Behind the Scenes

Treating Vendors Equally: Online Trade Shows

The Covid-19 era, as some would say, has thrown a lot of things for a loop. Now more than ever, have we been using technology to our advantage to connect with people. Everything is online now, whether it’s teaching classes, meetings, and the most significant change of all, online events such as trade shows. The event industry has taken a massive hit during this pandemic, but we aren’t letting that stop us.

Trade shows are probably the most in-person event out there for companies to meet and demonstrate their services and products to prospective buyers. Now with in-person trade shows, each vendor is treated equally. Each vendor pays for their booth space and location with a table and chair included. The rest is up to them to make their booth stand out in the crowd.

How does one do that in the virtual world? Throughout our planning and brainstorming of our trade show, Marketing for Good: Charity Trade Show, we had to develop a way to give each vendor equal spaces. Here is what we have found:

Trade Show Landing Page:

Landing Page for Marketing for Good: Charity Trade Show

When people come to our page, how will they find links to the vendors that we are showcasing? We came up with the idea of thumbnails. Each vendor gets the same sized thumbnail on our landing page, along with a little blurb of who they are.

Why you might ask, well, we want people to know as soon as they “arrive” what we are offering them. We give each vendor an equal opportunity to be picked by the visitor by offering the same description space and thumbnail size.

When looking into where to place the thumbnails, we turned to eye-tracking research. During our search for specific research related to eye-tracking, we found 7 Marketing Lessons from Eye-Tracking Studies. They provided different visuals (how appropriate) on where people’s eyes go first on websites. When there was an image associated with a little blurb, people’s eyes were drawn to the picture first, then the supporting text. We also learned that people follow an “F” pattern when scanning a webpage. They go from left to right, back to the left side, down, then left to right until the page ends. 

We made it so that each vendor could buy their respective thumbnail spots on the landing page, so you still have the feeling of picking your booth location as you do with in-person trade shows. If they decided not to buy a specific spot, their thumbnail location would be picked randomly by our team. The main struggle with an online trade show is having it come across as you still get to travel to each booth and conveying the actions of what you do at an in-person trade show to a virtual one.

Vendor “Booth” Set-up:

Students collaborating on project

If you don’t have a booth, are you really at a trade show? In our case, yes, but the booth isn’t what you think of when someone says trade show booth.

We chose a webpage as our booth. Now creating a booth means all vendors have access to one, so we did exactly that. Each vendor was provided a log-in for their charity’s webpage. We are giving them full reign of the webpage on our website.

We went back and forth on limiting what they could place and link, but we found that it took away from the creative side of designing your “booth” to stand out. We have specific items like the ticker message, the header, and footer that will be the same on all pages, but the rest is up to them.

They each have full access to widgets, embedding links, and so much more to personalize their page to their charity and what they want to showcase. We found this was the best bet because vendors can choose their booth’s objectives, whether it’s gaining donations, getting people to sign-up, bringing awareness, and the list goes on. 

We didn’t want to impede their creativity and design, let alone give them a disadvantage because all the pages would look somewhat the same. We had to make it equal, just as if they were given an empty space of a booth. You don’t see trade show organizers demanding booths to be set up a certain way. They provide the vendors with a blank canvas and say do what you want.

Thinking outside of the box

Creating an equal playing ground for vendors of an online trade show will be challenging because you have to think outside of the box to provide the somewhat of the same experience. Of course, somethings will be different when comparing in-person and online trade shows, but that is just how things are during the Covid-19 era. Creating events for online experiences is a whole new skill set involving problem-solving and creative thinking.

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