Are Virtual Events here to stay?

Are virtual events here to stay? That’s the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue at the moment. The events industry houses thousands of venues, organisers and suppliers. All of these businesses have had to choose between changing their service offering to become digitally focussed or ride out the storm and wait for the return of live events.

B2B companies have seen a huge impact. Trade shows make up a large percentage of a business’s marketing budget. They offer a platform for businesses to talk directly with their target audience. Each year, thousands of companies choose to exhibit to generate leads, build relationships and close deals. And that has been stripped from underneath their feet.

Introducing Virtual Events

Virtual events have been around for a while. Event organisers have been trialling this idea long before Coronavirus locked us in our houses. Rather than live, in-person conversations on a trade show stand, exhibitors had the option to participate in virtual seminars, keynotes and one-to-one meetings with delegates from the comfort of their home. 

The government banned mass gatherings as one of the first steps to protect the population from Coronavirus. Even if they hadn’t taken that step, the travel restrictions would have made it almost impossible to attend a live show.

Virtual events were the perfect solution. And businesses lapped them up.

Benefits of Virtual Events

A virtual exhibition is everything you would expect from a live show, put online. Exhibitors are ready to have one-to-one meetings with visitors who have shown an interest in their product. Brand ambassadors are invited to speaking sessions where they can share their expertise with avid listeners. Networking events bring business owners together, allowing new relationships to be formed.

It is a scheduled event with a complex agenda, much like what you would expect from a live show. In my opinion, there are two key benefits to exhibiting at a virtual event. 

Data Driven Marketing

Firstly, hosting or exhibiting at a virtual event gives you access to tons of valuable data. We all know data driven marketing has proven massively successful. With data we are able to better target our campaigns, improve our relationships with customers and close deals.

GDPR changed the way we were able to collect and store data, making it much harder for marketers. Virtual events allow you to quickly and legally gather data from a highly targeted audience. Exhibiting at a virtual event can improve your future marketing campaigns.

More People, More Business

Secondly, the content that you put online is infinite. If you are invited to speak, your session will be kept online. The ability to watch these sessions on-demand means that more people will be able to watch it, your brand will be exposed to a larger audience.

Not only will more people see these sessions, but businesses individuals who would never usually attend a live event will now have access to them. Visitors can tune in from wherever they are in the world at a fraction of the cost (if any). Virtual events offer exhibitors the opportunity to reach a larger audience for a longer period of time.

Drawback of Virtual Events

Unfortunately, the only negative thing about virtual events is usually the reason people choose not to participate. Building relationships, generating leads and closing deals is much harder when you aren’t in that face-to-face situation. 

As we all know after spending months working from home, it’s hard to stay motivated and focussed on the task at hand. If you were tuned in to a virtual exhibition, how long would it take before you got distracted and ended up watching cat videos? Furthermore, would you stick around to let a sales person pitch you their product or give you a demonstration or would you pretend your internet was playing up and move on?

Summary

Trade shows have always been known for the networking opportunity that they provide. Generating leads is the number one reason why companies choose to exhibit at industry events. If virtual events aren’t able to offer that on the same level as physical ones, I don’t believe they will ever become more popular than the buzzing trade show floor. 

Hybrid events will be around for a while. Travel restrictions make it almost impossible for international events to take place, but offering a virtual element means everyone that wants to attend can be there. A combination of the two, known as a hybrid event, offers exhibitors and visitors the best value possible in unprecedented times.