Illustration: Phil Wheeler
ne of the undeniable buzzwords of 2011, "virtual" has taken on
a life of its own. To some
marketers, it's a carnivorous beast, threatening to redefine the industry and leave their technophobic marketing practices in the dust. To others, it's a shiny new quiver that can help them in the battle to extend their brands' awareness beyond the parameters of geography. But both sides of the virtual aisle seem fixated on one question: Will virtual events replace face-to-face marketing?
||In Their Own Words
The following quotes are a representative sampling of exhibit managers' responses to our open-ended questions regarding how they feel about virtual events.
Do companies that participate in virtual events take their top salespeople
away from selling to staff a virtual event? And, most importantly, what about the booth babes? Are they virtual, too?
We have not held a virtual event to date, but with our increasing global sales and marketing efforts, I see it as a possibility.
We participated in a virtual event last October. We had some success, but also a lot of disengaged attendees who would enter the booth but wouldn't interact. Very little engaging dialogue took place in the virtual booth.
I wish I knew why everyone raves about virtual events. With no barriers to attendee participation, you get a dramatic increase in tire kickers. If they don't have the budget to travel, are they really going to be
able to buy anything?
We exhibited at one virtual conference. We seemed
to get more leads than
we got at the live show,
but once we started our follow-up, we got less response than we do
from our live shows.
Virtual events and exhibits are great, especially with shrinking travel budgets. But I'm not sure if chats
can replace face-to-face discussions.
To help answer that question - and take the pulse of marketers regarding their perceptions of, experiences with, and plans for virtual events - EXHIBITOR issued the 2011 Virtual Events Survey. And according to the research, sponsored by Lynch Exhibits Inc., Impact Unlimited Inc., and Altus Corp, virtual events are unlikely to replace live trade shows and events anytime soon.
The fact of the matter is, marketers aren't adopting virtual alternatives to live shows and events as rapidly as previously expected. Less than 40 percent of companies surveyed have ever participated in a virtual event, the majority
of which participated as an attendee only, rather than as an exhibitor, sponsor,
or organizer. Furthermore, more than 70 percent of respondents aren't currently allocating a single cent of their marketing budgets to virtual events.
No doubt contributing to that slower-than-expected adoption of virtual technologies is the perception
that virtual events are less effective than traditional marketing efforts. Among marketers who have dipped their toes in the virtual
waters, only 28 percent claim those virtual efforts
"met" or "exceeded" their expectations. And while roughly 40 percent claim their cost per lead at virtual events was lower than at comparable live events, nearly 30 percent report those leads were less qualified and less likely
to result in a sale than leads gathered at live shows and events.
Having said that, more than half of respondents who have used virtual events reported that those events helped them increase their brand awareness, and nearly four in 10 claimed that their virtual events attracted people who did not attend the live trade shows and events at which they participated, effectively extending the reach of their marketing campaigns. Still, despite those benefits, respondents with virtual events under their belts prefer face-to-face alternatives.
In fact, 68 percent of respondents who have participated in virtual events say they'd rather host a live event, most notably because
they "miss the energy of a live event" and "attendees seemed less engaged
during virtual events."
Respondents who have not yet ventured into the virtual world say that reluctance is due to their companies' preference for live events, a lack of knowledge regarding how to successfully host virtual events, and a lack of time to pursue such information.
Whereas even a few short
years ago, many exhibit and
event professionals claimed virtual events were the future of our industry, it seems the novelty may have worn off - or perhaps the hurdles outweigh the perceived payoffs. When asked about their personal opinions of virtual events in the context of exhibit and event marketing, 47 percent say virtual events offer only "little" or "moderate" potential, while 10 percent believe they're nothing more than a fad.
The following pages contain key data points from our 2011 Virtual Events Survey, along with a handful of participants' quotes in response to open-ended questions regarding virtual events.†E
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