Monday, August 11, 2008

Doing a Red7 with Virtual Trade Shows

We are seeing traditional media companies cope with the Internet and readjust their business models (or as they call it "face-to-face" success strategies in the email that I received last week).

Recently we read a fascinating news item about a media company undertaking the management of an association. I believe that by leveraging existing relationships and their influence on their readership and advertisers, they are looking to provide value to a membership-based Not-for-Profit organization. Here is a link to the news item: Red 7 Media Takes Over Management of Exhibit Designers & Producers Association. I do not know if it has been done before (apparently not as the CEO of Red7 Media states in the news item), but it seems like a natural progression. The media company is leveraging its influence and its assets in a creative non-traditional fashion. What Red 7 Media can do differently to EDPA's events and membership I do not know, but from Red 7 Media's perspective they have stretched their expertise to a parallel market. For the sake of convenience, let us call this stretch to a new market as the Red7 move.

Something else is a natural progression, as traditional media companies learn to cope with the seismic shifts in the media industry - Virtual Trade Shows.

Media companies will soon have to learn how to do a Red7 move with Virtual Trade Shows - leverage on the one hand, existing virtual trade show technologies (not to be confused with webinars and webcasts), and on the other the media company's influence on their readership and advertisers, to be able to create, reach and serve new markets.

I foresee media companies learning to take Virtual Trade Show technologies, bundling them within their own areas of influence, and enabling new markets to launch their own private online trade fairs. This model has not been seen coming out of the media world so far to the best of my knowledge. Its time has come.

At least one media company is making a feeble attempt at it with webinars. They may call it virtual trade shows. They may inundate us with reminders about virtual trade shows. To the best of my knowledge those are webinars, live or on-demand, with accompanying downloadable marketing literature being offered in exchange for contact information. It is being sold as a lead-generation activity. That is the traditional face-to-face mindset in manifestation. As far as I can tell, the webinars being created by this media company gather a couple of sponsors in industry-verticals. They are quite literally an online rendition of small regional conferences held in a small conference center. They often reek of infomercials.

What they are not doing is leveraging the power of the virtual trade show technology the way it should be - to build a fan-following that tracks a company's progress consistently over a period of time. No - I am not referring to whipping up a social network (the jury is still out on whether social networks can make money).

To be able to create new products using Virtual Trade Show technology, traditional media companies have to depart from the 'face-to-face' mindset, and think of events and packages that never existed before.

The media companies that will achieve success with virtual trade show technologies will be the ones that know how to mine their data sufficiently well to be able to bring niche value to sellers and buyers of information. Gimmicks and value-propositions such as the first 3D virtual exhibit hall, going green, save on gas prices can take them only so far. A more lasting value proposition will be (a) how well the media company can segment the information overload on the web for select audiences, (b) how much content is user-generated making for a constantly renewable democratic environment, and (c) how well hitherto non-existent products and services are conceived globally yet delivered locally. First, the traditional media companies have to break away from their traditional mindsets.

The Virtual Trade Show is a powerful weapon. Media companies that add the Virtual Trade Show technology to their arsenal and deploy them will enjoy growth in new business models and new markets. Think if it as a Red7 move. It is only a matter of time before grassroots movements similar to Craigslist will cause the erosion of this advantage that traditional media companies can enjoy by being trendsetters. The cost of indecision can be high for the media world. Traditional media companies could imitate the Red7 move to open new markets with the Virtual Trade Show technology in their arsenal.