Technology has taken over the world of trade shows, and based on what we’ve seen in 2021 so far, we’re not close to returning to pre-pandemic exhibitions. In fact, some analysts say that we will never return to the pre-pandemic trade show model anytime soon and that the future of events is hybrid. In the past year, exhibitors have discovered that they can still do networking and promote their products via a virtual booth and that this option is much more convenient and affordable than live events.
Even though the economy is slowly recovering, most organizations are still quite cautious about spending their budget, and attending a live event is definitely a big splurge. Before the pandemic, the general consensus was that the splurge was worth it. After all, that’s how business was done. Businesses needed to be present at large industry events to gain exposure, generate leads and promote their products. It wasn’t cheap, but visitors attended trade shows in large numbers, so there was at least the satisfaction of a big payoff.
But now, a big question mark hangs over this payoff.
If visitors are skeptical about returning to live trade shows, then is it worth exhibiting, especially considering that you can achieve the same results and even more with a virtual booth?
Live event costs vs. virtual booth costs.
Attending a live event is one of the most expensive forms of marketing. According to data from the Trade Show Institute, the average exhibitor spends 40% of their budget on the exhibit (designing it and renting the booth space) and 20% on travel, accommodation, and entertainment. The costs of renting booth space vary depending on the country and the event organizer, but, on average, a 10x10 booth space can cost as much as €14,000. For large event hubs like London, Hannover, or Las Vegas, the price can get much higher when there’s a large convention in town, and if you rent booth space at the last minute, there will be surcharges.
Other costs associated with live events include:
Designing and building your physical booth. an average 10x10 booth costs between 10 to 20K €. Many exhibitors used to purchase their booths and have them stored by their exhibit booth agency/builder, in order for them to be re-used at every event and to spare on designing/building costs. These exhibitors realized that they spent money for storing their booths twice in 2020 and in 2021 without being able to use them at all, so they are quite skeptical to pay for booth storage in 2022, considering that booths get naturally damaged and outdated in two-three years and that live event outlook for 2022 and after are gloomy.
Food & Accommodation. Ideally, you should book accommodation as close as possible to the event location, but that’s usually more expensive. Employees must also be paid for attending the trade show, including a daily quota for food/drinks.
Logistics. You have to ship your products to the event’s location. If you want to exhibit heavy machinery and/or your products are extremely fragile and require special shipping conditions, the costs can be astronomical, especially when factoring in insurance, storage, and private security officers at the venue.
On-site promotion. This includes printing promotional materials, the costs of giveaways and/or samples, as well as the food and drinks offered to the visitors, the possible party organized at the booth with a DJ or band, etc.
Opportunity costs. This is the time you used to waste traveling or waiting for the visitors at your booth, which could have been converted into money otherwise.
Impact on the environment. In the past few years, everyone has become increasingly aware of the high carbon footprint of trade shows. For example, one single trade show means hundreds of thousands of passengers flying to the other side of the Earth just for a few days. Building an exhibit booth requires lots of natural resources, which end up being discarded as soon as the event ends, generating incredible amounts of waste. More and more brands are advocating for sustainability, and the shift to digital events is likely to help them reach their goals.
In comparison, virtual booths don’t have these high financial requirements. They are a one-time investment, meaning that you only pay once for their development, and then you can use them all-year-round, wherever you want, including:
On your website
On your social media pages
Integrated into digital event platforms, as you can see in this example.
Check out this blog post for more ideas on how to integrate a virtual booth into your marketing strategy.
Virtual booths have no usage limitations. You can use them whenever and however you want, and you don’t have to build a new booth for each event.
Virtual booths are multi-language. This way, you can localize your booth and use it to generate leads during international events. You don’t have to worry about high travel costs, paying for accommodation, having your products shipped, or printing brochures. You can also update the content at any time, at no cost. This way, as you join several digital events, you can leverage your virtual booth and have your content up to date.
Compared to the costs of physical trade shows, creating a virtual booth is much more affordable, and you get a higher ROI.
Factors that influence virtual booth costs
The costs of a virtual booth vary depending on its complexity and the features you want to add:
Design: Digital exhibitors can either use booth templates, where the designs have already been created and which will only require a brand customization by using the exhibitor's logo, banners and colors, or personalized booths, in which case the designs will be created from scratch and based on the designs they used at brick-and-mortar events.You can also start with a small template design then upgrade after you see how it works.
Content: you can add videos, PDF files, Brochures, 3D animations (i.e., the 3D model of a product), and more. Also, updating digital content on a virtual booth is as easy and free as a mouse click, as opposed to brick-and-mortar booths requiring screens to be rented/purchased, or flyers to be printed.
Communication systems: you can integrate live chat, video, audio, live guided tours, direct meeting organization. You can now guide your visitors remotely, and neither of you has to spend any money into travel, food and accommodation
With virtual booths, returns are easier to track. You can integrate Google Analytics and find out how many people are visiting your booth, where they are coming from, how much time they spent on your booth, what content they interacted with, and you can also measure leads. Meanwhile, with live events, these things are harder to track, and you won’t know if all those high costs paid off.