Online events—also known as virtual events—are trade shows for the Internet age, offering the benefits of traditional location-based events at significantly lower costs and without requiring exhibitors or attendees to leave their offices.

Online events bring professionals together in a similar way that traditional tradeshows do – through trade show booths within a virtual showroom floor. Virtual trade show popularity is increasing steadily. According to the “2010 Virtual Market Outlook,” published by the Lattanze Center at Loyola University of Maryland, 39% of event marketers anticipate an increase in their virtual meeting and event budget in 2010 and 48% indicated they participated in a virtual trade show.

With industrial professionals now going online for work-related purposes such as research and finding information about suppliers, products, and components, now may be time to add online events to your marketing mix, if you haven’t already. Before you commit to exhibiting at an online event, keep in mind these five tips.

1. Define Your Objectives
Although defining objectives is covered in Marketing 101, a reminder never hurts, especially when you’re investigating a new marketing channel. Are you seeking to position your company as a thought leader, generate leads, raise the visibility of your brand, penetrate new markets?

Understanding your marketing objectives will help you choose the right online event for your needs, and also the correct level of sponsorship. As with traditional trade shows, online events typically offer various sponsorship packages, including premium positions, keynote presentations and more.

2. Integrate Virtual Events into Your Marketing Plan
In many cases, virtual events can supplement traditional trade shows that are part of your regular calendar as well as support other marketing initiatives in your company—for example, new product launches or outreach to new customer segments. Be sure to promote your upcoming presence at an online event in e-mail campaigns, press releases, on your web site, in e-newsletters and in other communications.

3. Prepare Outstanding Content
Spend the time to evaluate your content library to determine what information your audience will find most available. Online tradeshows usually enable you to include a portfolio of downloadable collateral for your audience. Choose your best and most relevant white papers, presentations, articles, case studies, data sheets and other content. Make sure you convert them to PDF format. Consider adding links to videos and other dynamic content as well.

4. Assemble Your “Booth Staff”
While you won’t be able to shake hands with your audience at an online event, you will be able to dynamically interact with customers and prospects through chat, Q&A, and discussions. Assemble a staff of experts who will be at their computers during the event hours and be sure they understand how to use the tools available to them to interact with the audience. It’s a smart idea to have technical staff as well as sales and marketing people to make sure you can answer all of your audience’s questions.

5. Choose the Right Event
The most important tip is to carefully evaluate the online events available to you. Speak with representatives from the company producing the event and ask them about:

  • Audience—how close does the profile of the audience match the type of prospect you want to connect with? What titles are represented? What industries?
  • Reach—what geographic markets will the event draw attendees from? How many attendees are expected?
  • Topic—is the event focusing on topics relevant to your business and your goals?
  • Platform—does the host’s technology platform offer a variety of ways to interact with the audience? Is the platform easy to navigate? Does the platform offer online chat, panel discussions, one-to-one communication, as well as tools for attendees to interact with each other?
  • Promotion—what does the host company do to promote the event and increase attendance? How do they advertise? How many other exhibitors?
  • Support—what type of support does the host company provide in helping you get set up and operating smoothly during the event? What type of support do attendees get?
  • Measurement & Tracking—does the event provide tracking and reporting of attendees’ online activity at your booth so you can discover their area of interest? Do you get complete intelligence reports on attendees with full contact information and other relevant data to help your sales team follow-up and help you measure ROI?

Interested in Online Events? GlobalSpec offers more than 30 full-day virtual events where industrial professionals can learn about new products, technology and applications and gain important and valuable knowledge on news and developments related to their industry and profession – all from their desktop. Download the Exhibitor Kit for details.

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