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Carrying the true value of events online

By Tanya Pinchuk, managing director at ExpoPlatform.

The value of online connectivity and workflow applications has multiplied significantly under Covid-19, with record numbers of people working from home and managing projects remotely. The impact of such technology has also reverberated around the exhibition industry, with travel restrictions and safety concerns inhibiting physical interaction.

By offering an alternative way to connect people and businesses during this unprecedented crisis, virtual events now feature heavily in the year-round plans of the event community. The Covid-19 outbreak has accelerated the appeal and value of an event’s digital components.

Drawing on observations and feedback from ExpoPlatform’s collaboration on dozens of online tradeshows and exhibitions over the last seven months, we have realised the potential of these virtual components in complementing the traditional event model. But, in order to derive this value, organisers must examine deeply their requirements to lay out successfully the foundation of their event online.

Choose the right event model - LinkedIn vs. Amazon

Exhibition organisers must have clarity on the kind of virtual tradeshow they want to set up. It is important to choose a model that will power the exhibition without creating unwanted hindrances. This choice depends on various factors such as the industry being served, size and type of audience committed to attending, kind of content that needs to be shared at the event, the nature of the interaction between attendees and, ultimately, the objective behind organising a particular event. To obtain this kind of clarity, organisers should ask themselves some valid questions.

For example, do they aim to replicate a LinkedIn-type environment, whereby the event’s primary objective is networking and knowledge/content sharing through the formation of online communities with shared interests? Or do they prefer including an online component for serving the transactional and distribution needs of the community, akin to Amazon’s online marketplace, by featuring tools such as e-referrals (e.g. buyers who liked this product also liked this)?

If both of these elements are the focus of the exhibition, then they could also adopt a combined approach. Regardless of the model chosen, the event-tech support partner should be able to help the organiser in introducing as much or as little of each element, depending on the requirements.

Preserve the elements of a live show

It is worth considering that a full departure from the traditional event model might do more harm than good. Live exhibitions take place within a defined time period. Their online components may endure throughout the year, but if they are not anchored to an actual ‘event’, then they lose their essence. A tradeshow is typically staged over the course of a few days with room for attendee engagement, connection building, learning opportunities, and negotiation. By extending this indefinitely, organisers run the risk of removing the feeling of urgency and potentially reducing this activity.

Additionally, it is crucial to tailor the event experience for attendees, based on their objectives behind attending the event. This, along with other relevant information such as preferences and interests, can be collected from the registration data and online activities on the platform. This information can further be used for creating a stimulating virtual event environment and crafting worthy customer journeys.

It is also important not to get carried away while adding elements for their face-value or aesthetic appeal. Every aspect of an event should enhance the experience for attendees rather than encumber it. The focus should be on removing pain points of the traditional event model and avoiding the introduction of new ones.

Some questions that should be considered: Is a walking avatar or a 3D version of the online event space really needed? Isn’t the endless walking at tradeshows not one of the more annoying elements? Is the technology introducing unnecessary steps or improving accessibility? Once the above prerequisites of the transition have been thought out, organisers must lay out the process of onboarding their exhibitors and buyers. They must focus on attendees’ problems and objectives to build the event around them.

And, most importantly, they must educate their team to move away from selling square metres to selling value.