I love a good tradeshow. Combining marketing activation, meeting new potential clients and then converting those leads into sales is kind of my specialty. Tradeshows give us a chance to market and collaborate with our industry peers–which is really crucial for every business. We need to share common struggles and innovative solutions with each other. Tradeshows are a chance to meet the players and experience their brand activations in action.
Hosting a virtual tradeshow is an awesome thing. Here’s how you pull it off.
- Jump off with a platform. You’ll need a digital venue to host your tradeshow. There are several good ones out there – do your research to find one that meets your needs and get signed up.
(Because needs will vary from business to business and legal requirements in your area may differ – I will refrain from recommending platforms by name here, but I’m glad to discuss your needs and help you find the right fit.)
- Plan the logistics. Choose the event dates and times as well as the distribution methods of your digital promotional materials.
- Registration should be an experience. Rather than a necessary link in the chain, create a registration journey that fits your brand and foreshadows the event experience. Don’t neglect the UI/UX here, get them excited.
- Invite industry experts to speak. There’s often no better lure to an event than a chance to listen to someone that can help you build your business.
- Invite industry leaders to sponsor. Sponsorships are a great way to share the cost of the event with other companies while offering them an opportunity to promote their business to attendees.
- Invite your vendors/exhibitors and attendees. Which to target first can be a circular problem, but you’ll want to line up some well known industry names to lend credibility to your event quickly. Before you begin, decide how many of each you need to hit your breakeven.
- Setup a plan for your vendors that is centered around the important leads they need and offers a plan to capture prospect data for followup. You need to help drive traffic to their booths. This is a chance for you to offer something innovative, like an interactive directory, scheduled live demos on the show floor or paid advertising opportunities. Exhibitors could even send a promotional item to attendees before the event to pique their interest. Happy vendors will come back year after year – and the key to their success is lead generation.
- Guide your exhibitors in setting up their virtual booth space in a way that reflects their brand and offers a marketing activation experience for their potential customers. Since virtual tradeshows will be new to some of your vendors – help them make the most of their experience. The UI/UX here is of the utmost importance. What do they want their first impression to be for a potential lead?
- Design an itinerary for everyone. Detail the times that the virtual show floor will be open, when the speakers will be presenting, when the breakout sessions will happen and when there will be opportunities for networking and parties. Link everything, so no one has to go digging for it. Again, we want to design everything with the user’s experience in mind.
- Plan engaging content. You want to keep your audience enthralled throughout the event. So design your marketing to match the level of enthusiasm you want from your audience. Keep it sleek and professional. Of course, you can send out a pre-show kit electronically – but I invite you to consider something different. Maybe you send a show welcome kit to the attendee’s door. Include invitations to the events, itinerary and a drink recipe for the BYOB happy hour you’re hosting. Include promotional products – because everyone loves tradeshow SWAG and we aren’t going to give that up for a virtual show. Get them excited with items that inspire creativity and illustrate the level of expertise they can expect from your show.
- Plan next year’s event dates. I know it’s a long way off – but you have a captive audience that you know is already interested in your show, right there. Don’t miss the chance to market next year’s event at this one and offer a discount or a premium gift for early-bird registration.
- Provide an opportunity for exhibitors to chat with attendees on the virtual show floor–both voice chat and texting should be available. It’s also good practice to have a group chat for the booth as well as the ability to break-out into a one-on-one or several-on-one conversation for more in-depth discussions.
- Provide large-scale meeting formats for keynote and secondary speakers. These can be hosted in your usual video meeting space or within the virtual tradeshow platform. You’ll also want the ability for your speaker to show a presentation as they talk and the opportunity for moderated interaction when appropriate.
- Breakout sessions are the new networking event. One of the best parts of any tradeshow is the socialization. This is where we meet our people and make connections that can lead to new opportunities and long-lasting relationships. Breakout Sessions on an online meeting platform offer a unique opportunity for a moderator to provide a topic for learning or industry specific conversation starters and then mix and match your audience into small groups to get to know each other and discuss.
- Host a party at the end of the event and add virtual happy hours to the close of each day. Don’t miss the opportunity to offer that human connection in a virtual setting. Plan live music intermingled with breakout sessions for people to talk and make new connections. Get your vendors involved – what value can they add to a social session? Have attendance prizes and encourage people to connect both personally and professionally.
- The ultimate success of a tradeshow will be measured by the leads to sales conversions for your exhibitors. So, anything you can do to help facilitate that process is in your best interest for future events.
- Provide lists of attendees to vendors for follow up (with their permission, of course). Design some cool digital materials that your vendors can use to send followup notes to their hot new leads from the show. Offer solutions to your vendors to help them drive conversion of those leads into sales.
- Follow up, survey and debrief. Send a note to exhibitors and attendees alike thanking them for attending and soliciting their thoughts on every part of the experience. Then meet with your stakeholders to discuss next year’s event. Pros, cons, what worked, what didn’t and what you’re going to do next time are all on the table for discussion. Set a date for next year’s first planning meeting – and congratulate yourself on a job well done.
Don’t cancel that event, reinvent it. Take your brand boldly into the new normal. Keep pushing for real, authentic interaction with your tribe and keep your brand top-of-mind. If you need more ideas or a plan to get started, let’s talk. Remember, we are on this journey together.
Wishing you light and love. ~Hema