Sunday, August 3, 2008

They Are At Your Virtual Booth! Now What? -- 7 Tips to Make Them Stay.

For a recent virtual trade show, an exhibitor tracked me down and during the conversation he requested me to personally review his company's virtual booth, not just from a technical angle, but also to make recommendations based on our experience with virtual events and the online behavior of virtual attendees. I was delighted to do it, because he cared enough about his company's virtual booth. This blog post is an expanded version of my recommendations to the virtual exhibitor.

Businesses who exhibit virtually often take virtual trade shows lightly. The reasons are mainly organizational. Either it did not create a big enough dent in their budget to get the upper management to take notice and give their blessings, or it was so new to them that they didn't have any one assigned with specific responsibility for the virtual booth. In other words, they did not feel a sense of pride or ownership in their virtual booth. I have seen some of our virtual trade shows attended by some of the biggest names in Corporate America where, unfortunately the virtual booth owners don't take the time to even upload a logo (we are talking of a 'point-click' action here). Of course, as part of our quality-check process, and in order to maintain the integrity and richness of our virtual fairs, we de-activate all incomplete virtual booths prior to showtime. Virtual exhibitors need to have sufficient skin in the game.

Assuming that you are a virtual exhibitor with sufficient skin in the game, listed below are 7 tips to make your virtual booth stand out in the crowd.

  1. Avoid cool tag-lines - they may turn cold: Start with the premise that no attendee has the time to figure out what your company does. Your company logo and tag-line may be really cool and cryptic, but remember that you have a few seconds or less to let them know what you can do for them. Spell it out. There is no time for guesswork. Virtual attendees often go from virtual booth to virtual booth - like channel surfing by a TV viewer, even if they use a search engine to narrow down their choices. Therefore being crisp is critical. It is a problem when a virtual booth sports an elevator pitch that says "Our unique solutions leverage our exclusive intellectual property and proprietary technologies to help our customers drive growth and attain operational efficiencies. We deliver and sustain guaranteed value while our entire suite of solutions exists to deliver results. We have delivered hundreds of successful strategy, planning, implementation and optimization projects with extraordinary results and outstanding client references".
  2. Name-dropping is fine: When online attendees see names of familiar companies among your customers, they enter a comfort-zone and tend to linger for a bit. On the face of the booth, consider listing the top customers who work with you.
  3. Don't be camera-shy: Use videos in your virtual booth. The technology to add videos easily to a virtual booth has been around for quite some time. Camcorders are getting easier to use. Carry it when you go to meet your customers, your engineers, and your company leadership. Record personal messages from them (not exceeding 2 minutes in duration). Let others sing your praises for you on your virtual booth.
  4. Leaving no nuts & bolts unturned: Keep the technical experts available on booth chats. An online visitor must be able to obtain not only the marketing messages but also get answers to deeply technical questions instantly. A virtual fair is all about instant gratification - even from technical experts behind your products or services.
  5. Give your nearest and earliest location: Your virtual booth needs to tell virtual attendees where they can meet you and your team face-to-face. Are you going to be at an upcoming industry conference? How about listing your upcoming event schedule. Steer your virtual attendees towards an action, a sales call or an in-person meeting.
  6. Shower them with unconditional love: Consider sending a gift to every virtual attendee who passes by your virtual booth. Imagine a virtual booth that screams "Thank you for stopping by. Lunch is on us!" and offer to send them a free gift card to 'some national restaurant chain'. Or some other gift to show your appreciation.
  7. Avoid gimmicks: We used to offer virtual exhibitors the ability to automatically pop-open a chat window every time a virtual attendee lingered at a virtual booth for more than 30 seconds -- until we heard complaints ranging from "annoying" to "unnerving" and "spooked me out". It was perceived as a gimmick, even though it was offered with the best of intentions to help our exhibitors be proactive. Treat your virtual attendees as you would at any real trade show attendees. Avoid gimmicks that could hurt your brand. Be courteous, stick to the theme of the overall trade fair (if it is a consumer electronics fair, there is no point in pushing your industrial products), and be mindful of how you use the time and fleeting attention that the online attendees are giving your virtual booth.

There are some more do's and dont's that come to mind, but the above 7 are generic enough in that they apply to virtual exhibitors everywhere no matter which technology platform they embrace.

The online behavioral patterns of website traffic do not usually apply to virtual event traffic. The reason being, attendees usually come into a virtual fair based on a theme, as against a brand of a particular exhibitor. Either they are trying to research a product line or an industry, or seeking to fulfill a specific need and want to check out several exhibitors with similar offerings by going through a structured navigation process. The online attendee is not necessarily there to look at a specific exhibitor. That makes it imperative that virtual exhibitors learn how to put their best virtual foot forward.