As you are all aware, the sudden and unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on all aspects of our work and private lives has included the cancellation or postponement of all gatherings of more than just a handful of people and, almost overnight, curtailed international travel. This has meant that the big trade shows, long-established as landmarks in the B2B engineering calendar, have been postponed or cancelled altogether. With the timing of a return to anything resembling normality unclear and in the hands of governments and scientists striving for medical and technological solutions, trade shows scheduled for the next year hang in the balance.

So what to do? – is the question asked by marketing managers who want and need to promote their brand, capabilities and technologies to drive leads and sales without one of the main preferred tools normally at their disposal.

Alternatives to being there

The significant cost and resource associated with attending industry trade shows have always raised questions of ROI for B2B deep tech companies. However, most, after looking, have decided to stick with the status quo and continue to attend shows. So what now?

Marketers have looked at alternatives to physical exhibitions both in terms of cost and effectiveness and ultimately return on investment. Good virtual exhibition booths can allow ‘visitors’ to move around, interact with exhibits, gather data and even hear a sales pitch from booth personnel. All very impressive, but just because you create something cool and impressive in the digital world, doesn’t mean people will attend or you will generate leads or achieve other desired outcomes. To date, the issue with virtual exhibition booths is that they can’t replicate the face-to-face experience, attract volumes of visitors or allow engagement in the way businesses might hope.

Based on examples and feedback canvassed from Publitek clients, the overall feeling is that virtual exhibition booths are not yet considered a viable or like-for-like replacement for live, face-to-face attendance at trade shows, either in ‘normal’ times or in the current situation.

To create something effective and engaging requires a significant budget, resource, creativity and a lot of clever promotion if any number of ‘visitors’ is to visit a virtual event booth. But humans are social animals, and despite the availability of increasingly sophisticated digital tools and platforms, it was the “face-to-face” element that drew us together. Even with the new emerging normal, the signs are people will want to revert to this, albeit less often, when tradeshows and other related events can take place.

Another factor working against the virtual trade show booth is that visitors never go to an event to see just one company or have one meeting, and many of the positive outcomes from spending a day or two at a tradeshow come from unplanned discussions or chance meetings.

Event replacement activities

So what ‘event replacement’ options are there to fill the gap while the current global situation remains. Webinars for customers and prospective customers, and virtual events for the technical trade press are proving to be great ways to keep in touch and maintain marketing momentum.

In the case of webinars, these can be used to help launch new products or provide a round-up of current technologies. They can target specific end applications or be more general. The marketing of webinars is as important as their content – existing customers and contacts can be invited using data held on a CRM system, while outreach to a wider audience of potential suitors and unknown customers can be achieved via a range of strategies and amplification tactics offered by agencies like Publitek.

The technical and business press still provide a vital conduit by which to inform and influence target audiences, and so while meeting the press at face-to-face events – either press conferences or one-to-one meetings – is impossible right now, phone or web-based briefings are vital.

Summing up

The current global situation, and in particular social distancing, looks set to remain with us for perhaps longer than we first anticipated. And while the world is perhaps not fully ready for virtual booths or tradeshows to replace face-to-face events, there are other event replacement activities that can use digital technology and marketing tactics to maintain contact, inform and influence target audiences and drive businesses forwards.

Customers are still making choices and the media still want and need the information to help them make these choices so continuing with communications activity is vital.