Trade Shows vs Virtual Events: Adapting to New Marketing Realities


Trade shows were once the backbone of the manufacturing and technology sector, and for some business they still are. However, in the years since the Covid 19 pandemic, a diverse range of virtual events are supplementing, and in some cases replacing, the traditional role of trade shows. What is the best approach for your business? In this article, we’ll look at the trade shows vs virtual events debate, and how you can adapt your marketing strategy to new economic realities.

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The rise of virtual events

The rise of virtual events has significantly transformed the landscape of traditional tradeshows, conferences, and face-to-face events. A virtual event is essentially any online gathering that is organised and attended remotely, which allows participants to share content, interact, and communicate in real time without the need to physically travel to a venue.

High speed Internet and sophisticated communication platforms now make it possible for businesses to engage with their customers through mobile devices in a similar way to a traditional tradeshow. There is also a cost benefit associated with virtual events, with significantly lower costs for logistics, accommodation, venue, and travel expenses! This makes virtual events an economically viable option for many cash-strapped organisations, and increases networking opportunities for SMEs.

Despite this, however, in person tradeshows remain popular, with many businesses being prepared to travel nationally or internationally to network with customers and suppliers in person. Some of these tradeshows and their participants have adopted virtual technologies by holding concurrent virtual events to promote or support their tradeshow presence.

Navigating the right course for your business

Ultimately, the trade shows versus virtual events debate is a moot point, because many of the digital technologies that make virtual events possible are, at the same time, transforming the way that businesses engage with tradeshows. Emerging technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality, for example, allow more personalised interactions at trade shows, while social media and digital channels allow the seamless integration of face-to-face sales and lead generation with a business’s digital marketing strategy.

The synergy between tradeshows and virtual events can be seen in some of the following practices:

  • Pre-event integration – with unified brand messaging across your digital and off-line platforms, and cross promotion of upcoming tradeshows through digital platforms, and vice versa. This approach can involve publishing teaser content, special announcements, or exclusive previews and webinars that tie the virtual and F2F experiences together.
  • Audience engagement – promote your activities well before the event through interactive content, blog articles, live Q&A sessions, and online appointment booking. Encourage potential attendees to submit questions or topics they’d like you to cover both at the tradeshow and any supporting virtual events.
  • Real-time interactivity at the tradeshow – at the tradeshow itself, you can host live stream events, polls, or even interactive workshops simultaneously through a virtual platform or social media. This creates a sense of continuity among participants, regardless of their physical location.
  • Virtual-only offers – you might create exclusive content offers for virtual tradeshow attendees to make them feel valued and included. This could include specific workshops, free downloadable resources, or special promotions.
  • Post-event integration – making recordings of live sessions, keynote speeches and demonstrations available on demand post event can help both tradeshow attendees and virtual event participants access valuable content they may have missed. Additionally, data gathered during the events can be used to send personalised follow-up email campaigns. Segment your audience based on their interests shown during the events and tailor your messages to address their questions and needs.

Allocating your budget

Where you allocate your budget in terms of virtual events and trade shows depends on where you are likely to get the best ROI, and the platform that gives you the best chance of engaging with your customers.

While some people have fully gone digital and others are stubborn traditionalists, exclusively using face-to-face tradeshows, this isn’t the case for most. Most businesses have now embraced a pragmatic hybrid model of tradeshows and virtual events, choosing the sales channel that best fits their business objectives at the time.

Find out more

At JDR, we support businesses to use digital communication and marketing technologies to strengthen their customer relationships and grow their businesses. To find out more about how you can make the best use of technology, please contact us today by clicking here.

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