There are times when unforeseen circumstances or unprecedented events take place that force businesses to change their operations and quickly adapt to a new normal. As marketing professionals, we also need to pivot our activities to adapt. We must consider that as much disruption as we are experiencing, our customers are equally experiencing it on their end as well. 

During these times, it is the marketer’s job to consistently communicate with their customers while looking for opportunities for a smooth transition of their normal business activities. Trade shows, expos, sales meetings, conferences, seminars, and other in-person events are the standard for many companies. B2B and B2C customers come in droves to attend these events, which is why we’ve seen so much recent interest in hosting virtual events to replace that in-person engagement.   

Virtual events are not new, but the interest in hosting them has risen drastically during times like this when travel or in-person engagement is held to a minimum. Organizations of all sorts are looking at how they can host their event virtually as a replacement for that valuable experience in-person events provided. According to a study by TechRepublic and SEMrush, during the recent Coronavirus events, screen time rose 57% in the U.S. and retail websites are up 1.5 billion new visitors. Now more than ever, brands need to stay relevant and accessible to their audience. 

Last week our team had the opportunity to attend the Brunswick Virtual Boat Show (https://virtualboatshow.brunswick.com/). Brunswick is a world leader in recreational boats, marine engines, parts, and accessories. This online event included over 30 brands exhibiting the latest boats, engines, parts, accessories, and marine-related products and services. Marine brands included names like SeaRay, Lund Boats, Boston Whaler, Bayliner, Cypress Cay Pontoons, and Mercury Marine. 

This event was well-executed from the pre-show advertising and registration communications to the actual virtual event. While navigating through the virtual event floor, attendees were able to engage with several brands and gain access to information on their respective product lines. There was an auditorium to host educational seminars and breakouts. Each brand had product experts available in the chatroom to field real-time questions from the attendees. The event provided a rich customer experience, gave us a greater appreciation for these brands, and provided us with some key takeaways for engaging customers through virtual events.  

1. “Personal engagement” is still at the forefront. 

First off, nothing can compare or replace the experience of in-person events. People have an innate need to “kick the tires” on new products, pick up physical brochures, or engage with company personnel. Having the opportunity to talk to a product expert before making any major purchase or to ask a specific repair or upgrade question regarding their current product adds to a consumers’ confidence and can increase brand loyalty. Virtual chatrooms allow for valuable one-on-one engagement and accessibility to those product experts, while more detailed conversations can be taken by direct message or offline.   

2. Continue to educate your customers on products, parts, and support information.  

Whether at an in-person event, online, or a virtual event, remember that this is a transfer of knowledge. Shows educate, inform, and entertain. Be sure to plan your messaging and any materials that will be available during the event. Perform a pre-show audit of your marketing materials and keep the customer in mind as you prepare for your event. Prepare your team that will be live on the virtual event, so they are armed with the information and resources to service those customer inquiries. Attendees search out knowledgeable product experts for a variety of questions from service on their existing product to inquiring about a new one. Be sure your team can address their questions or promptly redirect them to someone who can.

3. The actual event is just one tactic in your multi-touch approach.  

Although physical and now virtual events are the highlight, these are just one tactic in your full customer experience. Your customer engagement should include pre-, at-, and post-show tactics and communications that help guide your customer to the best show experience while preparing them for the opportunities that await them. These touchpoints provide learning opportunities way before they attend the actual event and allows attendees to maximize their time to take in more of what your event has to offer. Have a collection process and a plan to communicate with the new leads generated at your event.  

4. Ensure that your website and marketing assets are virtual friendly.  

Your virtual event will no doubt drive traffic to your marketing assets (photos, videos, brochures, collateral) and your online environments (website, social channels, and e-commerce site). Be sure to prepare your materials for that online traffic. Make sure that all materials are updated, easy to find, and mobile-friendly.   

Dynamic content functionality to highlight product features and benefits.

5. Opportunities are still available to engage attendees through promotions and rewards.  

We like to include gamification or other engagement activities in the events that we plan. Each attendee already has a list of their must-see vendors before setting foot on the show floor, however, the goal for trade show marketers is to provide attendees the opportunity to engage with a wide variety of businesses or services all related to their interests. As event marketers, it is our job to balance the attendee experience while meeting the needs of the exhibitors’ sales or marketing goals. There are various tools and tactics to increase the visibility of your exhibitors and to increase the likelihood their booths are visited by attendees. Several virtual event platforms that we’ve had experience with also had similar ways to engage customers. 

As companies continue to adapt, especially in the event space, we can rest assured that there are still options to create meaningful experiences for our customers virtually. Don’t let doubt creep in as you question the efficacy of the experience or the tech-savviness of your audience. There are many platforms available to host your event and agencies that can help your in-house marketing team craft the message and build the overall experience for your attendees. Utilize these virtual opportunities to further the bond between your brand and the customer and give them the experience to remember. 

For more information on creating your trade show experience, see a previously published article on Creating Your Trade Show Experience. Click here

Brunswick Virtual Boat Show Lobby.