During the past two months I’ve attended both live and virtual trade shows. As a marketing consultant I worked the booths and made contact with other show attendees. While on the surface the experience might read the same, in reality there was no comparison.
Let’s start with booth experience. In the live trade show, I worked in a worst case scenario. Our booth did not show up. We just had a table on which to put our information. No signage behind us.
In the virtual show, everything was in place – our graphics, our downloadable material, even our video.
Guess which one engaged those who came by?
The live trade show – by a mile.
To begin with, people walked by and actually noticed no graphics. There was also this thing called eye contact, which has been proven over the last few millennia to work pretty well. And when contact was made, conversations flowed.
In the virtual event the only way I could make contact was by sending an invitation to booth attendees as they arrived, offering to give them information. They could ignore, accept or decline. Approximately 10% of those who entered our booth space accepted, and of those, 70% said that if they had any questions, they would ask. There were only a handful of meaningful interactions, and that’s the combined total of 3 virtual trade shows.
Why was that?
In a live event, people dress up and are completely focused on the event at hand. In a virtual event, people are in their offices or their homes. They are easily distracted. One guy actually put on his video cam, and I saw him in his t-shirt surrounded by the books and papers of his home office. That would have been OK, but even while we were conversing, I could tell he was distracted by other things going on. And he was on camera. Imagine the concentration of those who aren’t.
In fairness, most of those who attend virtual events go for the educational webinars. But I’m not talking about attendees and their experience. I’m talking about exhibitors who pay to be in the show.
So in the end, what’s the ROI difference?
Going to a trade show and setting up a booth can be pretty expensive. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars, depending on your size and the number of people who people your booth.
Having a booth in a virtual trade show still costs you money, but you don’t have to deal with any of the travel, lodging and meal expenses. So it’s a lot cheaper. You also can work out deals where no matter how many people actually show up at your booth, you can get the list of all attendees and email them after the show.
Let’s say that list is 3,000, and let’s give the send a generous 33% open rate, and a respectable 5% click through rate. That’s 50 people who make it to your landing page. Now compute a normal conversion rate for your company, and you’ll see that you might get a handful of warmish leads.
In a live event, you may get several hundred leads. Of those, most of them have discussed your products with you. You may even have been allowed to email or mail to the attendee list before and after the show. You probably also talked at length with existing customers – so you can add retention marketing into the mix.
I’m not saying that a live trade show has good ROI, but compared to a virtual event, at least there are some sales to measure against cost. Yes, there are other factors to consider with having a booth at a virtual event – brand awareness, association with a newish technology etc. But ROI? Based on my experience, limited as it is, I’d still opt for a bricks and mortar live event over a virtual one.
What do you think?