Driving into the Future – How to Prepare for Hybrid Trade Shows

Have you ever been walking through a parking lot and suddenly there is a car behind you? You have to do a double-take. Where did it come from? How is it so quiet?

You know where I’m going with this, right? Yep, the parking space stalker is a hybrid.

The United States is now the second-largest market for hybrid vehicles, making up 36% of global sales. For something so quiet, hybrid vehicles sure have revolutionized the auto industry.

If you’ve paid 30-seconds of attention to the event industry over the past year, it isn’t surprising that hybrid is sneaking up on us too. There is no doubt face-to-face interaction is invaluable, but virtual events are not going away. It’s time to find a way to work them into our exhibit strategy.

Merge into the carpool lane: accepting hybrid events as the future.

If you’ve ever spent time in Los Angeles, you know the carpool lanes are incredibly popular. To use them you must have 2+ passengers. There is an exception – hybrid cars. Hybrids receive an exempt sticker, worn like a badge of honor on their bumper. The solo carpool lane drivers are envied as they fly by the rest of the suckers stuck in traffic. They get where they’re going faster and probably don’t suffer from commute PTSD.

Your event strategy isn’t that different than a hybrid car. In-person events are the gasoline engine, tried and true. Virtual events are the electric motor, new and efficient.

Once you accept the merger between classic and cutting edge, you’ll get your exempt sticker to drive solo in the carpool lane. You’ll generate new leads and boost your ROI faster than competitors stuck in old ways.

Are you ready for a car payment: how to know if hybrid exhibiting is for you.

How do you approach buying a car? Most people walk into the dealership, ready to stand their ground with the salesperson. Right or wrong, we’re conditioned to believe dealers don’t have our best interest in mind; it’s easy to get caught up in being standoffish. The important part is asking the right questions.

Chances are you’re seeing news of venues reopening and are asking “why bother” with hybrid events; let’s just go back to in-person. Stop for a minute and consider this:

  • Many attendees are still unwilling or unable to return in-person
  • International travelers may not be allowed to enter the United States yet

There are benefits to having different event formats. Going virtual opens a show to a larger, possibly global audience. It gives show managers new revenue to underwrite recovery (i.e., more options than jacking up exhibitor or sponsor rates.)

You must decide if the reasoning and objectives for a hybrid event match your goals. To keep up the car analogies (we’ve gone this far!), it’s like deciding whether to trade in a fully paid-off car to take on a payment. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your target demographic likely to attend online or in-person?
  • Can your business model handle a larger audience?
  • Does your team, and budget, have the capacity to handle two event types at the same time?

If you’re confident you’re ready, it’s time to take a test drive (yes, we’re still running with the car theme 😊.)

Don’t buy a lemon: collect the correct information from the beginning.  

Ask show management the tough questions about your virtual and in-person exhibit options

Raise your hand if you grill the car salesperson.  

It’s no different when you’re considering a hybrid exhibit or sponsorship. Do not be afraid to ask show management hard questions; your money is on the line!

Here are some to consider:

  • Are online and in-person sponsorships separate? What’s the cost difference?
  • How will traffic be driven to exhibits (online and in-person)?
  • Is there a way to interact with attendees outside of the online booths?
  • What online platform are they using? Can you have a demo of the platform?
  • What post-event metrics are they providing? How are they compensating online exhibitors for in-person lead retrieval?
  • Will you receive a complete attendee list at the end of the event?
  • How much booth traffic should I anticipate?
  • Is there a way to contact attendees in advance of the event?
  • Amongst attendees, what is the ratio of decision-makers to influencers?
  • Can you provide a breakdown in attendee demographics (C-suite, role, etc.)

These are the base model questions (stop questioning our love of cars!) You will likely have more event-specific or customized questions for your business.

Driving off the lot: getting started planning a hybrid event.

As you begin to map your route to success, consider these factors.

Define staff roles.

When you were deciding if you wanted to trade in your paid-off ride, you believed your team was ready to handle two event formats.

Begin by listing all in-booth and virtual activities, then decide on everyone who should be involved.  From there, ask these questions:

  • What skills does our team have?
  • Do those skills work for in-person or virtual events? Could they roll with both?
  • How many people do we need to handle the in-person booth?
  • What activities are we hosting online?
  • Who can moderate the online attendee questions during a presentation to keep them engaged?
  • Who can best handle online demos vs. in-person demos?

At this point, you should be able to gauge if one team can handle it all or if you’ll need in-person and virtual teams. You may need to duplicate roles to focus on a single format or replace a team member (to be clear, don’t fire anyone, just don’t assign them to this event.)  AND don’t forget to consider outsourcing or freelancers – there’s a ton of great talent out there right now.

Tweak visuals.

Virtual platforms have come a long way in the past 12 months – use the new features to your benefit! Trying to shoehorn in-person messaging into a virtual event will give you a flat tire. Do a comprehensive review of your graphics and collateral. Will they work for both formats? Do you need different versions? At the very least, you’ll need to reorient your graphics for the screen.

Are you presenting a session? Whether it’s live or pre-recorded, make sure the message you’re delivering aligns with your exhibit space. If you pre-record content, consider hosting a live Q&A to make virtual attendees feel present.

Upgrade features.

Make sure you take advantage of any online booth addons offered. These might include videos, weblinks, or collateral uploads. Yes, they’ll cost more, but they go a long way in boosting your visibility. Speaking of visibility, make sure you add color to your branding and put your logo in a prominent location. Oh, we cannot forget gamification! Don’t leave that to the show manager. Run your own game and give away opportunity.

Going the distance: determining post-event success.

Congratulations, your hybrid strategy has completed its first road trip. How do you know if you got the best mileage?

Like any event, understanding your ROI is essential. You don’t have to throw out traditional sponsorship metrics – they can be used for in-person and virtual exhibits.

Consider the following:

  • Did your booth traffic meet expectations? How many people came through the exhibit both in-person and online?
  • How long did they stay? (hint: dwell time is a great indicator of the likelihood to purchase.)
  • How many areas of the exhibit did they visit?
  • Did they come back for a second visit?
  • Who showed up online vs. in-person? (i.e., which format did decision-makers or influencers attend?)
  • Create a pre-and post-show attendee survey to gauge awareness and sentiment of your brand and products. Bonus points if you add an unboxing experience as an incentive.

You’ll also want to review your costs. Think about these things:

  • What was the cost spent on virtual vs. in-person (consider monies spent on messaging, upgrades to virtual booths, in-person booth construction, staff travel, overtime paid to the online team, etc.)
  • Track where qualified leads came from. Did the people in-person show more interest, or was the online interaction just as good or even better? Use this to tune up your cost per lead.

Don’t get lost tracking measurement. Make sure you keep the momentum going by using post-event engagement. Send detailed information, customize collateral to attendee needs, or mail small gifts to make sure people feel special.

Your batteries are charged: time to embrace hybrid events.

The truth is hybrid didn’t just sneak up on the automotive industry (the first car was in 1900 – not even kidding – leave it up to Porsche), and it’s not silently sneaking up on the events industry either.

It’s time to leave the charging station! Pull out your hybrid strategy and run both engines. If you’re wondering how to get started, EDE can help! Reach out to menashej@edecorp.com today and find out how EDE can put together your custom roadmap.

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