11 min read

Trade-off: Virtual Trade Shows vs Face-to-Face Events

A crowd of people attending a trade show

Face-to-face events and virtual trade shows, there are clear differences between the two, with the latter offering something a lot newer in comparison.

Trade shows have always been a sure-fire way to market new ideas, new products and innovations to the masses – virtual or otherwise. It should come as no surprise that technology would eventually catch up, providing brands with quite the alternative.

An alternative that allows them to market themselves on a global scale while not missing out on the things that make in-person events so special (i.e. interacting with attendees).

This is but one of the differences between virtual trade shows and face-to-face events. In this post we’ll be covering a lot more of them, to help you decide on which is the right pathway for you.

Face-to-face events are pretty self-explanatory. Virtual trade shows, on the other hand, do require somewhat of an explanation. We’ll start there, with a quick rundown of these virtual events.

What are Virtual Trade Shows?

Virtual trade shows are essentially your typical in-person trading event, only it’s run in a completely digital environment. Everything from the exhibition hall to the event booths, it’s all there to see and interact with!

These events run on optimised platforms, platforms that are capable of handling hundreds, if not thousands of attendees at any given time. Hybrid trade shows are similar to an extent, however, there is a face-to-face element at play.

Virtual trade shows, and other online events, are going through somewhat of a boom at the moment – the same goes for virtual exhibitions which are quite similar in that they involve showcasing something interesting to attendees in a digital setting.

crowd of people at exhibition

What are the Benefits of Virtual Trade Shows?

Running a virtual event has a bunch of benefits, as you can imagine. These events are far more accessible to attendees compared to face-to-face events. Attendees don’t have to worry about arranging or paying for travel and accommodation.

They simply log-on and attend, it’s that simple.

That’s the beauty of virtual trade shows. It reduces complications for everyone involved – especially event organisers who are looking to reduce their costs as far as possible while maximising the potential of their events.

Virtual Increases ROI

Return on investment is incredibly important, more-so if you run multiple events a year and need to make a decent return.

Spending more does make it difficult to secure a high ROI, which is why many have already switched to virtual, as the costs are significantly cheaper! What’s more, it’s also a hell of a lot easier to achieve sponsorship ROI as you have various ways to include them within the event.

Virtual increases ROI for organisers and it also has the power to increase ROI for exhibitors too. More visitors equals more intrigue, and having 1-2-1 video chat and meeting functionality built into the platform will only streamline the process!

Virtual Booths are Incredibly Interactive

A virtual booth works a lot like an in-person booth. It invites attendees in to learn more about a brand, what they do, and how they can help. Tech-oriented trade shows, for example, lean heavily into creating something interactive to make for something a lot more memorable.

Virtual booths take it up another level, offering everything from advanced moderated live chat to a list of resources that they can download there and then. It’s all incredibly interactive, encouraging attendees to keep coming back to the booth for more!

Other ways to increase event interaction include:

  • Embedding YouTube videos into booths
  • Integrating social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter
  • Gamification through things like trivia questions
  • Event bags for everyone in attendance
  • Scheduling product demonstrations

Anything and everything is possible in a virtual environment which gives organisers a lot of room to play with in terms of how they create an interactive experience for all!

Virtual booths can be fully customised with certain virtual event platforms. Take ours, for example. With our virtual event platform, you can do all of the above and then some, depending on what you’d like to include.

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Increases Brand Awareness

Increasing brand awareness is another one of the outstanding benefits of virtual trade shows. This is something that applies to the brand behind the event and the brands taking part as exhibitors.

Again this comes down to the widespread appeal of virtual events in that they aren’t bound to a single location. Sharing the event on social media and through other marketing efforts will only increase your brand goals too.

Not only can brands build awareness and extend a list of touchpoints, they can also save money in key areas. At face-to-face events, exhibitors pay for a variety of assets used to decorate booths and distribute them to attendees.

The fact that the event takes place digitally means they don’t need to account for these costs! Unfortunately, this only applies to virtual trade shows, hybrid trade shows will require assets with branding on there.

Essentially, if one of your event goals is to grow brand awareness, then look no further than virtual trade shows!

Detailed Analytics

One of the best things about virtual trade shows, and virtual events as a whole, is the ability to track data in real time and after the event! Our reporting tool allows you to pinpoint attendees on a map, letting you know how many people have attended from certain countries.

You can also monitor the popularity of certain booths to see what is working and what isn’t working as well as you might have hoped. Deep insight like this will go a long way in strengthening any future trade shows you run.

Let’s face it, some KPIs are pretty difficult to track at face-to-face events. Booth participation length, for example, is pretty tough to keep track of unless you’re timing each interaction by hand.

Data and analytics are invaluable to events, it’s just that virtual events track it all better. Plus, the information is a lot more accurate in comparison.

An image of a tree from the ground looking up

Virtual Trade Shows are Sustainable

Do you know how much Co2 is produced at face-to-face events? Not to worry if not as we have the answer (it’s 170kg). This information comes courtesy of a study from Birmingham University. The same study found that physical events could also create over 5 tonnes of refuse waste.

Needless to say, this isn’t very sustainable. Virtual events might not spring to mind when you think of eco-friendly events, but that doesn’t hide the fact that these events are probably the greenest option available to organisers.

If you’re running an environmentally conscious event, then show it by going virtual! Bamboo straws and recycled hand towels, while helpful, can only go so far.

What are Face-to-Face Trade Shows?

Face-to-face trade shows are what you’d call ‘traditional events.’ These events have been around a lot longer than virtual events.

They will always have a place in the ever-expanding world of events. It’s the reason why hybrid trade shows are growing in popularity, as they bridge the gap between face-to-face trade shows and virtual trade shows without leaning too heavily on either side.

Virtual trade shows are an adaptation of these traditional events. Both feature booths and give attendees the ability to interact with brands and exhibitors directly.

There are similarities, but the drawbacks of traditional trade shows do limit their overall potential, especially in this day and age.

What are the Drawbacks of Face-to-Face Trade Shows?

One of the benefits of going virtual is that it makes your events a lot more accessible for those that might typically avoid an in-person event due to travel constraints. With traditional trade shows, the only way attendees can take part is via social media.

Don’t get us wrong, we see the benefits in traditional in-person events. They’re great at showcasing products and letting attendees interact with them.

Still, having that virtual element can add so much more to ensure that goals are met and that exhibitors are reaching their targets too.
In this section we’re going to be looking at the drawbacks associated with face-to-face trade shows, starting with having to spend a lot of your budget on venue hire.

person holding mobile phone showing calculator

Costs, Costs, and More Costs

One of, if not the main reason why event organisers don’t run more trade shows is down to how much it all costs. There’s venue hire, catering, brand materials, goodie bags and security to account for.

Before you know it, your entire budget is gone. Just like that.

Of course, how much you spend will depend entirely on how many exhibitors will be in attendance and other key factors. But the costs are still there, and there’s no getting around them.

Virtual trade shows are a lot cheaper to run, in comparison, they’re also reusable, meaning you don’t need to pay as much every time you want to run another trade show virtually!

Yes, these costs do apply to hybrid trade shows too as they exist in-person and through screens. But, again, having a virtual element to events can improve ROI, and allow a long on-demand period for attendees who were unable to attend on the day. So even if you’re spending a lot to get the event up and running, the likelihood of you making that money back is pretty high.

Little to No Follow-Up

At traditional face-to-face trade shows, it’s tough for event organisers, and exhibitors, to gather leads and generate sales. Technology is almost always involved in these cases via surveys and email follow-ups, but not everyone wants to do that.

And how can you really follow up with attendees if you aren’t gathering contact details and the data?

This is where virtual trade shows shine. You see, the functionality of these events allows you to easily gather contact information in one place! In our experience, those who engage in 1-2-1 interactions are more likely to leave their contact information. After all, they’re already in front of a device with a keyboard.

Travel and Accommodation

Asking attendees to make the trip to wherever your trade shows are occurring can be a big ask, especially if you’re running an event that is looking to attract an international audience. Not everyone will be able to afford to make the trip.

The same applies to exhibitors, some of whom might be relatively new to their respective industries.

Startups looking to attend virtual trade shows might not have the funds to pay for plane tickets, or the funds to pay for shipping pieces of equipment they might need. And that’s before the accommodation on top.

This might stop certain brands from getting involved in your events. At least with a hybrid trade show, these hypothetical brands have an opportunity to be involved, and be a part of its success.

Trade-off: Virtual Trade Shows vs Face-to-Face Events

It’s near impossible to ignore virtual events because of how prominent they are following life post-pandemic. They can help you maximise your event budgets and generate buzz around the world, how could you ignore that?

You might think that virtual events limit human interaction and the overall experience of visiting an event, but this couldn’t be any further from the truth. 1-2-1 functionality and other interactive booth activities are proof of this.

Everyone remembers the first virtual trade show they attended because of how memorable the experience was. Hybrid trade shows are similar to an extent, however, there is a face-to-face element at play – it’s simply balanced with the help of a virtual event platform.

Remember, how these virtual trade shows look will differ from event to event. This is down to the platform used to host and run the event.

If you’re interested in heading in a virtual direction with your trade shows, then we here at iVent are on hand. We create bespoke virtual event platforms from scratch, in line with your specifications.

Get in touch to find out more!

Written by:

Nikita-Selfie-ForWebNikita Ovcinnikovs

See more by Nikita Ovcinnikovs

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