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The State of Virtual Trade Shows for Manufacturing Companies

We’ve all heard it. In these unprecedented times. Or how about the “new normal” we find ourselves living in? Or let’s really get the eyes rolling with “In these unprecedented times, tradeshows have to adapt to the new normal.”

Still, reading? Good, because I promise we’ll keep this as free of these annoying cliches as we can.

But the reality is, no matter how much we hate those terms, things are different now.

For manufacturing companies, tradeshows have always been a big focal point. Bonuses were made on successful events. To have that pulled out from under a sales and marketing team seemed almost unimaginable.

The same can be said for the organizations putting on the events. The lifeblood of these was coming up with ways to get as many attendees as possible to the events. Sure there has been a digital transformation over the years, but tradeshows weren’t going anywhere any time soon.

Until they had to go away.

With the necessary pivot to online, tradeshow organizations pitched us the benefits:

  • No travel fees
  • No exhibit fees 
  • No fees for promotional items 
  • More attendees from fewer barriers 
  • More data
  • More engagement

All of this could be found from the comfort of your own home/office. Sounds perfect, right?

But is it true? Can you really expect to get more qualified leads by spending less and not traveling anywhere?

Sure the party’s are fun, but leads and exposure are really what you pay for at trade shows. Would this pandemic actually bring on a change that would last well after the pandemic ended?

We had to find out. We help manufacturers get the most out of their marketing. If there were new and improved ways to get leads online, we had to be ready to capitalize on it.

So we surveyed over 2,000 sales and marketing professionals at manufacturing companies to find out what they thought. The results. Well, they were pretty telling about how virtual tradeshows are working.

The most telling stat of the entire survey has to do with leads. Easily the number 1 reason why any manufacturing company goes to a tradeshow.

Overall, have you received more leads compared to in-person trade shows?

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With virtual tradeshows, 96.43% of respondents said they received fewer leads compared to in person. That is a staggering number and a spike right through the heart of virtual tradeshow promoters. No amount of flexible scheduling can make up for a lack of leads. Especially as marketing budgets get tighter with a heavy emphasis on ROI.

Have your leads been more qualified compared to in-person?

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But quantity isn’t everything. And that’s where it gets worse. None of the respondents said the leads were more qualified from virtual than in-person. The only silver lining here is that 42.86% said they were unsure at the time of taking of survey. But even then it’s hard to imagine a significant portion being more qualified.

So now, only two data sets in, we can say that tradeshows get fewer leads both in quantity and quality. Ouch

But at least the software used for virtual tradeshows faired a little better.

How would you rate the technology experience of virtual trade shows?

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With 14.29% of respondents considering the software used good, and 57.14% ranking it as fair, we’ll chalk it up for a win. Even though we might be stretching it a bit for a win since many noted the software was still inconsistent and only 28.57% thought it was actually good.

Would you prefer to attend a virtual trade show compared to one in-person?

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With all of the negative ratings on tradeshows, we were actually surprised to see that 7.14% would prefer to attend a virtual tradeshow compared to in-person. But that had more to do with the flexibility of not having to travel than any business objective.

That is where the bulk of praise lies. In the flexibility. Virtual tradeshows were reported as less expensive and flexible for scheduling. You can also get any information the vendor makes available quickly.

Another benefit of virtual tradeshows that many aren’t capitalizing on is the data trail. With the electronic trail being left by attendance, it opens up a lot of retargeting advertising options to help increase the leads.  This is a benefit we are certain to capitalize on when given the opportunity.

But even then, the face to face connection and personal connections are missing. There are people I consider personal friends that I met at tradeshows. There just isn’t the same connection with an online chat.  No matter how many gifs you use to show your "personality."

Are we suggesting that virtual tradeshows be abandoned?  No, not at all. They can still serve a purpose in your marketing when in-person tradeshows aren’t an option.  But you can’t rely on them to deliver the same results as in-person.

There are better ways to generate leads and position your company within the industry.

Instead of trying to force an offline platform online, focus on the only efforts that are already proven to work.

We have been running digital marketing initiatives and web design for manufacturing companies for over 15 years now and know what works.

2020 was bad enough. Don’t let 2021 be even worse.

Let’s chat.