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Breaking Down the Benefits of In-Person vs Virtual Trade Show Reach


While it’s a fact that business relationships, experiences, and interactions cannot be duplicated on a digital level, we as a networking industry have begun filling this face-to-face void with virtual trade shows and events. Due to current COVID-19 restrictions, which may only be for a short period of time (because trade shows will be back), virtual events are currently the next best option. And they do have some advantages to them. While these advantages don’t always equate to or outweigh the benefits of in-person trade shows, they’re worth addressing. Why? Because those who decide to take a break from trade shows altogether will fall behind as others take this opportunity to pivot and make the most of the cards we’ve all been dealt.

Trade show reachThere are many topics to discuss when considering the advantages and disadvantages of in-person vs virtual trade shows. Today, we’re discussing the advantages that come with reaching audiences through these very different types of trade shows and exhibit marketing options.

Many different factors play inReaching a specific audience size in a certain context can be meaningful to different businesses in different ways. For example, it will be much more valuable for a mom and pop shop to generate brand awareness by reaching hundreds of qualified buyers than it will for an already largely known corporation. Therefore, to compare the potential reach between in-person and virtual trade shows in one vague statement by saying that one has ‘more’ reach than the other would be an overgeneralization. Quality of reach truly depends on the goals of the business who is exhibiting, the trade shows they attend, and the industry they compete in.

Benefits of in-person trade show reachDepending on the size of the shows your business attends, you could be reaching hundreds to thousands of potential buyers, most of which are likely to be qualified buyers. This makes reaching these attendees all the more valuable.

One of the largest benefits in terms of who your business is able to ‘reach’ at a live, in-person trade show is that buyers can only go to so many trade shows each year. It’s often true that attendees who visit trade shows only attend 1-3 trade shows a year. According to Spingo, “45% of attendees visit only one exhibition per year.” This means that if you are exhibiting at major events, the attendees who are there are only considering you and the other exhibitors at that show. This reach is incredibly valuable if you are able to stand out to buyers because Spingo also found that 77% of executive decision-makers find at least one new supplier at each show they attend. Take that one step further into the future and think of who will be traveling and attending trade shows in-person when they pick back up again. Instead of sending 5-10 team members to “check out what’s new” at any given trade show, it will likely be a much more targeted group of 1-3 key decision makers in attendance at these shows. Talk about having the ability to have conversations with the right people!

This goes to show that the investment that goes into exhibiting at trade shows can produce a favorable ROI. Creating a successful trade show outcome will take a solid marketing plan to ensure that you’re doing all you can to stand out on the show floor. Here are some of our best tips to be popular in the trade show world, along with some other great tips about capturing attention on the show floor. Exhibiting face-to-face allows you to have the most influential experience for your buyers. Telling your brand’s story with an experience, making personal connections, and showing them that you are the best solution to their problem are just a few benefits of reaching your audience in-person.

On the other hand, if your business is attending only very small shows that don’t see a large number of attendees, your reach could be expanded by adding a virtual trade show to your marketing plan. However, while virtual trade shows may present the opportunity for a ‘larger reach,’ that doesn’t always mean that it will be as high of quality.

Being able to interact with such highly qualified buyers through trade shows is one of the most valuable parts of your ‘in-person reach.

In-person reach is great for businesses who are:

  • Already well known in the industry (and are looking to connect with prospects on a deeper level)
  • Looking to create real connections and business relationships (since it’s much easier to build trust face-to-face)
  • Wanting to create memorable real-life experiences (that digital marketing can’t quite portray) to make their brand stand out from the crowd
  • Aiming to really grow their ROI

Benefits of virtual trade show reachWhen you take your exhibit online to the world of virtual trade shows, the possibilities for whom you’re able to reach are endless. However, this doesn’t mean that because you can reach a further away audience, that your reach will expand as much as you’d hope.

It truly depends on your pre-show marketing to determine if your reach will go beyond what it has in the past. For the smaller businesses who exhibit at in-person trade shows geared toward a smaller, more local crowd, expanding their reach could be a great possibility if the show organizers do a good job of digitally promoting the event. On the other hand, if these exhibitors were to target the same audience, they always have who typically would attend the trade shows that they exhibit at, then they may see a similar reach on a virtual level.

This is why if you’re planning on expanding your audience reach by exhibiting virtually, you’ll have to take additional steps to reach those audiences who may not yet know you. This could mean expanding your pre-show marketing budget. Some may think, ‘Since we’re doing a virtual trade show, we don’t have to pay for a booth space or other exhibit expenses, so we’ll be able to cut these costs entirely.” When in reality, some of the money that you’re saving on shipping, drayage, travel, etc. should be put into your pre-show promotional budget to produce similar results to your past shows.

Overall, virtual trade shows have a reach advantage when it comes to reaching more people. This is because a venue can only hold so many attendees, but the possibilities for reaching people all over the world are endless when a virtual event is considered. Also, in-person trade shows can only last so many days, often 2-6 days on average. However, virtual trade shows can last as long as you’d like them to. This gives you more opportunity to continue reaching a wider audience, even if it’s not all at once.

Just remember that more doesn’t always equate to better. And keep in mind that trade shows have been built on creating genuine human connections, something that virtual trade shows just aren’t capable of.

Having the opportunity to level up and grow awareness through virtual exhibiting could be the lift a small business needs to help them grow. Once that growth starts, from there, investing in a quality exhibit could be the next best step to start really creating those necessary in-person connections that will help propel the business forward.

Virtual reach is great for businesses who are:

  • Hoping to promote themselves and share more of what they do to a larger number of people (cast a larger net)
  • Trying to increase brand awareness
  • Wanting to touch a larger audience without having to travel or invest in bigger shows

All in all, in-person trade show reach is more valuable for creating connections, building relationships, creating experiences, and increasing ROI, even if it means you’re reaching fewer people. Virtual trade show reach is more valuable when it comes to goals of potentially reaching a larger amount of people, getting your name out, and starting to share what your business can do.


About the Author

In her experience at Skyline's corporate office in St. Paul, Minnesota, Briquelle Neyens immersed herself in trade show research and the ins and outs of exhibit sales firsthand. She also engaged with Skyline's wide-array of products and services from an insider's perspective. Her blogs portray her expertise on what it takes to be a successful trade show marketer. She enjoys generating information that will help all trade show marketers in their decisions to become successful on the trade show floor.

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