Virtual events are an intriguing option for many. In the BtoB/Freeman survey, 71% of respondents said virtual events—completely online experiences with cartoonlike “booths” populated by avatars, and with an assortment of audio and video presentations in place of in-person educational sessions—help attract more participants; 62% said they can be valuable for extending geographic reach.
“Virtual shows are on our front burner for 2011, and [the channel] is something I'd like to explore,” said Joshua Fuhrmark, managing director of LegalFish, a lead-generation company for attorneys. “But at the same time, nothing substitutes for a handshake and a smile.”
Fuhrmark said his participation in any virtual show would be to augment live activities, not as a substitute for them.
“People are coming to the conclusion that virtual events are ways of extending the reach and life of a live show,” Cox said. “Their advantage is leveraging what you've developed on the live side, in particular the content.”
However, as an emerging alternative, virtual events still aren't catching on with many people. Only 30% of respondents to the BtoB/Freeman survey said the tactic was “somewhat effective” in helping marketers reach their goals, and 48% stated that they “aren't sure yet” about virtual events' value.
Among those marketers committed to exhibiting, large annual exhibitions and conventions are a favorite, with 62% citing them as their most valued type of event. Other findings from the survey include:
?Lead management at trade shows remains basic: 65% simply collect business cards for follow-up contact, although 56% have used electronic readers offered by show management.
?E-mail is a favored method of promoting an exhibitor's presence at trade shows, with 83% rating it as their most or next-to-most important technique. Direct contact by salespeople (74%), website promotion (66%) and special offers (47%) also are widely employed as marketing tools. Direct mail (34%) lags these other channels.
?Smartphones are increasingly useful tools on the show floor. Sixty-six percent of respondents said they will use mobile technology in some form at future events, primarily to communicate with attendees and network.
?Road shows are considered somewhat or very important by 63% of respondents.
The BtoB/Freeman survey was completed primarily by companies with fewer than 250 employees (56%), although 22% of respondents work for companies with more than 2,500 employees. Most (56%) work in smaller marketing departments with fewer than five staff members.
Industries represented by the respondents included high tech and communications (30%), non-tech manufacturing companies (13%) and financial services companies (9%).
“I think the events industry will experience a slow recovery, with the flagship shows in particular already making a comeback and leading the way,” Cox said. “What we're seeing is [that] exhibitors aren't saying they don't like shows; they just want to go about reaching people in a different way at shows, such as off-the-show-floor activities as part of the educational program.
“It's all about reaching the audience in the most effective way, not how much square footage you buy,” Cox said.