by Rachel Hansen and Christie Skibinski

Tradeshows are no longer traditional gatherings that fill conference centers to explore row after row of booths. Today’s tradeshows need to attract and relate virtually. Those who aren’t adapting to today’s tradeshow dynamics could find themselves missing out on critical connections and potential opportunities. While the goal of a virtual tradeshow is typically the same as with physical tradeshows, how you attract current customers and develop sales leads requires new ways of thinking. Here are some ideas to help maximize your success as an exhibitor at a virtual tradeshow:

1. Develop and deploy preshow communications.
– Preshow eblasts: In many cases, event organizers will share the pre-show attendee list as a benefit of exhibiting. Sending out a preshow eblast alerts potential showgoers to your presence in the tradeshow and lets them know how and why to seek you out.
– Branded communications: Go beyond the eblast by investing in various brand-focused communications to engage potential customers via product-relevant giveaways, sellsheets and brochures.
– Microsite: Creating an event-focused landing page is an impactful way to push a show-specific, audience-specific message and a curated product list.
– Trade publications: Advertising in trade publications is always helpful to get in front of a specific audience target in advance of an important show.

2. Engage with editors via public relations efforts. Write and service press releases announcing what new products are being featured at the show. Connect with editors before, during and after a show, as they look for content to feature regarding new product releases, top trends, etc.

3. Join in relevant industry conversations. Utilize social media and event- or show-specific hashtags to join in conversations and generate buzz, both before and during the show. If your company has corporate social accounts, make sure to follow relevant conversations and participate a few weeks to a month or so before a show. Reach out to your event representative to see if they can post or share a post to their audience on your behalf. Also, take advantage of the event’s chat during the show and continue to post engaging content (ideally, every 10 minutes) to remind attendees to “visit” your booth.

4. Integrate brand design wherever possible. Owning your space can leave a lasting impression on your visitors. Populate the vendor’s available templates to the fullest and ensure that your brand’s logo is front and center, that your key message for your booth is present throughout all materials and interactions, and that digital brochures or handouts are easily accessible.

5. Encourage sales reps to engage in live chat. Audience engagement is arguably more important in a virtual booth, as there are fewer opportunities for face-to-face interactions. Real-time communication, whether by text message or audio or video chat, can make all the difference. It allows for exchange of important information and thus enables company reps to engage and vet leads. Make sure the sales team is properly briefed and trained in advance. In many cases, you will be allowed to collect leads automatically based on attendee interaction with the chat feature and with your materials (e.g., downloading a PDF, viewing a video).

6. Creating interactive features is key. As stated, PDFs and videos are a great way to attract and collect leads. Provide your guests an engaging experience by adding product demonstration videos or have a subject-matter expert from your company run an educational session. Hosting a virtual happy hour is another way to showcase your company’s culture. Brainstorm a few ways to have fun – such as incorporating a virtual photo booth or a theme, and publicize any booth giveaways and incentives to keep people engaged (“the first x people who visit our booth and chat with us each day receive x”). Work with your event representative to see what your exhibitor package includes and what the virtual platform allows.

7. Arrange postshow communications. A post-show eblast, thanking visitors for stopping by your booth, reminding them of any current offers, and offering free samples for follow-up calls, can go a long way to making that final connection. A follow-up with physical handouts or product samples could also be a great way to engage even more with qualified leads. Have your event representative confirm that they will share the post-show attendee list.