtual booth could become utterly chaotic on different devices. You can work to protect against these things by using fluid design and providing documents in stable formats, but there are few certainties.
3. It’s Harder to Make an Impact with Sponsorship
If you sponsor something at a real live tradeshow, you create positive associations for attendees who eat a cookie with your company’s name on it or sip a cocktail at Your Company’s Happy Hour. Sponsorship at a virtual tradeshow just means that your logo appears on a page, and you miss the chance to create a strong positive association for your targeted audience.
4. It’s Not Personal
It’s hard to make an impression when you’re communicating virtually. You can’t show your company’s personality in action and you can’t demonstrate the essence of your brand. Your communication style also shifts from the personal immediacy of a conversation to something more along the lines of an instant messaging exchange. Essentially, you lose the ability to put a face with your company’s name, which can be a valuable thing to lose.
1. Know What You’re Getting Into
The specifics of a show will change how advantageous is can be to your company. Make sure to find out things like whether your booth will be a page in a directory or a physical reality in a virtual room, if voice chat will be supported, how long your booth will remain “up” for, if you’ll have an avatar, and other details so that you can assess exactly what you’re signing up for.
2. Use It For Research
The decreased cost makes virtual tradeshows less risky than their real-life counterparts. That makes them a great place to get your feet wet in different markets, try different approaches in your materials, and get a sense of who makes up a specific market by viewing detailed attendee profiles and polls.
3. Not a Sales Secret
Though they’re great for research and some lead-gen, a virtual tradeshow is not a likely place to make a sale. Don’t expect sales or you’ll be disappointed.
4. Try a Test Run
If you want big impact, attend a real life tradeshow for a market that you’ve already tested with a virtual show. This makes you more likely to get the ROI you’re looking for when you finally take the plunge.
The above considerations should help you decide when a virtual tradeshow is advantageous and when it’s no help at all.
Are there other things to consider? Do you find virtual tradeshows to be a great tool or a big flop? Share your experiences in the comments!
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