Virtual Trade Shows - CRHWA
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Trade Show Floor

Virtual Trade Shows

The invitation was in my inbox this morning. Registration was now open!  The Spring (Market, Reunion, Show) is fast approaching and just around the corner. 

As we near what will be an entire year of virtual trade shows and the accompanying promotion I can’t help but wonder if I am the only one that doesn’t really get it. Am I missing something? What exactly am I supposed to do at a virtual show?

In the fall, I attended three events including The National Hardware Show and without exception the experiences were flat. All of these virtual gatherings seemed to be working from the same playbook which was to maintain the appearance, fanfare and promotion of an in person event. Yet, never did I feel like I actually attended anything. 

Sure, I could contact vendors, set up meetings, look at their specials but, I could do that on my own too. I don’t think that captures the true value of a seasonal show. Often the greatest takeaway from attending markets is the surprise discoveries, the unscheduled and unexpected conversations and booth visits.

At one event, I came close to replicating the new discovery experience when I tried the live chat feature. This looked promising, it had the potential to encourage some real impromptu conversation. However, the technology was flawed making for some awkward and confusing exchanges. As I entered a vendor’s booth the staff would be alerted which allowed them to contact me via the chat. It didn’t however alert them when I left a booth so I was frequently contacted minutes later from one vendor while visiting another. Not realizing this, my questions and responses didn’t make sense to anyone. The idea was sound but the application only added to the confusion.

I am also baffled by the limited time frame, and need to register for many of these events.  A key element present at a virtual show versus a physical one is the ability to accommodate the attendee when it best suits them. Instead we are asked to jump through hoops with “special events”, show hours, and needless deadlines. With the exception of live meetings, which often are just extra long, brand specific sales pitches, all education content should be recorded and made available on-demand and not behind a paywall which is exactly what one large distributor has done with past sessions. 

 Despite the promises of more, bigger, and better as we move into the spring season, I don’t think many of us believe the hype. I’m not looking forward to any upcoming virtual show. My impression of v-shows falling short was recently confirmed by one executive who admitted engagement for their fall show, outside of ordering, did come up short of expectations. Although, his description used different choice words. Another interesting revelation, the sales manager of a national mid-sized manufacturer, asked about their recent appearance at The National Hardware Show wasn’t even aware his company participated as an exhibitor.

What has been your experience with virtual markets. Are you excited about the upcoming show season? Did I just miss the boat? Let me know, share your comments. I’m especially curious to hear more from the vendor community. 

I’ll see you at the show.

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