We are currently in the midst of a scenario that has left countless brands under challenging situations as they attempt to cope with the consequences of mass cancellations of events and conferences.

The trade show industry has experienced an unexpected decline, with all trade shows worldwide massively affected by the unfortunate COVID-19 pandemic. With countries still on lockdown and many businesses facing reduced sales, businesses must use this period for strategic planning while preparing for the future.

At a time when sales are at an all-time low due to the pandemic, it is becoming imperative to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are suffering most from the pandemic. One of the ways businesses have been harmed is the complete dissolution of physical trade shows due to social distancing measures.

Trade show participation drives sales to existing customers, new buyers unhappy with their current providers, and buyers drawn to a new offering.

Trade shows are a great way to showcase new products, including new variations of old products. This is quite important because potential buyers may not know that the new products exist. They may not understand them or even know how the new products would benefit them.

For many years, trade shows have been an essential marketing tool because of the high visibility and exposure they provide. They also allow sellers to test new products, collate information about consumers and competitors, and gain unparalleled access to buyers. Considering these advantages, you can see why businesses invest heavily in trade shows.

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 drastically changed the world order, with most physical activities now taking place virtually. For this reason, event organizers have started considering holding virtual trade shows as they strive to adjust to this unprecedented situation.

How to organize a trade show during the pandemic

Virtual trade shows can range from complex 3D simulations to simple online directories. Some of the important engagement tools include webinars for direct communication with attendees, live chat tools, demo videos, and social media platforms. By hosting virtual trade shows, businesses can reap the following benefits: 

  • Absence of travel costs
  • increased exposure
  • informed analytics containing essential customer information 
  • reduced carbon footprint due to less travel
  • better reporting through online databases.

In order to host a virtual show, there are several steps to follow. They include: 

  • Clearly define your goals and objectives
  • Estimate the number of registrations and exhibitions to be held. 
  • If you’re a host, reach out to businesses (SMEs) that will provide valuable content to attendees through individual kiosks. 
  • Choose a platform that integrates virtual exhibitor booths, live streaming, chat features, etc., to deliver an exhibition experience as close to reality as possible. 
  • Use promotional tactics to increase the visibility of the event. You can do this by creating a website for the event and using social media and email marketing essential tools.

Here are some tips to help you run a virtual event smoothly:

Virtual event platforms offer many options. 

Only use those that will help improve your virtual event and provide a great user experience.

Work with a team. 

Running a virtual event requires more hands than you’d think. You need a team to help you monitor active chats, welcome guests, track attendance, check-in with exhibitors, and troubleshoot. You might face a myriad of questions and clarifications during the first few minutes of the show, but once you fix it and get going, you’ll hit a groove.

Engage tech support. 

You need online tech support for the duration of the event. They will help you monitor and fix any technical glitches or bugs, help you answer questions related to navigation issues, and so on. This will allow your staff to focus on other pressing matters: the overall exhibitor and attendee experience.

Monitor chats. 

Have people on hand to regularly monitor open chats so you can delete unauthorized posts swiftly.

Below are other viable alternatives to trade shows:

Digital advertising to generate leads

Since trade shows are used for prospecting and b2b meetings leading to transactions, it’s important not to miss that valuable list of potential clients that come out of every event. Using digital advertising, you can run an online lead generation campaign to grow your audience. First, find out what your audience wants. Then, invest in social media advertising. You can even consider programmatic advertising or any other form of advertising you haven’t tried before.

Invest in a Gifting Campaign

Use freebies to reach out and let customers know that you care about their well-being during this time. It could be a gift card, greeting card, or food delivery that shows you value their partnership both personally and professionally.

Use Videos 

Since you’re not physically present with your customers, the best thing to do is create multimedia experiences that you share with them. These experiences can include your latest COVID-19 business updates or a new product launch. You can even showcase your employees’ personal side as they continue their professional lives while working from home.

Videos can be shot with anything from a phone to the latest 8K camera, but try to be human. The best video focuses on the message and results in engaging content that gets a lot of attention.

Create your newsletter and direct mailing lists

Since customers are looking for even more communication because they cannot physically interact with your staff, emails and direct mail is a great way to provide updates. Start with a subscription campaign and stay on track to slowly build the list and avoid being marked as spam. For traditional mailing lists, search your accounting software for business addresses, and don’t forget to contact your customers to ask for their mailing address if they are far.

Take advantage of social networks.

This is a great way to interact with your audience, including people who couldn’t make it to your event. You can use a live video from social media to trigger a session that you will include in your webinars or pre-recorded sessions, or you can have your speaker present the entire session and answer questions live. Either way, social media is a great way to engage with your audience from afar and deliver service that your audience might have missed or couldn’t afford.

While some of these examples involve more work than others, they all achieve the same goals of a trade show: generating leads with matchmaking technology and building and strengthening relationships with customers.

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