In an events world that has shifted so quickly due to COVID-19, it’s astounding to see that a sea of creatives, marketers and influencers have taken this opportunity to build a digital world of awe and excitement from scratch and turned it into a world of templates, parameters and boredom. And trust me, we do not exclude ourselves from this criticism.
Before, we were so used to mobilizing our message and taking to the convention circuit (local, regional, national), engaging via annual meetings as well as providing content via one day user conferences and product launches. It was almost overnight that our entire industry was forced to pivot to a world with zero in-person interaction.
At first, it was disheartening as we all got into this business for a reason. We like to be around people. We like to engage and collaborate face-to-face. We like to network, meet people, catch up with familiar faces. Once the reality set in that this was not going to be a short-term situation, our generally positive population of go-getters began focusing on how to engage in a different way – at least different than our traditional way of thinking. It was exciting, it was new, and it was going to be what we made of it.
The months that followed were full of information gathering, demonstrations, training and general knowledge expansion as we focused on tackling the question: “How do I deliver my brand properly and effectively when all face-to-face avenues have been closed down?” It is an educational mind shift that both we as industry experts – as well as our client base who are mainly event planners and trade show experts – had to embark on together. As I begin to settle into this new space and look back, I see quite a few areas where the rapid pace of our pivot actually led us to take some shortcuts that in hindsight, we can see now we should not have. The biggest one I see is bringing our pre-conceived notions about physical exhibits into the digital space. Shifting so quickly, our brains were trained to stay with what we already knew and were comfortable with instead of challenging ourselves to take advantage of the limitless boundaries presented to us in an online space.
Below are some quick lessons I have learned that I wanted to share in the event it can help others break free from the boundaries we have unnecessarily put up for ourselves as experts of the physical trade show world space. These limitations that are so engrained in us as trade show marketers need to be removed from the digital initiatives in order to deliver high marks on the objective of brand delivery.
- We need not continue to showcase virtually delivered exhibits in the same shapes and sizes required in a pre-COVID live event space. 8’ height restrictions are not a thing in this world. 10’ x 20’ or 30’ x 40’ or any other parameters like this are simply handcuffs to the endless possibilities at our disposal in this new world. We are experts in standing out from a crowd with hundreds of our competitors in one big (physical) room, yet we are falling short when those restrictions are removed! We must “Think outside the booth”, and I am saying it out loud so I can hear it too.
- Why do we continue to try to bring our virtual exhibit to our virtual show? As we have all learned by now, most virtual event providers also had to pivot quickly and chose the route of utilizing templates. Unfortunately for the exhibitors at these virtual shows, this means that the exhibit provided to you looks the same as all the others with minor customization opportunities. It has proven to be frustrating and has not been overly effective for many.So what? Instead of thinking about virtual exhibits only going to virtual events, why not think about virtual/digital/online EXPERIENCES in a way that decouples your brand from the narrow path of the virtual event circuit? Create YOUR OWN experience, with YOUR OWN objectives at the forefront of all your decisions. In this space, unlike at a national trade show, you do not need the event surrounding you to be heard. Putting on your own “trade show” with your one experience would likely be highly attended if marketed properly! In this space your opportunity to have standalone impact and marketing reach is undeniably real and is currently not being pursued with the energy we now realize it should be.
- If your business relies on demonstrations, showrooms or user events – what are you waiting for? Your showroom CAN be created in a digital manner today and delivered directly to your target market. Your product can be recreated and brought to life to showcase it’s selling points and your user events can be done now with no travel from your participants required!
It is a time where thinking differently is undeniably required. Waiting for physical events to come back is not a sound strategy and (guilty as charged) trying to recreate your old life of physical events in a virtual/digital/online space is just not doing it. Be brave, be unique, show off your brand’s personality in the experiences you create, and you will reap the rewards of standing out in an online crowd that is choosing to simply fit in.