Hybrid Booths: how to convert leads without attending events
Exhibitors can convert around 40% of leads at exhibitions they don’t even attend in person, an industry leader has explained.
Donna Shaw, chief operating officer of Rego, is part of a team which was forced to rethink how it helps its clients amid an ever changing landscape.
The ongoing uncertainty caused by coronavirus variants has left many organisers concerned about potential restrictions on travel and events.
However, Rego has introduced a service to allow exhibitors to continue to source buyers and make good connections at events – even if they can’t attend.
The company now offers them a hybrid booth service – known as Rego Smartstands – which sees trained managers work on the seller’s behalf.
Donna estimates 19 hybrid booths at one of their four-day shows brought in around 2,000 new leads – with 40% of them converting.
She said: “Part of the Smartstands service is the virtual meetings that we facilitate while we’re live on site.
“We’re absorbing that data and sharing it with exhibitors, post-show.
“If you’re on a stand for four days, you often don’t act on the leads straight away.
“You wait until you get back home and then you have a weekend off because you are tired from the show.
“Then you act on them two weeks later and by then – they’ve gone cold!
“With this model, you are reacting to these leads more immediately and I think that’s why they’re converting and why that return on investment (ROI) is coming in.”
The hybrid booth team can conduct tech demos, arrange appointments, distribute collateral and manage the build-up and break-down of the stand.
There is also a virtual hub which is how the companies are able to act on new leads quickly, rather than following up some time after the event.
Donna added: “The inquiries we’re getting now are showing it’s a genuine alternative, so that’s one way of monetising.”
‘The whole culture of exhibitions remains quite old school’
It comes when exhibitors face potential pandemic-related challenges preventing them from physically attending shows, such as travel restrictions or business operational budgets.
This can be seen in how some air carriers have warned that the spread of the Delta variant is causing a surge in business travel cancellations.
American Airlines is just one among a number of US operators predicting a delay in the return of corporate passengers.
This is on top of the findings of a McKinsey & Company study which found corporate travel could be cut by 20% in future when compared to 2019 levels.
The digital transformation of events was long overdue but was sparked out of necessity when in-person shows were put on hold.
This began with organisers scrambling to replace their physical offerings with lacklustre solutions, however Donna believes the future is bright for innovators who have “embraced” the virtual future.
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She said: “The whole culture of exhibitions remains quite old school. It’s getting better, but it has been a very traditional ethos.
“But it’s that gap between them, getting that mentality to buy in and to understand that we can work together here and we can evolve.
“I think the people that have embraced that are the ones that are going to come out the other side and make this work.”
Now, many leading event producers have seen the benefits which can be brought through digital offerings.
An Event MB State of the Event Industry Survey shows 38% of event professionals said they had experienced an increase in reach through digital and 9% said it gave them “long-term community engagement” – as well as the 10% who said they had found new revenue sources.
However, 9% of event producers still said there were no positives from the switch to virtual.
The survey also found 68% of event professionals claimed future exhibitions would follow a hybrid model and 51% said their in-person events would be smaller.
Only 16% said their shows would be the same size when they return, with 12% saying they would remain virtual.
Donna is among those who believes a hybrid format for our industry is going to continue for the foreseeable future.
She said: “People are getting on board with the whole hybrid thing, there’s no questions around it anymore – I think it’s actually normalising.
“Exhibitions in the next year will be scaled back and will be live, but there’ll be smaller versions with a lot more virtual and hybrid elements.
“I think there’ll be an acceptance that this is the way to go now and it will be hybrid for the foreseeable future.
“People that have evolved and embraced the concept will be better for it.
She added: “You can bring in external skill sets to support your own – you can make your event stand out by doing that as well – there is never a one size fits all in regards to skill and joining of service and suppliers means a streamlined approach to events.”
For more information, here is our complete guide to hybrid events.
This shift does not mean that physical shows will become a thing of the past – rather they will remain the highlight, but can be enhanced through virtual events and engagement.
Those who have been willing to remodel their businesses are now shaping their budgets to be made up of around 25% digital – whereas it is reported to have been closer to 2% in 2020.
Donna gave a number of examples of how virtual formats can be used for monetisation.
This includes having a tiered system of sponsorship packages, with higher levels being offered, more marketing opportunities or a “concierge” service.
Digital’s monetisation opportunities can be heightened through analysing the information collected from physical and virtual attendees.
It can be used to target specific profiles, make connections or suggestions as well study their behaviour to improve shows in future.
B2C marketers have so far been more advanced in using data to understand the importance of behaviour and emotion which can influence buyer decisions.
Those in the top 100 – such as Amazon and eBay – took in £1.92 trillion ($2.67 trillion) over 2020 and a 62% share of worldwide digital sales, according to research from ComprarAcciones.com.
That is an increase of 29% year-over-year in gross merchandise sales, while those for non-marketplace sites grew by 25% over the same period.
Meanwhile, the subscription economy has grown by 437% over nine years, according to Zuora research.
Millennials and those in Gen Z – who are predicted to make up more than 55% of the workforce by 2025 – are more likely to be subscription-based consumers.
For instance, they are more used to watching new blockbusters through a streaming service like Netflix than at a cinema.
‘Organisers are going to have to do much better and have had to learn’
However, Donna warns that an organiser must be “clear” about what a subscription would include as it risks a cancellation if the client realises it is not what they were interested in.
Part of this development is rethinking how teams are built – and the skillsets they have.
Rego has tackled these challenges by operating on a freelance model, however some organisers are building more of a digital-first approach with staffing.
Donna said: “To make it worthwhile, organisers are going to have to do much better and have had to learn.
“There’s a lack of education around what you need for a digital event.
“The way we operate is a freelancer model.
“You may have an organising business that wants to do a virtual exhibition, so they’re going to bring in a specialist agency to do that part of it.
“Then off they go and they carry on with their live bit of the exhibition.
“That’s where you’re seeing production companies and studios popping up within exhibition centres.
“But that capability and skillset isn’t within the traditional organising business, so they’re having to bring it in – it’s an education piece.”
She added: “Now I suppose the question is about when you’re hiring.
“You have to hire someone who’s got tech skills to go through that model and bring them in.
“We have this flexible resource model, because we use sales teams to fill gaps in companies.
“We will use event managers to help support an event, but they’re not on the payroll because we don’t need them all year round.”
The Event MB survey – which had 401 responses from event professionals – found 24% of the respondents raised engagement as the biggest challenge to switching to virtual.
This is important as however the show takes place – physically, virtually or a blend of the two – an organiser’s role is to create experiences.
Donna believes an event producer needs to be more creative when dealing with the traditional model, as our industry has progressed so much in a short time.
For her, it is crucial that the audience is made to feel special.
She said: “People shouldn’t lose sight of the VIP element – people want to feel valued.
“In this industry – events and exhibitions – people still want to be there in person.
“So you have got to make that in-person element really valuable, really important and make people want to attend.
“People need to start thinking a little bit outside the box and make braver choices, put some new ideas in place to encourage the stakeholders.
“It’s not traditional anymore, I think it’s got to be a bit different.
“The organisers that become a bit more creative I think are also the ones that will win.”
Transformation Stories gives organisers exclusive insights from industry leaders about the future of events. For more in the series so far, read here:
- Association events ‘will reinvent’ to meet digital expectations
- Organisers ‘missing out’ on hybrid event monetisation
- Events ‘must adapt to generational shift’ – that means FOMO
- How an online community can nurture ‘next great global thinkers’
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