How Wholesalers Can Stand Out in A Crowded Virtual Trade Show
The Ultimate Guide to Marketing for Wholesalers
The Essential Guide to Virtual Trade Shows for Wholesalers
If your wholesale business has traditionally relied on trade shows as your primary sales channel, don’t worry. Trade shows are here to stay — just in a completely different format — as many experts in the field agree that the future of events is likely a virtual/hybrid model that incorporates both in-person and online components.
In a recent article in Design World, Travis Stanton, Editor of EXHIBITOR Magazine, said that about three-quarters of exhibit managers anticipate an increase in virtual/hybrid events.
Now that virtual trade shows are the new norm, the process of shifting your focus online involves several steps. First, you need to familiarise yourself with the different types of online show formats. Second, you need to decide which format is best suited for your wholesale business. And third, you need to develop a strategy to ensure you get a great return on your investment.
There is one final step in the process of making the move to exhibiting at an online event. Let’s explore what your wholesale business can do to maximise your success at a virtual trade show and make your booth stand out among all the rest.
1. Design a visually appealing and informative booth
Just as it is vital to create an amazing physical booth for a conventional in-person trade show, it is equally important with a virtual trade show to design a booth that is also visually appealing as well as informative and engaging. This will ensure that attendees will want to not only click on your booth, but also interact with you and attend any virtual experiences or events (i.e., product demos or guest-speaker sessions) you might be hosting in your booth.
Here is what is uppermost to keep in mind to keep attendees at your booth and make them come back for more:
- Showcase what your brand represents.
- Make it easy on the eyes.
- Ensure it is easy to navigate.
- Display a variety of product images.
- Utilise the show’s engagement tools to include interactive elements like product videos, live chat, scrolling images, etc.
2. Pre-book meetings with leads
Most trade show organisers offer an attendee list in advance of the show that can include buyers, visitors, and sponsors. Be sure to request that attendee list in advance, and then use it to pre-book virtual meetings with prospects. This can be helpful in capturing more leads and closing more deals.
Once you receive the attendee list, review it to identify the most promising leads, and then reach out to let them know you are interested in meeting them and invite them to stop by your booth. Don’t try to sell them at this stage — just keep this initial contact light and personal. And before you schedule any meetings, remember to check the show’s event agenda to eliminate any potential conflicts with meeting times.
Depending on the show and the size of the list, there may be a fee involved, but since you are already experiencing a huge cost-savings by not having to book flights and hotels, it may be a very smart investment.
3. Create some pre-show buzz
There are numerous ways you can create hype before the virtual trade show to pique visitor curiosity and help fill up your booth with attendees.
Show organisers typically offer extensive advertising and promotional vehicles, such as digital banners in the exhibit hall or networking room, event sponsorship, and speaking opportunities. With banners, for instance, when attendees click on your banner, they are redirected to your company booth.
There are also many things you can undertake on your own to create pre-show buzz, including:
- Emailing pre-event e-blasts announcing your participation in the show
- Creating an event landing page on your company website
- Advertising in trade publications
- Sending out a short, pre-event survey to gather valuable information what your audience wants out of the show
- Promoting your booth on social media
Regardless of which advertising and promotional vehicles you choose to participate in, remember to emphasise your show-specific message and products, and include details about how attendees can find your virtual booth as well as what they can expect to find once they do enter.
Final word of advice — start early, well before the virtual show is scheduled to take place.
4. Join the social conversation
Apart from using social media to promote attendance and booth at an upcoming virtual trade show, you can also use it to generate even more fanfare by joining in on show-related social conversations, before and during the event. Look for show-specific hashtags and then use them in your social media posts. Follow and take part in show-related conversations on the channels your company utilises. You might also want to use the show’s live chat feature to remind attendees while the show is on to come and visit your booth.
5. Engage with attendees during the show
Audience engagement has long been a vital component of trade show success, and with virtual trade shows, it is even more critical due to the lack of in-person, face-to-face interaction. Most show organisers provide an extensive list of tools you can utilise to engage attendees in real-time while the virtual show is on, such as instant messaging, audio/video chat, on-demand content such as streaming product videos and downloadable PDFs, a networking lounge, educational sessions, breakout rooms, and live polls. You might even want to offer an incentive to attendees, such as “the first 10 people who visit our booth and chat with us each day will receive ‘X’”, and then promote that incentive as part of your pre-show buzz.
Says Sourabh Kothari of ON24, "Sponsors and attendees can have candid chats about their industry and often there are scheduled chats on designated topics."
Take some time to brainstorm all the ways you can provide attendees to your virtual booth an engaging and memorable experience, and then collaborate with your show representative to explore what the show platform offers and what is included with your exhibitor package.
6. Follow up after the show
Participating in a virtual trade can be taxing — the constant buzz of activity, and hours every day of networking and chatting with attendees in your booth. And while you have been away, your inbox has gone viral. Now that you have returned to work, your instinct is to move into catch-up mode, with the last thing on your mind being following up with the tens or even hundreds of people you just met.
This is when you need to really dig in. Following up with visitors to your booth is one of the most critical elements of participating in a trade show. Your ultimate goal: convert those leads into long-term business relationships.
Start with those attendees who engaged the most in your booth, and, within a few days after the show ends, send them personalised messages addressing their specific concerns or needs, and perhaps sharing highlights from the show. You could even use this opportunity to inform them about another upcoming virtual show you are exhibiting at.
Targeted, personalised post-show follow-up can be an effective way of not only converting leads into dedicated customers, but also keeping abreast of show attendees and their individual interests.
Start Thinking Outside the Box
Virtual trade shows are a new reality many businesses are navigating. Keep in mind that an online event is still a trade show, and if you want to be successful, you need to inject the same amount of time and energy into preparing for it as you would with a conventional in-person show. The only real difference is that, with virtual trade shows, you need to think more creatively about how your wholesale business can keep visitors to your booth engaged and attentive.