Should Virtual Events Be a Part of Your 2021 Marketing Strategy?

In 2020 how we’ve done business has changed. Offices closed, meetings moved from in-person to virtual platforms, and being tech-savvy is downright essential.

With so much change, even conferences and trade shows can be attended and exhibited remotely from the comfort of your couch… I mean, home office. With your interactions with prospects, customers, and partners changing drastically, how do you gauge if a virtual event is right for you? How do you know if it will help you maintain the lines of communication your contacts are used to or will facilitate the creation of new meaningful business connections? Can you still expect an ROI in events that lend themselves to fewer chats at the refreshments stand or informal dinners after the show? This post will discuss how to evaluate an opportunity to exhibit at a virtual event and help your team assess if a specific virtual event should be included in your 2021 marketing strategy.

1. What does a virtual event even look like?

Virtual conferences and trade shows are new terrains for most of us. With a variety of vendors hosting virtual events, you can expect each show to have both a unique user experience and platform digital interface. This can make it hard to know what to expect.

Fortunately, for most vendors running a virtual event, this is not their first rodeo. Many have existing digital showrooms you can tour to test the usability. Before putting down a show deposit, you can gauge how easy it is to connect with attendees. As an added benefit, since we understand that doing business virtually and building relationships online might not be every team member’s bread and butter, this will help your team determine if a fully virtual event forum is something worth embracing or if your team’s time is better spent elsewhere.

2. What is the show geared for?

With this said, it’s essential to take a hard look at what the event’s main goals and objectives are, and why attendees would register for a given event. For events packed with speakers and forums led by industry experts and thought leaders, attendees are likely registering to educate themselves further on a topic or accelerate their own professional development. If this is the case, attendees are likely spending more time consuming new content than perusing the exhibition hall. If the show falls into this category, it’s worth spending some time determining if your organization can host an event at the show and use it as a forum to position individuals on your team as thought leaders.

3. How do you communicate with attendees? 

Every virtual event is different, and how you communicate with attendees is no exception. Be cognizant that some events offer video conferencing while others are limited to chat-only. This will impact your overall show strategy, especially if your team will want to set up a physical booth as a camera backdrop or log into these events from the same location. If video conferencing is not available, your team will want to create their own video conferencing link to facilitate break out conversations during the show.

4. Is there dedicated time to network?

Another important consideration is if there is dedicated time built into the show to drive meaningful connections through networking. Suppose the event is geared towards educational seminars and presentations, and the only downtime available are 15-30 minute breaks in between speakers. In that case, attendees might use this time to grab a cup of coffee, make lunch, or just stretch their legs. We all know sitting in front of a screen all day can take its toll.

Some event vendors set up networking hours to encourage attendees to take a moment to explore virtual booths. This allows attendees to interact with your team without the fear of missing out on a great speaker or feeling like they need to be glued to their computer the entire day. Other vendors allow the opportunity to pre-schedule meetings with priority attendees, so you don’t need to wait for them to scroll over to your virtual exhibition during limited networking hours.

5. What types of reporting and intelligence are available?

The importance of measuring marketing activities is greater today than ever, and this applies pre-, during, and post-show. Since attendees visit your booth virtually, you’ll want to know who drops by your booth so you can strike up a conversation during the show. Similarly, you’ll also want a way to keep track of who has visited your booth so you can follow up with them after the event, given there’s no way to collect physical business cards. Many shows are able to provide this tracking information for you to collect, such as who visited your booth and contact information for anyone who engaged with your organization, either by downloading a digital asset or initiating a conversation.

With these activities tracked, your team will easily be able to evaluate ROI and determine the value of the event. If possible, be sure to request a sample report before the show. Also, be sure you know how long that data will be available after the event for you to download and save for your records. The last thing your team wants is to develop a meaningful connection and then not be able to follow up with the individual.