A good virtual trade show. Have you got what it takes?

Since March last year, trade shows have been in a race to reinvent themselves. The obvious insight is that the pandemic disrupted their entire purpose for being. But actually, it begs the question: what if trade shows, as we knew them up until 2020, are essentially made redundant? Suddenly, virtual trade shows were everywhere, and deals and business had to go on, despite the lack of physical proximity. You may prefer the new, remote way of life, or you may pine for the past, but life goes on regardless of your feelings. Of course, in the pastry  business, the lockdowns and quarantines severally hampered our business, although the retail sector did help us mitigate the fallout. But still, we got new leads and made some deals in virtual trade shows. Not as much, but more than enough to get by.

So here are a few thoughts Miguel, our sales manager, has about what a virtual trade show needs to do to make it worth it.

The number one difference is in exhibitor support. Trade shows that help exhibitors set up their booth, and help organise meetings and lists of interests make our experience exponentially better. Some trade shows try to equate setting up a booth digitally to the real thing. The digital version prioritises brand content so much more, so help for exhibitors is essential to help them maximise their branding. Also, some of the platforms where the show takes place are new and not all exhibitors are fluent with every platform. Some organisers help exhibitors with tutorials and live sessions before the show, while others are more hands off..

Trade shows that take out the work out of the exhibitor’s hands are also greatly appreciated. Some trade shows collect, order and present a list of contacts who checked out a booth and is interested but had no chance for a virtual meeting or an e-mail – basically, a business card collection tray.

But the weirdest insight is that, by being virtual, the industry shrank. While we had friends and regular visitors we saw or bumped into regularly (in the before times), now contacts are much more surgical, and there is always a trail. With proper analytics and the new tools some trade shows provide, we can confidently guess who is checking us out!

In any case, as Miguel puts it: It’s no substitute for the real thing. Virtual trade shows are a wonderful addition to the industry. When this plague finally goes away, these new platforms will allow us to double our attendance. But we miss the real thing to much…

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