With a restricted path back to what will become a ‘new normal’ for the events industry and the need for our economy to get back to business ASAP it is no surprise we’re seeing more events going online rather than being postponed or cancelled. And while delivering a message to an audience online is no great leap what about exhibitions? If we are serious about helping businesses get on with, well, business, then it’s crucial to include online exhibitions in our planning. But are they viable and if so what are the challenges and opportunities?

Before getting into this lets be clear that we’re talking about online and not virtual exhibitions. Having experienced both it seems clear that the virtual option ( at least based on what we’ve seen) is a step too far for the moment. Picture an amorphous avatar blundering around a low budget computer animated scene, amusing at first and then just annoying. By contrast an online exhibition platform is a lot more straightforward and practical allowing you to preview each exhibitor and then dive deeper and connect as and if required.

online exhibitions

Challenges of Online Exhibitions

While online events have been around for a while, the concept of an interactive online exhibition is relatively new but with the demand for this type of service exploding there are new entrants to this market appearing in our inboxes almost daily. So therein lies the first challenge, trying to winnow through all the options to find the best one for you. And of course keep in mind that with the rapid growth of any industry there is always a point it shakes out to leave just the front runners. So an added challenge here is making sure you don’t invest your time and resources in a service that may not be around in 12 months.  (Alternatively you could just work with a professional event management agency who has done the investing into a reputable platform for you!) 

And speaking of investing with certainty, what if this is just a relatively short term issue? Again, how much do you want to invest in something that may not be required in 12 months? While this question falls under a different topic namely ‘ Prognostication ‘ everyone we’re speaking with is seeing online events as a definite part of the new normal. This is not to say that traditional face-to-face events won’t make a comeback, they will and we can’t wait for this to happen. However even if all the restrictions around holding events were lifted tomorrow there are just too many advantages and opportunities presented by online events and exhibitions to ignore going forward.

online exhibitions

Opportunities of Online Exhibitions

Most of the benefits from online exhibiting are centred around greater efficiencies, for example;

  • As an exhibitor you’re only going to actually meet with warm leads. While this is supposed to be the point of any traditional exhibition, the reality is for anyone that has stood at an exhibition stand for 9 hours a day over 3 days is very different. While you certainly get approached by warm leads you also spent about just as much time speaking with the ‘just curious’, your competitors or bored fellow exhibitors. However the architecture behind an online exhibition means you only get personally approached ( ie request for a video chat ) by warm leads as the needs of the rest are fully catered for via your exhibitor profile on the platform. 
  • If anyone does engage with you their relevant details are automatically captured, easy!
  • The online format makes it easier for many to get in contact with an exhibitor. For instance if someone is an introvert they might otherwise struggle to approach someone at a busy booth. Or consider how challenging it is for anyone to go up and engage with an exhibitor who might be hiding at the back of the booth, look bored out of their minds or just busy on their laptop. 
  • There are huge cost savings on all the physical collateral, set up costs, travel and wages for staff to attend
  • Often at an exhibition there is a lot of down time, delegates might be in session or it’s that quiet period early in the morning or late in the day. Either way companies are left with a lot of people just sitting around checking emails ( or planning their next holiday ) With a virtual event these same people can be at their desk ( and even potentially on the road! ) and only be required to engage as and when required.
  • Data, data, data. Data equals accountability. How many enquiries were there, where were they from, when did they come in, how long did they engage for? Involvement at any level, virtual or real is an investment of resources and without data it’s impossible to calculate an ROI.
  • Finally beyond all these benefits there is also the fact that via an online platform the reach of any exhibition is greatly magnified meaning you connect with exponentially more potential new clients! 

So whatever reservations you might have about online exhibitions I would have to say the opportunities definitely outway the challenges. And as someone who is passionate about delivering real results for our exhibitors I am excited by this ‘new normal’.