Virtual exhibits are not new. Museums, like the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, and the Louvre have offered online exhibitions for many years. These virtual exhibitions showcase a portion of the museum’s collection like the Parthenon Sculptures, the Mona Lisa, or Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
When the COVID pandemic shut down trade shows, exhibitions, events, and nearly all public gatherings, virtual or online options sprouted like wildflowers in the desert after a spring shower. Virtual software platforms, like Zoom, were essential if sometimes clunky as replacements for in-person meetings. However, existing software programs evolved and new programs were launched like Airmeet, VFairs, and Cvent to meet the growing demand.
What is a Virtual Exhibition?
Quite simply, virtual exhibitions are online events or trade shows. During the pandemic, trade show organizers tried to flip the switch and transform the physical show into a virtual show or event. That meant:
- Mimicking the show floor with virtual exhibits where attendees could visit the booth, “walk” through the exhibit space, watch product videos, open literature, and ask questions.
- Creating a searchable directory of companies, products, and services
- Scheduling keynote speakers and other presentations
- Offering live classes and seminars throughout the day
Since then, organizers have reassessed what makes a virtual exhibition successful. Few virtual attendees want to participate in an online event for hours and multiple days… particularly an event with a fixed schedule that doesn’t allow the attendee the flexibility of participating when it’s convenient. We now live in a “streaming world.” Our expectations regarding content – entertainment, educational, or otherwise – have changed. It should be available at a click, 24 hours a day.
The “Ah-Ha” moment for organizers came when they realized that in-person and online exhibitions weren’t the same. And didn’t have to be. Attendees go to a face-to-face event to walk the show floor, meet vendors, attend socials, and generally experience all that makes a live event special. Yes, there are show hours and daily/hourly agendas. Real-time choices need to be made about spending more time with one vendor, having lunch with an industry colleague, or attending the keynote address at 8 am. It’s rarely possible to see and do everything at a live exhibition. That’s part of the excitement (or stress) of attending in person.
An online event can be more deliberate. There may be a schedule, but missing a panel discussion may mean watching the recorded version later. And while virtual allows you the freedom to explore companies, products, and presentations on your time, which has its benefits, the online experience has limitations for both attendees and exhibitors.
Benefits and Challenges of an Online Trade Show Exhibit
The benefits and challenges of an online trade show exhibit depend on the person you ask. For example, ask an exhibit designer and they’ll tell you that the beauty of a virtual exhibit means no limitations. Gravity doesn’t apply in cyberspace. Hanging signs can be any shape and size, graphics can change instantly, depending on the client’s interest, and pretend LED video walls are a fraction of the cost. For the marketing manager, it means finally having every brochure, flyer, video, or demo available. For the CFO, no freight, no drayage, and no questionable travel, meal, or entertainment expenses. The budget is the budget – perhaps.
Creating an immersive and engaging virtual experience isn’t necessarily cheap. It still has to be built online, which in many cases can be just as expensive, if not more expensive, than a physical 20 x 20 island made of wood, metal, and graphics. An online trade show exhibit still requires the following:
- A comprehensive marketing strategy with goals, timelines, and a budget
- Graphic design (if not printing costs)
- A software platform for hosting the trade show exhibit, which the show organizer may or may not provide
- Fees by the organizer to participate in the virtual exhibition, including sponsorship costs
- Multimedia content (videos, presentation decks, audio, etc.)
- Monitoring chat rooms, Q&A sessions, product demos, etc. during and after the show
Virtual Exhibition Booth Examples
1. VEN-1001 | Virtual Inline
Access the full virtual exhibit here!
2. VEN-2002 | Virtual Island
Full virtual exhibition available here.
3. VEN-2001 | Virtual Island
Full virtual exhibit available here.
8 Benefits of a Virtual Trade Show or Exhibition
Virtual trade shows offer several advantages over traditional in-person events. If you’re looking for a way to save money, reach a wider audience, and engage with potential customers, a virtual trade show may be the right choice.
- Cost Savings: Virtual trade shows can save exhibitors and attendees money on travel, lodging, and other expenses.
- Reach: Virtual trade shows can reach a global audience, regardless of location.
- Convenience: Virtual trade shows can be accessed from anywhere, at any time, making them convenient for both exhibitors and attendees.
- Engagement: Virtual trade shows offer alternative engagement options like live chat, video conferencing, and interactive exhibits.
- Quantitative Data: Virtual trade shows can generate more data than traditional in-person events, which can be used to improve future marketing campaigns.
- Accessibility: Virtual trade shows are accessible to people with disabilities, which can help to increase inclusivity and diversity.
- Sustainability: Virtual trade shows have a lower environmental impact than traditional in-person events, as they require less travel and energy consumption.
- Flexibility: Virtual trade shows can be customized to meet the specific needs of exhibitors and attendees, which can help to improve the overall experience.
Tips for a Successful Online Exhibition
Virtual 3D Exhibit Design requests have increased substantially as exhibitors return to exhibiting. However, if you are an exhibitor who has always Zombie-walked through your trade show planning and grumbled about your lack of success, then virtual trade shows will not make your life easier. It may, in fact, make it even harder.
Virtual shows are ALL ABOUT pre-show planning — designing the booth, identifying links, implementing software, scripting videos, recording audio, and mapping the flow. Tasks that must happen before the 3D Visual Exhibit is created and programmed.
Will attendees visit your exhibit at the virtual show or event? A few, if show organizers convince attendees to register. However, rolling the dice isn’t a roadmap to success… You won’t be seen unless you entice and beguile attendees to visit you on the virtual show floor and WOW them once they are there. In other words, it’s still about marketing yourself before, during, and after the show. Same as a physical trade show but now it’s even more complex.
Fortunately, your competitors will probably suck at virtual trade shows. That’s an opportunity for you.
Your Virtual Exhibition Partner: Exhibits Northwest
As a leader in exhibit design, Exhibits NW has always offered comprehensive design services to our clients, in both 2D and 3D formats. The switch to virtual exhibits really isn’t much of a stretch. It all depends on what the virtual exhibitor wants to include and showcase in their exhibit. And since it’s virtual, unlike a physical booth, there are far more opportunities to show products and services in both immersive and online experiences.
If you are considering a virtual exhibit at a trade show, you should begin by talking to professionals who understand the requirements, the technology, and most importantly, what questions to ask. Contact Exhibits NW for a free consultation. You might be surprised by what’s possible!