How do you make up for missed connections, leads and product launches after your 2020 trade shows and annual events were canceled or postponed indefinitely? Many companies are grappling with that question as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic seep into the latter half of the year.
Trade shows provide an amazing opportunity for professionals to network, learn from peers, gain competitive insights, tout their own successes and gain new business leads. Those elements remain vital to business even if you can’t host or attend annual trade shows or events. However, thanks to digital communications tools, nimble businesses have found new ways to achieve the same benefits they expect from an in-person event.
“There are many avenues that deliver similar results,” said Jon Miller, director of client service at Trilix. “Companies have an opportunity to reassess their marketing and business plans to understand which actions are effective.”
Take advantage of digital platforms instead of completely skipping an opportunity to share your company’s products, services, updates and knowledge. Many organizations have adapted by using a combination of recorded video clips, livestreamed footage, graphics and written presentations to reach internal and external audiences.
Webinars provide a format for B2B companies to offer thought leadership and an opportunity for attendees to further their knowledge. In fact, the number of brands offering webinars grew 36 percent between February and March 2020.
It’s hard to replace face-to-face communication, but there are certainly affordable digital tools in 2020 that allow you to maintain and grow your brand and your relationships.
“It’s hard to replace face-to-face communication, but there are certainly affordable digital tools in 2020 that allow you to maintain and grow your brand and your relationships,” said Todd Senne, Trilix president.
While companies may fret over the loss of in-person communication, several positives accompany virtual events.
“A lot of companies are able to reallocate dollars they would have spent on trade shows to make interactive, well-rounded digital events and increase budgets for other portions of their marketing plan,” Jon said. “It’s also much easier for companies and employees to commit to an hour-long webinar rather than travel across the country for a few days to attend a conference.”
Additionally, brand representatives get more face time with audience members through an online event without competing with the commotion and din present in a trade show booth. Companies also have an easier time contacting attendees after the event. Consider this — 80 percent of exhibitors don’t follow up on trade show and conference leads.
“Participants are going to log on and spend half an hour to an hour with you online, as opposed to in a trade show booth where you spend five minutes talking to them,” Todd said. “To sign up for the event, people fill out their contact information, which goes directly into content management systems where we can use it to follow up.”
Now is the perfect time to connect with your audiences, who are likely looking to fill unforeseen downtime, advance industry knowledge and find educational opportunities. The key is to design a virtual event that incorporates informational and educational components that resonate.
The purpose of a trade show is to introduce your products and services to people and also to spend time with existing customers. In the B2B world, you can host an educational or informational seminar.
“The purpose of a trade show is to introduce your products and services to people and also to spend time with existing customers,” Todd said. “In the B2B world, you can host an educational or informational seminar. They likely aren’t allowed to travel and still have a job to do so they want to learn about new things.”
A livestreamed series of informational seminars proved successful for McWane, Inc. and their family of companies when their annual waterworks industry conference — which draws nearly 500 exhibitors and 20,000 attendees — was canceled. Trilix has produced three webinars for the international valve, hydrant and pipe leader, each of which drew about 400 attendees.
In preparation, we coordinated multiple presenters, assisted with livestreaming and recorded each webinar as a video. Our team then edited the webinars into segments for social media, which allowed McWane to provide informational clips to a larger online audience.
Bringing the energy and enthusiasm of an in-person event into a virtual event helps drive its success. Small details, quality production and opportunities for personal connection help create that same tone. When the pandemic caused the Science Center of Iowa to cancel its annual gala, Account Manager Alex Rich, who serves as the head of the gala committee, was challenged to replicate the same level of excitement into a livestreamed event and encourage attendees to donate.
The event draws up to 300 guests and includes food, drink, exhibit tours, a silent auction and a keynote speech. Funds raised enable the organization to continue their interactive exhibits, live programming, special events, workshops and camps.
We had to strike a balance between making the video interactive without it being a hassle.
“We had to strike a balance between making the video interactive without it being a hassle. At the same time, viewers need to feel the video is worthwhile so they don’t simply log off,” Alex said. “We have to come up with a lot of content, make sure it’s diverse, keep them on the edge of their seats and inspire donations.”
To do so, Alex and the gala committee made a detailed timeline for the virtual event and worked with Trilix’s Video Department to record many of the speakers’ messages to weave into the livestream, cutting down on possible glitches. Trilix is also building a microsite for the SCI website so attendees can sign into the livestream securely. The event will still have a live auction guests can participate in through an app. An emcee will still guide the event so guests feel part of a live experience.
A VIP ticket is available to increase funds for the SCI and comes with a kit, which includes a cocktail and gift card to a local restaurant. The kits will likely be delivered to guests’ houses, and the livestream will include a short tutorial on how to mix the included drinks.
“The tutorial serves a little bit of interaction without having to click around on your computer,” Alex said. “Attendees also have some interaction with volunteers who drop off their VIP kits, and the volunteers can thank them directly for their contribution. It adds a personal touch.”
Alex said the committee is hoping to reach a fundraising goal similar to last year.
It’s difficult to ask for donations during the pandemic, but the Science Center is still offering programming that enriches our community and helps people learn.
“It’s difficult to ask for donations during the pandemic, but the Science Center is still offering programming that enriches our community and helps people learn,” he said.
While virtual events could seem impersonal, there are many techniques to create a more intimate atmosphere. If you’re hosting a webinar with many attendees, take advantage of features that allow you to break portions of the audience into smaller virtual “rooms” for more interaction and conversation. Use these opportunities like you would at an in-person event. Ask how you might help your customer or what industry peers have learned. If you’re prospecting for leads, consider the demographics of the audiences that would have attended your industry conference. Use that knowledge to create audience segments on your digital platforms to inform your online marketing plans.
Some industries have already committed to holding next year’s large conference or annual event while others are left unsure how to proceed.
“Video call fatigue is real,” Jon said. “Companies are reluctant to go all-in with virtual meetings in case they can hold an in-person event in 2021. However, they might need to decide soon if they need to reserve a hotel room or large event space.”
The benefits of an in-person event are clear. Presenters have an easier time captivating an audience, and attendees are much less distracted. Sights, sounds, body language and the pull of a crowd draw people into intentionally designed trade show booths and meeting rooms. Virtual events present a new set of potential problems, as they are completely reliant on technology to connect to their audience.
However, companies could save serious cash with virtual events. They don’t have to pay for flights, hotel rooms, meals and drinks, and they don’t have to spend months budgeting for and planning the layout of a booth. Attendance could increase with virtual events, and brands can gather contact information with ease. Leftover budget can be invested into other parts of your marketing or advertising strategy.
A hybrid model may be the solution in 2021 with organizations incorporating more virtual elements into a trade show booth or annual event.
I could see the lessons learned this year being applied to a more traditional trade show and event season next year
“I could see the lessons learned this year being applied to a more traditional trade show and event season next year,” Todd said. “Brands will be asking, ‘how do we make it more efficient, how do we use technology in the booth, how do we apply the lessons learned from 2020?’ It will entail a different balance now that audience expectations have changed.”