Around 2005 people were running around saying trade shows were dead. Everything was going to be virtual. Ironically after that panic, trade shows or face-to-face marketing grew faster than ever. Beyond the value of seeing and feeling product at booths, face-to-face meetings have long been seen as critical to building trust. People buy from those they trust.
Well, here we are in the middle of a pandemic. Trade Shows and their companion events and conferences are being cancelled every day. Even if face-to-face events are able to return by fall the rules of engagement will be much different – social distancing, one-way aisles, limited numbers of attendees and lots of space between booths.
For the time being, this leaves organizers rolling out or considering the option of virtual events.
Educational sessions translate more easily online than exhibit floor activities. But more and more resources and cool technology are becoming available to stage an exhibit floor. Virtual event booths can include any digital content including documents, videos (product demonstrations), links to webpages, social media links, surveys and prize giveaways. There can be private one-on-one chats and group chats. It’s not the show floor but it beats doing nothing.
Beyond digital talks in large and intimate settings, Shoptalk, the go-to show for retailers, is introducing an expanded video conference-enabled version of its Hosted Retailers & Brands Program that promises to bring “thousands of individuals from hundreds of retailers and brands together with thousands of individuals from hundreds of sponsoring companies.”
In launching its series of virtual seven-day market weeks, The Toy Association said, “Just as if walking a show floor, virtual market week attendees will be able to explore a calendar of daily events, browse exhibitors by category, and book appointments for virtual demos and chats.” Toy Fair Everywhere targets three designated weeks to connect hundreds of toy buyers with hundreds of sellers in advance of the fall and holiday selling seasons.
The Geneva International Motor Show showcased automakers' product unveilings and news conferences online after this year's show was canceled. BMW presented its sleek i4 electric concept car at a digital news conference from Munich, while competitors Daimler and Volkswagen held their own online events.
Even the Royal Horticultural Society’s annual Chelsea Flower Show is virtual this year. Tours, demonstrations and the awards presentations are all being brought virtually to would be Show goers. Even Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II joined in.
I applaud event organizers for scrambling to fill the void of that sensory experience with an alternative while we make our way to the other side of Covid-19.
There will always be a place for virtual get-togethers. But when the “stuck at home” rule is lifted we’ll all be back. Yes, buying and selling happen, but community and connections are what make face-to-face marketing so important. Just remember 2006 was much ado about nothing.