Digital insight

If you are an early adopter of virtual and 3D technology then you are in good company. According to new research, almost two-thirds of organisers use virtual events to complement live events. Stand Out looks at the latest research…

Forced to contend with a slowly recovering global economy and lingering unemployment, as well as renewed pressure to deliver bottom-line results, corporate marketers and show producers are increasingly integrating digital media into their face-to-face activities.

Findings from the 2010 Digital + Exhibit Marketing Insights report show that respondents are more actively exploring the application of digital media to their events and lining up the tools and talent to capitalise on the opportunities available.

Recently, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) partnered with George P. Johnson to explore the intersection between digital and exhibit marketing, providing data to guide strategy, allocate budget, audit capabilities and benchmark results.

And according to the study, respondents’ use of social media, blogs, virtual events and online video has flourished since 2009. Corporate marketers in particular have embraced online gaming and increased their usage of mobility marketing and RSS over the past year.

B2C organisers use blogs to a much lesser degree than B2B, 35 per cent versus 53 per cent, respectively. B2B organisers (37 per cent) use mobile/text messaging to a lesser degree than their B2C counterparts (45 per cent). Perhaps a marketing opportunity for B2C organisers is to use online video to promote their events, as only 32 per cent use the medium versus 47 per cent of B2B exhibition organisers.

There has been great anticipation, as well as apprehension, for virtual events and the impact they will have on live exhibitions. The data suggests that the industry views the benefits of virtual events as outweighing the potential risks. As might be expected, IT industry respondents report the highest adoption rate of virtual events, with usage among those in the events space coming in a close second.

The potential for significantly reducing travel and event management costs makes virtual particularly valuable to marketers. Using virtual to complement live events and attracting would-be attendees is what appeals most to exhibition producers.

The value of virtual events comes into question, though, when looking at the ability of these events to engage audiences. The majority of respondents feel virtual is only somewhat effective at this task. Interestingly, when asked to compare the effectiveness of virtual exhibitions with face-to-face exhibitions in terms of driving sales conversions, exhibition producers and corporate marketers have similar opinions on the subject, with only one-third of respondents (35 per cent) believing the face-to-face event format is more effective.

Yet what is more telling is how many of those surveyed could not make an evaluation: On average 29 per cent of the sample do not attempt to compare the two event types, 19 per cent simply do not know which is more effective and 16 per cent cannot compare effectiveness because success for the two formats is measured differently.

These findings suggest that more experimentation is needed to develop methods and analytics to determine the effectiveness of virtual events versus traditional exhibition marketing. For now, the perception of cost-savings – not effectiveness – seems to be largely driving the conversation around virtual events, especially for corporate brand-side marketers.

The continued popularity of virtual events, inclusive of such media as 2D/3D environments and webcasts, is seen in the fact that 21 per cent of marketers are spending between 21 per cent and 30 per cent of their exhibition budgets on virtual events.