Virtual Events Are About the Opportunities of the Medium, As in Targeting, Targeting, Targeting

Virtual conferences and trade shows are hot. They are being touted as providing everything a real trade show or conference provides, except at much lower cost because of the absence of travel and expenses for fancy booths.

But when you participate in a virtual event, you find out that it's actually much different than a "real" conference. Yes, there are exhibition halls and booths and auditoriums, just like at a regular conference. And, yes, there are panel discussions and major presentations. But the nature of the human interactions--the essence of any conference--is much different.

Indeed, the guiding term should be "virtual" and not "conference." In a virtual world, data is instantly available and interconnected. Want to know more about the person who just entered your booth? Check their show profile for interests and product focus and follow it up with a quick look-up on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter to provide a rich picture in the moments before engaging in a private chat. Want to build trust with other individuals at the show? Engage the attendees and be a thought leader in the public chat areas with expert advice and shared experiences, not sales pitches. Want to follow up after the virtual event with personalized call or email? Go back to you chat transcript to make the next touch meaningful. Want the right attendees to know about you before they arrive? Look for your event host to put your name in front of the right audience in advance based on registrants' needs and interests.

In the conventional world, you know little about strangers you meet at a conference aside from what you read on their name badges. The power of eye contact and real conversation, though, often help you establish deeper relationships with those individuals you do meet than you ever could at a virtual conference.

All this is to suggest that virtual conferences aren't necessarily "better" or "worse" than traditional conferences, merely different. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for how you can exploit virtual conferences as a sponsor or exhibitor:

  • Look for virtual conferences that emphasize targeted markets. You want conferences with highly specific programs and tracks, targeting the markets you want to reach. As a sponsor, you are paying for the attendance--you want to get the biggest bang possible for your buck, and that means not paying for attendees uninterested in your category of offerings.
  • Seek out virtual conferences that offer varied opportunities for identifying and interacting with your target markets. You want to be able to identify and intereact with attendees who match your targeted profile in advance of a conference, as well as to make presentations and do product demos at the conference. If possible, you want the names of everyone who attended your presentation or product demo.
  • Make sure there are high-value takeaways. These include records of your chats with prospects, along with the names and backgrounds of all visitors to your booth, and possibly even lists of attendees to particular tracks that mesh with your targets.

Remember, the idea isn't necessarily to do what you do at a conventional trade show, but rather to exploit as many virtual opportunities as possible. That means interacting with your target market so you walk away with as many prospective leads as possible. The more highly targeted the leads, the better your chances are of scheduling demos and doing business with some of them once the conference is over.

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