Showing posts with label virtual reality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label virtual reality. Show all posts

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Defining what (and how) we do.

It is hard for me not to think about or not to talk about virtual tradeshows. I actually spent some time this afternoon to see how Oprah Winfrey did her virtual classroom with a combination of compelling content (by Ekhart Tolle), existing technologies and a global audience that cared to stay up even late in the night to video-skype into the live event. It is really a nice feeling to know that the phrase 'virtual event' has now become so mainstream and is touching so many lives. So here are some Sunday thoughts on's virtual tradeshows.

At we have worked hard at defining an effective virtual tradeshow. In 1999, we made sales calls which soon turned into educational sessions because not many had heard of virtual tradeshows. We had to define what we meant by virtual tradeshows. We ran demos after demos, explained benefits, answered questions, and found several early adopters. My founding partner, Professor Ramesh Sharda is a visionary. Anticipating the need to shorten the learning curve, he incorporated into the design the metaphor of a real-world trade show. We published some white papers that have been downloaded by thousands of marketing and trade show professionals. We even had an article published in the Marketing News, which I later learned is considered a noteworthy publication among marketers and academicians.

Our early challenges in messaging came not just from the fact that often the word 'virtual' creates images of 'virtual reality' in the minds of listeners, but also from a trade show organizer's web-master creating a listing of exhibitors and calling it a virtual tradeshow. No definition was wrong. Lately even web-conferences, or webinars are labeled as virtual tradeshows if they offer some downloadable content from sponsors. I have even heard of one that had a virtual break-room complete with virtual toilets on which you could click to hear them flushing (could that be the sound of money going down the drain, or is it a sign that my sense of humor is overdue for a tune-up?)

We have come a long way in terms of creating awareness about what virtual tradeshows can do. The market has changed as well. Inquiries that keep coming our way lately come with preconceived notions of what their virtual tradeshow should look like. They sometimes want a panoramic view of the exhibit hall, even if it is not the best for navigation, even if it imposes upon them the limits of a 2-D environment, even if it is not the best for large trade shows. They sometimes want the noise of a real-world trade show floor even though online attendees sitting in offices don't like to disturb their neighboring cubicles.

However, I don't believe we have found the precise term for defining what's virtual tradeshows do for its customers. There seems to be no phrase for the sheer simplicity and utility of what we offer as a virtual trade show or virtual event. Virtual tradeshows now come with simulated 3-D visuals, which I think undermine the intelligence of users, because at the end of the day they simply provide a combination of instant communication capabilities camouflaged in a wrap. They mean nothing to the user of a virtual trade show beyond the initial sense of awe. In my experience, if a virtual tradeshow does not pave the way for meaningful human interaction among properly qualified people then it is a waste of precious time, and often of money. If you get a call from a telemarketer for a cheaper long-distance telephone service at 8 p.m., would it make a difference that you took the call on your grandfather's telephone or your grandson's iPhone? It is wasted time trying to pay attention to an irrelevant message regardless of the medium through which the message was delivered. In the world of business virtual fairs - be it for procurement, marketing or recruitment, for the business professionals, for the students and for other job seekers who take the time and the effort to show up online the decision-making power of the online participant or the virtual exhibitor is all that matters. Finding them online at the promised hour with the click of the mouse is the only thing that matters.

That brings us back to the unanswered question - what do we call our brand of virtual tradeshows and fairs? Lately when we have been receiving calls from businesses, they often ask us, "when is your next itradefair?". We also hear positive feedback from business users who refer to certain clients' (name withheld due to the inevitable corporate non-disclosures that bind us) virtual tradeshows as, the XYZ itradefair. Perhaps therein lies the answer. Maybe we should just call it an itradefair. Would that dilute our brand over time? I do not know. If it helps separate us from the crowd and identifies us as a sensible company that delivers effective yet simple and sensible online trade fairs or other specialty fairs such as job fairs etc., then it may not be so bad after all.

Then again figuratively and philosophically speaking, rather than try to define our service or product, perhaps we should let what (and how) we do define us.