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Virtual Events - Creating a Digital Trade Show

The current health emergency is forcing companies and individuals to rise to the challenge of maintaining normality. With a large proportion of marketing budgets allocated to event initiatives, businesses recognise their importance in providing a platform to demo, educate, relationship-build, sell and inform. But what happens when events are forced to cancel? It’s time to embrace the virtual event…


It’s an unprecedented time for event management, as the world comes to terms with the speed of change and the information overload that comes with a global pandemic. Early decisions to cancel high-profile events such as Mobile World Congress have been echoed by a host of big names. This includes Google’s developer conference and SXSW, and this is the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of smaller but well-attended events have been cancelled too.

It is increasingly clear, given the closure of international borders and suspension of many flights, as well as regional and national ‘lockdowns’, that events will continue to be cancelled or, at the very least, rescheduled. To-date, according to IABM data, seven out of twenty-one trade shows in APAC alone have been rescheduled until the second half of the year.

That might seem like a depressing picture, and it is indeed a grave situation. But there are some positive notes to be taken. Events continue to be valued as opportunities for industry peers to meet, discuss and network. And they’re still essential for absorbing the latest thinking and thought leadership from keynotes, round tables and the like.

This valuation is literally borne out in marketing budgets at all scales, where a significant proportion of spend is allocated to tradeshows and conferences. In addition, there is still budget in the market, whether deferred or not, making the hosting of virtual events desirable on several fronts.

How to solve the communication conundrum

Although the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus in particular will remain a significant business concern for some time to come, the wider value of business continuity planning has also been highlighted.

Savvy marketers are pursuing virtual events

Helen Aboagye, CMO of Imagen, recently captured the mood: “Marketing leaders must be in tune with the issues their business and industry face. The key to managing through a crisis is being nimble and prepared.

“Take, for example, the rolling list of major conferences canceled due to the evolving COVID-19 situation, from the Adobe Summit to SXSW.  Savvy marketers and would-be exhibitors aren't sitting back – they are proactively looking for ways to salvage the investments they've made in these conferences. Crucially, this includes shifting their events or meetings to digital, video-based formats. This requires the right infrastructure to host, manage and share live, and archived video content.”

In many ways, the event industry has already been heavily involved in digital innovation, so pivoting in this direction makes perfect sense. Much of the pre-event marketing and post-event followup has had a significant digital weighting for some years. In addition, businesses providing digital materials for events have seen a real upswing of late. Indeed, given the clear benefits and cost-effectiveness of primarily digital communication, it is no surprise at all that many businesses are on the front foot, exploring virtual events and digital trade shows as more than just a stopgap.

Marketing for digital success

One of the best performing marketing methods is to leverage an existing diary note for a key industry event and invite thought leaders to collaborate on a podcast under the same branding. This medium can work particularly well when amalgamating pre-recorded presentations and live or roundtable format discussions (which participants can dial into remotely, of course).

Similarly the established format of the webinar has a lot to offer, especially with the ability to replay (or restart) the event from the beginning, allowing more flexible engagement. This flexibility is also helpful for more internationally-focused events, where time zones can be a factor. 

It is particularly important for event managers with an established event to act as quickly as possible to capture the appetite of their audience. For example, instead of a simple mailout to explain that an event has been pushed back a few months, a more proactive approach is to send a version that delivers links to digital assets along with a webinar. This can also include key messaging around the new virtual event or physical event date to garner increased traction. Video reach outs - ideally personalised - can also deliver fantastic results when well targeted. These also add that all-important human touch so that people can ‘put a face to the name’.

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The power of universal access

For imminent events, many video assets, scripts and presentations will already have been completed. So, repurposing these assets for virtual events makes perfect sense.

Indeed, Imagen’s Plan B platform has been proving very popular in this regard, offering the ability to immediately create a branded portal to host video presentations, interviews and clips. Access to this content can be controlled on a very granular level, so VIPs or sponsors can access premium content that is invisible to standard delegates, for example. In addition, the platform is browser-based, so any attendee with a desktop can participate, while any speaker or contributor can upload assets for approval from any computer too.

Granular virtual events create new opportunities

Speaking of granular approaches, it’s worth bearing in mind that by creating a new digital trade show, this effectively creates a new product to take to market. There has been a trend of late to offer lower cost attendee packages for digital access. For example, Hubspot does this for 20% of the price of attending the physical conference. The ability to easily create free, digital-only and premium packages enables you to maximise engagement, literally providing something for everyone.

We need to rise to the challenge and the show must go on(line). However, this should not be seen as a negative response, but the opportunity to build a new brand-appropriate and valuable product that will complement and enhance future events. So, try tp stay positive, remain proactive and consider bringing your audience together virtually. That means embracing the many opportunities of the virtual event today.


Imagen is a ready-made solution to deliver your content to registered attendees online as a consequence of event cancellations. Discover how our solution could help your event team make use of the great content they had intended to share at events this year that could otherwise go to waste.

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