Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Our Experience as a Vendor at a Virtual Trade Show

In the spirit of “Green Marketing”, RDL attempted something new. We participated in a Virtual Trade Show. We built our trade booth using the tools provided, which was fun since it had the potential of being totally interactive, and times were posted for it to be interactive, with an open chat room for folks going through the booths.

As part of the trade show, visitors can pick up a copy of your brochures and other marketing materials. You can post videos, articles, do a giveaway or be as creative as you wish in terms of what you post at your booth. There is a record of who visits your booth, what they took, and if they left a business card so you can do follow-up. This all sounded like great way for us to reach a larger market.

The Trade Show was to a have an interactive grand opening and then was to be open for 30 days with at least one more “live chat” event. The target market was to be the west coast and, as an added bonus, it was being marketed to the Far East. We purchased the booth through a regional organization that is part of a nationwide organization whose mission is to support small, women-owned businesses. We believed in their ability to follow through on their marketing commitment to the booth holders.

Our experience was dismal to put it kindly. Over the 30 days that became 60 days, only one person who was not part of the sponsoring organization or one of the other vendors visited our booth. They were selling, not buying. The marketing commitment from the sponsoring organization was non-existent, so the only marketing efforts made were those we made using our own traditional marketing outreach tools. In our mind, we had a trade show and no one was invited except our closest friends and colleagues and they had no reason to go. They either already knew us or could check out our website as a link in our marketing materials.

In hindsight, there were flaws in what potentially had some great opportunities. Of course the first one was depending on the sponsoring organization to fulfill their commitment. We were new to the organization and did not know the organization’s reputation for offering great ideas with a total lack of follow-through. Some lessons are hard met. Another flaw was having the site up for too long. It needed to be a short-term, highly publicized event, hopefully tied to another event such as a webinar or other electronic marketing activity.

I am not sure that RDL would do another virtual trade show. It was a costly mistake in terms of time and money for us, but I still think it may be viable tool for marketing a business in our virtual world. I would recommend approaching it carefully in terms of who is sponsoring the site, how it is marketed to others, and who else is part of the show. Our partners were a combination of small service providers and large corporations. It should have been a successful mix.

~ Linda Begbie • Executive Director, RDL enterprises

Ed. Note: Linda’s original post on this topic can be found here.