It’s certainly been fascinating from the marketer’s point of view to watch us all pioneer this new avenue of connecting with customers while we wait to be able to visit businesses and gather in large groups again. But we’re also noticing that there’s been a lot of confusion and uncertainty around virtual events, which is why we wanted to share this blog series.
Maybe it’s because ‘virtual’ has become this sparkly, Holy-Grail-of-ideas buzzword. Everyone is talking about it, you’ve probably been brainstorming with your team as to ‘how to get one’ (we certainly hope that’s why you’re reading this article!), and yet, there’s a lot of uncertainty around how to actually put on a virtual event, because—like the holy grail—it seems more fairy tale than reality. And that’s likely because it’s a new experience for us all.
New things are scary, being the first to do anything is scary. Whoever decided to try eating a lobster for the first time…well, hat’s off to that guy for sure, because that looks like a scary animal to eat. But who knew it was going to be so delicious?!
But joking aside, even though virtual events seem new and daunting, they have actually been around for quite a while. Watching a webinar (which we’ve all been doing lately) means you’re attending a virtual event. And when you’re FaceTiming or Skyping with friends or family, that’s a virtual event, too. What’s new is that now we’re trying to recreate those personal moments of connection on a much larger scale, hoping to talk and learn from hundreds of people—even thousands of people—all from a space that doesn’t actually exist.
But, enough about philosophy. Let’s start with something concrete: why we exhibit in the first place.
We’re digital experts, but we’re also the first to tell you that people matter. It’s extremely important for us to get this point across: A virtual event’s primary objective is to bring people together, the same way a physical event does.
The ability to network and meet new people matters. How else are you going to get new customers, build loyalty and increase sales? And there’s nothing more powerful than doing so in a face-to-face setting. But, if we’re sure of one thing, it’s that virtual events are here to stay. And as we pivot our own strategies to embrace virtual experiences, we want to help you do the same. Because you can emulate those opportunities for communication and connection that are found in the heart of face-to-face events. And you can create an engaging and memorable experience online, just as you would on the show floor.
Because we can’t gather in person, embracing and understanding virtual events right now is crucial to your sales strategy and business goals. It’s not just about hosting one webinar. And while virtual events live on a website, it’s not your typical website (you already have that anyway). A static website or a passively-engaging webinar is not going to give you that personal connection found on the show floor. Recreating those moments for connection comes from building a website that has multiple touchpoints, multiple pieces of technology platforms, that allow for different interactions with your audience.
But before we get into those details, let’s first look at what goes into building a physical event.
We say this because planning a virtual event starts off pretty much the same way. We had registrants to our webinar submit responses to some survey questions when they registered. One of them was a true/false claim about whether planning a virtual event is similar to a physical one. What was interesting is that more than half of our registrants answered ‘false,’ that they weren’t the same, or that they were unsure. And we’re glad that was the consensus, because it means there’s going to be a lot to learn here. Because they really do start off the same!
Nothing listed below is going to be a revelation to trade show event personnel, so we’ll just talk to an example—Company CoolCat is planning to attend a trade show to demonstrate three new products that they are launching.
For this company to have a successful exhibition, they need:
- Something eye-catching to bring people from the aisle into their booth
- Something for lead retrieval to record visitors who have engaged with the exhibit
- A few monitors running with looping informational videos, as well to generate brand awareness and recognition
- FABulous display of the features, advantages, and benefits of these three specific products
- Three different display areas that allow for hands-on demonstrations for each product
- A private meeting room for those one-on-one deeper sales conversations with interested companies
- An engaging in-booth activity and some handy swag that’s passed to attendees, so they remember CoolCat
- A solid post-show marketing campaign would be needed to follow up with attendees
Sound about right?
This same process is no different for planning the virtual event. Think back to the last time you bought a car. Did you tell the salesperson, “You pick me a car and you sell me that.” No, we’re going to hazard a guess that you had a list of criteria for your car. You wanted AWD, a moonroof and heated steering, and you brought that list to your sales guy and asked him to find the comparable vehicle. Said another way, a carpenter isn’t first going to buy a compact car and then think, “Now…where do I put the lumber in it this thing?”
Because of the current circumstances, we understand strategies are pivoting and moves are being made on the fly. However, the exact (backwards!) strategy seems to be how many companies are approaching virtual events. People are rushing to buy platforms full-tilt, without first determining what they need their virtual environment to do.
Think of it like this: The website—your virtual environment—is your booth space. But instead of a 10×20’ footprint, the size is pretty much limitless. And you can design this website however you want, just like a physical booth. We had a conversation with someone who was looking to create spaces for their 25 vendors to share information, which means to start we already know they will need a website with a homepage plus 25 sub-pages.
But you can’t design anything unless you know what’s going to go in it. Just like you know what you’re planning to present in the physical exhibit space, creating your virtual space starts with knowing what information you’re sharing.
In the following articles to this blog series, we’re going to provide an overview for considerations in planning your virtual event, as well as dive into some details for how to develop, build and design your virtual event space with the right type of communication tools and platforms.