Updated: Nov 10, 2022
Many companies have stopped investing in virtual booths due to poor experiences and terrible ROI, but there's hope! It can be a great way to get new digital leads.
“Virtual tradeshows were a disaster for us.” We heard that from almost every B2B event marketer we interviewed for this piece, until we found the select few who cracked the code. Some B2B event marketers reported that virtual tradeshows hit all of their objectives, had positive ROI, and would remain a strong element in their event portfolio into 2022.
“Whether they're participating in person or remotely, attendees want to see the latest technologies and products and learn how to apply them in their business.”
With a return to in-person events becoming increasingly safe and viable, and many marketers planning for corporate and industry events returning to normal in January 2022, how can show producers and exhibitors adjust their approach to ensure virtual booths are a viable option? To complicate matters, many shows are considering a hybrid strategy for 2022 to optimize for a digital audience - so should you consider one presence or both (potentially doubling the amount of resources you need to make it worthwhile)?
Hybrid Events: What to Consider
As we ease into in-person, virtual attendees will outnumber those on site by a huge percentage. February's MWC Shanghai registered 25,000 attendees on site and close to 125,000 attending virtually.
“At hybrid events, meetings and networking are a major objective for attendees whose business depends on forming critical relationships and on learning,” says Ravi Chalaka, CMO and VP of Product at Jifflenow. “Whether they're participating in person or remotely, attendees want to see the latest technologies and products and learn how to apply them in their business.”
For the event marketers who manage their brand's presence at a hybrid event, the question is how to design a presence that engages with both in-person and remote attendees to establish meaningful dialogue to drive business opportunities.
Chalaka suggests that your leadership team needs to first agree on the event objectives. Launching a product versus ongoing lead generation and demo bookings would take two very different approaches, for example.
“Next, define the time period over which you want to connect and engage with prospects and customers,” he says. “For example, the in-person component of a hybrid event may be three full days, but you can extend your interactions with prospects and customers well beyond that.” Alternatively, you could plan to have your virtual booth open for a set period of time during the live event to capture virtual audiences tuning in for the main keynotes. One more option is to set an open time a few days after the live event so you can message the in-person attendees that you missed to meet virtually and leverage what you’ve built.
Chalaka’s third suggestion is to think globally. “Remote attendees will be participating from multiple time zones, and you’ll capture more of those conversations if you allow them to schedule a time that works best for them—before, during, and after the event.”
We interviewed three event professionals who said their virtual event tradeshow experiences were a huge waste of time and money. To protect their identity, we’ll aggregate the lessons we learned from their strategy mistakes.
Top 5 biggest mistakes you’re making with your virtual booth
Just use your logo as your booth graphic.
Sit in your lonely virtual booth room and wait for people to show up.
Don’t pre-book meetings into your virtual booth.
Don’t attend any of the sessions.
Don’t tell your list that you’ll be at the event.
Lesson 1: Several of our “fail” examples reported that they uploaded their logo as the graphic to the booth for brand awareness, but did not customize the virtual booth graphics for the show. Dave Stevens, Alation’s Director of Global Events and Field Marketing, says they found great success with their virtual booths by creating all-new graphics that weren't just logos. “We added content and compelling text to those graphics so people knew what we did and WHY they should download our content,” Stevens said. “We would also proactively say hello to people if we saw them in our booth.”
Lesson 2: One sales rep reported that he was told to log into the virtual booth and just have it open all day while he continued with his daily tasks and if someone joined, he should talk to them. He reported two “pop-ins” and one said they didn’t know it would take them to a live person, so they left. Our success stars leveraged their breakout session content to drive visits to the virtual booth. While the speaker was sharing, they used the comments to direct viewers to the virtual booth link to get a demo after the session or to meet the speaker at a set time in the virtual booth.
Lesson 3: Hoping that people will wander into your booth space and pick a meeting time is just rolling the dice. Ravi Chalaka recommends having your sales team proactively speak with customers and prospects who are attending the event and setting them up with a meeting time in the booth. This way when the event opens, your demo team is already prepped and ready for hours of useful conversation.
Lesson 4: Most of our “failed” booth experiences reported that they bought the booth and stayed in that chat room, but did not participate in any of the sessions. Our “winning” booth companies reported that their virtual booth staff split up the relevant breakout sessions and keynotes and actively watched the chat for conversations that were relevant to their offerings, then reached out through the virtual event connection platform to invite those participants to talk. Note: they did NOT use the chat to troll publicly for click to the booth, but instead engaged in active conversation supporting the session topic, then followed up through DM to get meetings booked.
Lesson 5: One of our “failed” companies shared that they go to 3rd party events to get new leads, so they didn’t think about sharing with their email list that they would be at the virtual event. But 100% of our “winning” companies announced on social media, via email, and on their website that they were participating in the virtual event and shared how to locate their virtual booth and book a meeting. Since most of the virtual events have been free for attendees, sharing that they are going to the event actually helps their prospects and customers become aware of an event they might not have known about before.