In March 1997, The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) designed an Electronic Market Place program available at all international trade shows. This marketing program was designed to provide online virtual exhibitions. TIA is a leading trade association (600 members) representing global information and communications technology (ICT) industries. TIA is accredited by ANSI.
Small and large companies are recognizing the benefits of virtual tradeshows and exhibitions. Large corporations around the world are going the virtual marketing route to capture more business channels. Companies are using virtual marketing to sell more efficiently, acquiring a wider range of leads with less cost. Even virtual career fairs are becoming a more favored route to recruit talent.
According to Tradeshow Week magazine, mid-to-large size businesses spend over $550K USD annually on trade shows. Current economic conditions have caused many to trim their budgets. Virtual exhibitions are viewed as a cost and time saving alternative to traditional tradeshow marketing endeavors.
Competitive synopsis – Nearly all competitors in the virtual exhibition market offer ‘online’ tradeshows and expos as an alternative to conventional events. Virtual exhibitions are positioned as cost effective and convenient alternative to traditional exhibitions. Industry indicators suggest their popularity is gaining momentum among various industry sectors. Primary reasons for the shift in popularity are ease of use, cost, and attraction of more qualified prospects.
Virtual Trade Show (VTS) explanation:
A Virtual Trade Show (VTS) takes the best ingredients a traditional (in person) trade show using the internet as a hosting platform. A VTS is like an interactive electronic sales tool. Unlike traditional shows, a VTS can provide the exhibitor and advertising tool that can interact with prospective customers’ 24-hours a day, 7-days a week up to an entire year.
A VTS offers additional benefits to the exhibitor as well as the visitors. The logistic hassles of travel, accommodations and set-up are eliminated. There is less time spent away from the office resulting in better productivity.
Virtual expo platforms are gaining popularity, but it is still a novelty to the masses. Virtual platforms have shown steady growth over the last few years — and they appear to be gaining momentum. As with any novelty, many people may not fully understand how to receive maximum benefit from its use. There is marketplace learning curve still in existence. Education and promotion of VTS use will certainly create familiarity and attract more users.
Research shows that virtual tradeshows tend to attract more attendees than traditional shows. The main reason for higher attendance is of the simplicity for sign up and elimination of logistic issues.
Virtual versus Traditional Platforms:
Tradeshows and expos are moving to virtualization formats to attract more attendees to counter shrinking company budgets. Companies continue to use tradeshows as part of their promotional marketing, but current economic conditions have tightened budgets. The tradeshow industry has recognized companies have become more frugal in their marketing spending. Offering virtual shows and exhibitions provides effective marketing tools without the hassle of logistics and at a lesser cost than traditional platforms.
Setting up a virtual trade booth is much easier than physically doing it. People can easily attend the virtual shows from the comfort of their own office via a web browser, which improves productivity by eliminating downtime for travel. Virtual shows work very much like the traditional alternative. Shows may last a few hours or span several days. Just like the ‘real-world’ shows, virtual shows also offer speaker presentations, lounge areas, exhibit halls, and more.
Virtual show booths are relatively simple to set up – usually an hour versus several hours or days in a ‘real-world’ setting. Exhibitors are able to upload their display banners, videos, and other marketing collateral right from their computer. The exhibitor will staff their booth like a regular show. Exhibitors can continue working their normal duties until a visitor arrives and requests a chat. A visitor clicks on the virtual booth and accesses the marketing collateral and company data for review. The visitor can interact with exhibitors usually with an instant messenger chat feature. Some shows offer web camera features to chat with visitors. A visitor can also leave a message if the booth is unattended for lunch or breaks.
Establishing a virtual booth does not require extensive technical knowledge. Virtual platforms are generally predesigned and the exhibitor just completes an ‘automated’ registration process. Instruction is provided on upload requirements for documents, video, avatars, etc. Most events do not require an extensive knowledge of virtual environments. Contact information is automatically compiled into a profile, which others can view and download when the show goes live.
Virtual shows have better tracking mechanisms than real-world events for collecting attendee data. This provides for better follow up for leads. Some virtual shows track the amount of time visitors spend at a booth. Others even guarantee each exhibitor will receive a certain amount of leads. The main purpose of tracking is to collect information so the exhibitor can refine their marketing approaches.
As stated earlier, virtual expos are gaining popularity; however, they still do not receive as many attendees as real-world expos at present. A typical virtual expo may attract a couple thousand people; versus a real-world show that can literally attract tens of thousands. Virtual expos appear better aligned with small to mid-sized companies at present. Larger corporations tend to be attracted to physical expo settings, but they are starting to use the virtual experience at increasing frequency. Some large companies use both the virtual and physical expos. These companies are inclined to use virtual shows in specific small niche markets and use physical expos to appeal to larger relationships. Some large industry relationships still prefer the intimacy provided with physical networking versus virtual.
Conversely, virtual shows can offer small companies to receive better attention than trying to compete with large corporations at physical expos. Virtual expos last longer than their physical counterparts do. Physical expos must be dismantled when a show ends. Virtual booths and marketing collateral can exist for periods up to 12-months. Visitors can still access exhibitor data long after a show has ended — offering a small company significant advertising advantages.
Costs associated with virtual expos vary and can be a significant expense to some companies. However, the cost of going with a virtual platform is far less expensive than real-world shows. Costs associated with physical expos include, but not limited to, travel, cost of booth design, cost of printing brochures, rent for space and equipment, and even labor expense to staff a booth. These costs can easily exceed $20K USD. On the other hand, virtual expos avoid many of the traditional expo costs and do so at a fraction of the cost.