Profiting from Virtual Trade Shows

--last updated Sep 2020

As we all struggle to work from home and keep businesses alive during this pandemic, it may seem counter-intuitive to talk about profiting from virtual trade shows in a blog dedicated to helping clients purchase the best trade show displays and succeed at real-life, physical trade shows - but hang in there a minute!

While a virtual trade show may seem to be a competitor to the real thing, many studies show that you can achieve better performance at your upcoming big "real" show by participating in a virtual trade show too. 

virtual trade show image

It doesn't have to be an "either-or" decision. And something is almost always better than nothing, so while we can't get together in physical trade shows, virtual shows do allow you to market to your clients and promote your products.

Then when the world businesses reopen after COVID restrictions and life gets back to a more "normal" footing, we can all follow up with in-person meetings, and product demo's at trade shows again too.

Here's "the rest of the story" regarding virtual shows, looking back five or so years.

In 2013, TSNN (Trade Show News Network) published a story demonstrating how two organizations recently incorporated virtual trade shows into their events. These two virtual shows teach valuable lessons to future exhibitors on how to integrate virtual elements into their own expo displays successfully, ultimately generating greater customer interest. 

Some organizations have created user-friendly virtual trade shows that take place before the live event to display their products and to distinguish themselves from competitors.

Later that year, the International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) planned to host a virtual trade show, almost four months before the physical event took place the following March. 

The virtual show was free to attend and included an exhibit hall, an auditorium, and a resource center. The organization also embedded a live Twitter feed for vendors to showcase their products and share the latest trade show news.

Most importantly, vendors can promote their products at the virtual show before the live event, increasing their exposure to customers for a greater period of time and eventually drawing more customers to their booths.

This approach bears sweet financial fruit; in 2009, BusinessWire surveyed virtual trade show participants and found that virtual exhibitors eventually generated higher sales volume during and after live events. Virtual B2B marketing, video applications, and virtual forums were a few of the strategies employed by successful contributors.

VirtualCon held its third virtual trade show in August 2014. Unlike the IWCE show, this was an exclusive web event. The organization set up a convention site that replicated the sights, sounds, and overall experiences of a live show in a virtual space. 

After creating an avatar, customers could visit trade show booths, interact with vendors and even score some virtual swag, like free virtual clothing for visitors’ avatars and codes redeemable for actual products at vendor sites.

The show triumphed – TSNN reported 3,000 attendees. And it had other tangible benefits; VirtualCon saved money by staging a web-only event; exhibitors didn’t have to spend money traveling to a convention site, and convention producers had greater flexibility adding exhibitor space at the last minute.

Technology and the internet continue to evolve and are affecting our lives in more and more ways. In the trade show industry, we see new trade show digital media display tools offered, including some very creative iPad stands and graphics.

IWCE and VirtualCon demonstrated how virtual setups changed the dynamics of a traditional live show.  Now, organizations reaching for a larger customer base must consider integrating some kind of virtual, interactive element. 

The possibilities for generating sales through virtual shows will continue to multiply, and exhibitors will want to participate in this ever-evolving forum and leverage their trade show marketing investments.

Now that you see how successful virtual trade show opportunities can be, let's look at a few things we need to know before diving in.

Features of a Virtual Trade Show

You always have to strive to make a good and lasting first impression. So, for a virtual trade show, you want to create an appealing and compelling landing page and a customizable interface for other exhibitors and attendees. Since it is a virtual trade show, you will not have to download more layouts to make a bigger impression.

Custom Designs are always important because this is how you are showcasing your brand. With a virtual trade show, you are presented with a multitude of ways you can brand your booth without having to make any compromises or spend exhausting hours setting up for a physical event.

Engagement is critical at a trade show, and this still applies when the trade show is done virtually. Engage attendees using live chat tools. This will help maximize your interaction with attendees. 

Text, audio, and video chat are all good tools to have at your disposal. You can also provide each attendee with more personalized, one on one assistance and improve your conversion rates.

It is also a good idea to keep attendees up to date with live updates during the virtual trade show event. You can incorporate popup notifications to keep everyone informed. Live webinars are also good at keeping engagement. 

Designing Your Virtual Booth

When designing your virtual booth for the trade show, include the company logo as well as a range of product images. You want to make an impression, but you also don't want to make it hard on the eyes either. So, display these things prominently and in the right places.

It is also a good idea to use bright colors when designing your virtual booth and include images and any relevant media for your virtual event. Make it memorable and make it stand out. It is the same concept as if you were designing your booth for traditional trade shows. It is the impression your brand is going to make on attendees. 

If you're looking for ideas on how to integrate the new digital media displays and technology tools into your upcoming online trade shows and existing - or new - trade show booth designs, please drop us a line - we're happy to help!

For more, read how to digitize an in-person event or what the future holds for trade shows.

Virtual Trade Show FAQ

Why choose a virtual trade show?

If you are looking for a way to save on resources and bring more attendees that can result in more qualified leads, then a virtual trade show may be a good idea to consider. At a physical event, you only get the standard attendance report. You can only reach so many of the attendees, so your lead generation may prove to be lacking in comparison. 

However, with a virtual exhibit and online trade shows, you can report and track analytics as you go. This information tells you how the attendee came to you, where they went, what they did, who they chatted with, and what videos they watched.

How many visitors and exhibitors can a virtual trade show host?

A virtual trade show can host an unlimited number of exhibitors and attendees, unlike a trade show in a physical location. It can sustain thousands of visitors at any given time. 

What kind of technology is required to run a virtual trade show?

Many trade shows are run on the cloud, which means that neither exhibitors nor attendees need to install any software to access the online trade show. All you will need is a standard web browser and a stable internet connection.

Could a virtual trade show concept work for your business?

If you want to continue to build a profitable business, then trade shows are always a great option. And with the coronavirus and social distancing in place, virtual trade shows are a good way to continue to spread the message about your brand and generate more leads to build your business.

[1] Browne, Traci. "Virtual Trade Shows – Two Successes with Two Different Approaches." TSNN Trade Show News Network. 07 11 2013: n. page. Web. 10 Nov. 2013. <>.

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