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The Reality of Virtual Events
Virtual trade shows and other online events are gaining traction, and best practices are emerging to support them.
Posted Sep 10, 2007
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A recent study by Silicon Valley-based market research and consulting firm The FactPoint Group revealed the emerging growth of virtual events. The study, based on 200 virtual trade shows by online event developer Unisfair spanning a period of two and a half years, reports that by investing adequate preparation time and implementing best practice strategies, event organizers can not only save time and money, but possibly even generate more leads than they could have during a physical event. According to Tim Clark, a partner at The FactPoint Group and author of the study "Best Practices in Virtual Events," event organizers have one of two goals:
  • generate revenue through sponsorships
  • generate leads or demand for their own company.
On the other side, attendees are interested in events for their own benefits as well:
  • To gather information or gain knowledge
  • Network with others
  • For the location
The first time he held a virtual event, Don Best, director of marketing at Unisfair, reports that he had approximately 500 people come to the virtual exhibition booth, resulting in 100 live interactions. "At a physical show, you have so much to do and you're kind of afraid actually to go into a booth, even though you might be interested, because you've got the booth vultures hanging over you," Best says. Virtual events, therefore, bypass the hectic race for attention and allow attendees and exhibitors to correspond through live chat. Virtual events also break down physical barriers: According to the study, 42 percent of attendees were international, a percentage Best believes is much higher than the international presence at physical events in the United States. While some clients do charge for registration, most of Unisfair's clients do not charge attendees in order to attract as many interested people as possible. The FactPoint Group found that the average show-up rate at the 200 events was 52 percent of an average of 3,000 people who registered. Best admits that while a "charge for attendance" model would increase attendance rates, it would also decrease overall registration. Capturing registration information alone is enough to establish a significant lead, Best adds. Moreover, because virtual events remain hosted for an average of 90 days, an additional 25 percent of leads are attained post-event.
Another benefit of virtual events is the ability to efficiently and effectively capture attendee information. Best describes how as an exhibitor he can track each and every individual who comes into his virtual booth: "I can see, oh, this person came in for 30 seconds and left, they're obviously not interested in [my product], whereas this [other] person came in for five minutes and downloaded every piece of collateral I had on enterprise solutions... the marketing data I get is much richer." According to the study, virtual events generate an average of 348 leads per sponsor. In addition, Unisfair also has a ranking system that rates its attendees. Based on the specific standards set by the sponsor or exhibitor (e.g. number of documents downloaded or time spent in the booth), attendees are given a weighted ranking that essentially determines their status as a lead. Still, the primary appeal of virtual events is convenience and accessibility. The initial registration should be quick and simple, requiring only the most important pieces of information, such as name and company. Additional information can be obtained later during the event through surveys or polls, according to the study. Furthermore, virtual events are able to draw more upper-level figures; "your CEO isn't going to travel from New York to San Francisco for an hour just to see Google present on something," Best says. While virtual seminars are much less costly and require less physical preparation than physical events, they do demand the same amount of input in terms of content and organization. After observing and interviewing several virtual event organizers, The FactPoint Group recommends at least 12 weeks to prepare and 60 days to promote. Virtual events are still new, so much of the challenge is educating sponsors and advertisers of the benefits. Moreover, logistical challenges require companies like Unisfair to keep up with rapidly developing technology and the demand for bigger and better. However, Best has no doubt that virtual events will take off. "In another year or two this thing is going to be as common as Webinars," he says. Related articles: Talking Heads The Value of Online Events in Marketing Programs Part 1 of a two-part series The Value of Online Events in Marketing Programs Part 2 of a two-part series Learning Lessons from CRM Failures
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