Tom Reynolds, chief executive of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association, shares his thoughts on how we can all get the most out of virtual trade shows and why it's vital we make efforts to take part.
Big trade shows are still an important part of the KBB marketing mix. They provide unique opportunities to showcase product, launch new lines, get instant feedback from customers, and generate leads. But like so much of our usual business activity, trade shows have been upended by COVID-19.
Back in September Messe Frankfurt announced that, due to tightening travel restrictions by Governments around the world and pandemic-related uncertainties, ISH would be digital only in 2021. A few weeks later BMA’s partners in the USA, NKBA, had to make a similar decision on their annual show, KBIS. I spoke to their chief executive Bill Darcy a few days beforehand and we relayed news of a home improvement bounceback on both sides of the Atlantic. The challenge is to ensure that positive momentum isn’t lost with the mothballing of key gatherings like KBIS and ISH.
Let’s address something head-on – online events are not as engaging as the traditional trade show. If you’re travelling to an event as an attendee you’re going to be more emotionally and financially invested and will want to make it worthwhile. The cost of participating in an online event is minimal in comparison, so “tuning-out” is more likely. Despite this, my appeal to retailers, specifiers and designers is to stick with it as digital events are improving all the time and becoming more immersive experiences.
The beauty of trade shows is the chance discussions that take place between attendees and exhibitors when walking the floor. By comparison, those encounters are more difficult in the online environment, so I’d encourage all participants to actively utilise chat functionality. Be cognisant that everyone is getting to grips with the virtual show, so if someone comes across as a banal chat-bot give them the benefit of the doubt. The chances are, if you respond frankly and ask questions of your own, you can have fruitful discussions. Exhibitors should be mindful too, not to ‘scattergun’ connection requests, but be targeted. Attendees can help with this by completing their profile and stating what they are at the show to learn.
For exhibitors at a digital trade show, it is a must to disrupt the attention of the participant. At an ordinary trade show, you do this by having an extraordinary stand. In the digital world you need to do this by having extraordinary video assets and downloadable content. If you are leading breakout sessions or seminars, the title should be snappy and engaging – even controversial – to attract attention. Gamification is a way to engage and increase stay-time.
Looking at the light of the end of the tunnel, physical events will return. I would predict the return to semi-normality will start with small national trade shows. Smaller industry conferences may be able to run even sooner, such as BMA’s annual conference on 7th-8th June 2021. In some shape or form, digital and hybrid events are here to stay so collectively, we must make them work.