Virtual fairs: Isolated solutions vs. long-term strategy

Virtual fairs have been around for years as a digital alternative to real trade fairs – but so far they have not been able to establish themselves. It was not until the shutdown of the Covid-19 pandemic that they became increasingly popular. From a strategic perspective, however, the question now arises as to whether this is a short-term phenomenon or a long-term development. This analysis is crucial to the question of whether virtual fairs require an isolated solution or long-term strategy in the marketing mix.

Virtual fairs – short-term phenomenon or long-term development?

Looking at this issue under the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is not only scientifically incorrect, but also dangerous from a business perspective. The motives for virtual trade fairs are too different and the feedback on the success of virtual trade fairs is just as varied.

If you want to make a well-founded decision, virtual fairs must be placed in the context of global and long-term marketing developments. Probably one of the most central changes in marketing is the trend towards inbound marketing or content marketing. This trend is analogous to the change in user behavior: users want to inform themselves about products and make a well-founded purchase decision themselves. The times of active selling are over. Marketing and sales are becoming the customer’s advisors along the customer journey.

The contribution that virtual fairs and real fairs can provide to the customer journey is therefore crucial to determining the strategy. This also directly implies that it is not an “either-or” decision – rather, the strengths and weaknesses must be weighed against each other and the strategic use of the two supposed alternatives must be planned accordingly.

Customer Journey – Digital vs. Physical Touchpoints

A very good introduction to the question is to look at the customer journey in terms of digital and physical touchpoints.

The customer-journey view has gained in importance in the context of online marketing. The reason for this is not that people in offline marketing have not thought about the customer journey, but rather because of the easier tracking of touchpoints in the digital world.

The visualization of the touchpoints makes it clear that there are generally fewer physical than digital touch points. The ongoing trend towards digitization is further accelerating this. A look at city centers illustrates this development in the area of store touchpoints (retail trade). However, this growing imbalance can also be a possible explanation for the positive development of the live communication sector (trade fairs & events) in recent years.

If real trade fairs are “replaced” by virtual trade fairs, further physical touchpoints disappear. This means that virtual fairs are just another digital touchpoint and cannot replace the physical touchpoint “real fair”.

Virtual fair: Standalone vs. Hybride

The previous section has shown that replacing real fairs with virtual fairs in both the isolated solution and long term strategy cannot replace physical touchpoints. So if “virtual fairs” are to be used sensibly, they must necessarily be a sensible supplement to “real fairs” and cannot be considered separately.

The advantages and disadvantages of the respective formats must always be considered in the context of the customer journey (see section 1).

The following thoughts serve this purpose:

  • Real trade fairs take place at a certain time, at a certain place and are limited to a certain period of time.
  • Naturally, the contacts of our target group are in different phases of the customer journey. Due to the restrictions (fixed time & limited time frame) the real event can only reach a part of the target group in terms of the customer journey.
  • Virtual fairs (digital events) therefore have the potential to compensate for the limitations of the real trade fair (time and place).

The following applies to the use of virtual fairs:

  • The virtual fair must extend the duration of the real trade fair and thus provide the content on a long-term basis.
  • Access to the content must be made available to the target group in every phase of the customer journey.
  • The virtual trade fair must be a fixed and long-term component of the customer journey.

Institutionalization of virtual fairs in the Customer Journey

The last section showed that the virtual trade fair as a supplement to the real trade fair makes a useful contribution to the customer journey, as it provides the content on a long-term basis (content marketing).

At the same time, however, the strategy for virtual trade fairs must also fulfill the following requirements: (AMICO model)

  • Authority: The content of the virtual trade fairs must be under the company’s own sovereignty and control.
  • Measurable: The success of the virtual and real trade fairs must be measurable and transparent to the target group.
  • Integrated: The content of the virtual trade fair must be seamlessly integrated with the existing content.
  • Connected: The system must be able to “talk” to communication tools via interfaces
  • Ongoing: The content of the virtual trade fair must be permanently available.

Software architecture according to the AMICO model

To implement the requirements of the AMICO model, the following requirements must be fulfilled by a virtual event platform.

  • Authority: The platform must be under control of the own marketing or event department.
  • Measurable: The platform must generically measure, analyze and report the performance of all events.
  • Integrated: The platform must be integrated into the existing marketing software infrastructure.
  • Connected: The platform must be able to connect to all available communication services.
  • Ongoing: The platform must be able to host the content prior, during and after virtual or hybrid events.

A corresponding architecture can therefore only be achieved by seamlessly integrating plug-ins into existing content marketing architectures.

In order to correctly implement the requirements of the AMICO model, virtual trade fairs should therefore not be used as an ad hoc isolated solution, but rather integrated into the existing content marketing strategy on a long-term basis.

The leading solution for this strategy is the VirtualShow plugin from Expocloud. The plugin is compatible with the common CMS systems such as Drupal, Typo3, Hubspot, Magento and many more. With the plugin, 2D as well as 3D rooms can be seamlessly integrated into existing online presences and all elements of the rooms can be easily linked to existing content of the content strategy.

This approach has the following key advantages:

  • CAD models of showrooms, exhibition stands or even just exhibits can be imported directly into VirtualShow and thus integrated into the existing website.
  • Existing content does not need to be specially prepared or exported for virtual trade fair stands or virtual trade fairs, but can be directly linked.
  • This extends the visiting time of your own website and sends a positive signal to Google for “valuable content”.
  • Visitors are not directed to other platforms, but spend “their time” directly on the page of the “exhibiting company”.
  • The virtual space thus complements the content strategy with additional, valuable content.

Summary of virtual fairs

  • Virtual fairs will not replace real trade fairs in the long term. Rather, they represent a meaningful supplement to real events.
  • Virtual fairs have the central advantage over real trade fairs: they are independent of time and place. They therefore have the potential to be available as content to all interested parties at the entire customer journey.
  • Virtual fairs should therefore be integrated strategically into the content strategy on a long-term basis. In doing so, the specifications of the AMICO model should be observed: Authority (under own control), Measurable, Integrated, Connected, Ongoing
  • Virtual fairs are therefore usefully implemented with a plug-in in the existing content marketing software. In this way, the existing content can be easily and sensibly linked with spatial models.

Dr. Christian Coppeneur-Gülz CEO, expocloud GmbH
After studying business administration in Vallendar , Rome and Los Angeles, Christian Coppeneur Gülz earned his doctorate in business informatics and information management at the WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management.
With the goal of supporting the event and booth building industry, in November 2018 he founded the expocloud GmbH. With a focus on digitization and automation in live communication. he developed „ Expocloud “, the leading event resource management (ERM) platform. Whether multi platform system or automated visitor
tracking on events, his pioneering spirit is revolutionizing the industry.

Dr. Christian Coppeneur Gülz is a sought after keynote speaker and regularly gives lectures on digital transformation in live communication.
Dr. Christian Coppeneur Telephone +49 (0) 2472 991055 Mobile +49 (0) 178 9099100 Email christian.coppeneur [email protected]