Behind the Scenes

Buy It or Build It? Trade Show Platforms

When a long silence follows the question “what’s our budget?” it doesn’t take me long to start building a no-cost-low-cost solution in my head.

But I still wanted to see what was out there.

The first step in deciding whether to buy a platform on which to host Marketing for Good or whether to built it was to figure out what features we wanted our vendors to be able to access. We started by listing out the things we could think of off the top of our heads:

  • Live video/chat
  • Easy to build buttons/outbound links
  • Customization of look and feel
  • Downloadable media
  • A way for visitors to be able to browse the “booths”

Then I set about figuring out what platform(s) offered this and what they cost, and how much time and effort it would require to build a free(ish) platform that could do the same.

There are many platforms – more now, I think, due to the pandemic – including INXPO, vFairs, 6connex, Hexafair, and more, that offer most or all of the things that I was looking for.

INXPO is a platform that has been around for a while. With its live-streaming service, it excels at presentation elements like keynote and breakout sessions, which can be presented live or as “watch on-demand”.

VFairs is geared towards online conferences, but can also do trade shows, and job fairs. Its trade show offering provides customizable booths that are designed to look like actual booths on a trade show floor that attendees can visit.

6Connex‘s virtual event platform is specifically designed for virtual trade shows and job fairs. It offers a ‘Sims’-like experience of walking though the different parts of a convention centre. Each exhibit booth appears as an image on the screen, and it can be customized to include brand materials. Some interactive features are missing, such as live video chatting.

Hexafair is the only tool on this list that focuses on being a tool for virtual trade fairs and expos; though you could certainly use it for conferences as well. The platform includes booths that attendees can interact with and even review in real time. It has that ‘Sims/Second Life’ feeling through its avatar-based interaction as well. It too does not offer live video demonstrations.

Each of these, while feature-packed and good platforms, was quickly ruled out for the purpose of Marketing for Good because they have, well, a cost that’s not zero and we have a budget that is. So, it then became a conversation about what do we sacrifice from these brass-ring offerings to be able to still have an engaging, informative trade show without spending any money.

Building a virtual world, with an avatar that attendees can use to walk around in, would have been amazing, but it’s just not feasible on a zero dollar budget, so that was the first thing to go, but as we look into other options and solutions – and we got a little innovative with it – we realized that it was also almost the only thing we had to sacrifice. We could offer most of the other things we wanted for our vendors, without costing any money.

Marketing for Good runs on the WordPress platform and uses a number of high-powered plugins to make it work. Since we couldn’t be sure of our vendors’ technical skill with website building we’ve included Elementor as a page-building tool for them to create and customize their virtual booth. This includes widgets that allow them to embed video, chat, documents, links, downloadable, games, and much more at the click of a button.

A bit of tech-savvy and some light coding has allowed us to create a guided-tour linking system that will take attendees from one booth to the next through the trade show on the day, to help ensure that all our vendors get maximum exposure. And one of the more creative – and dare I say edging on innovative – things that we’ve decided to do is to have emcees hosting a live video throughout the trade show where they will talk about what’s happening in the booths, the purpose of the trade show, and the outcomes being achieved as they happen. We believe that this little-bit-extra will drive up engagement, enjoyment, and interaction with our vendors and their chosen charities.

It now seems like it was an easy choice to build our own platform on which to run Marketing for Good, but it really wasn’t. A lot of thought went into it, and there were many nervous comments when we tentatively settled on the idea.

But sometimes innovation requires you to jump in with both feet and find the solutions to the challenges you’re presented with. And that is the common thread you will find in these pages, whether on this blog where we discuss the behind the scenes of the trade show, or on the vendors’ pages where they work to do right by their charities in a virtual world, or with the charities themselves and the challenges faced by our community that each one of them is tackling head-on in its own way.

Please register to join us and our vendors on November 26th, to experience the fruits of our innovative labour, and consider giving a little something back to one of the charities doing good work in hard times.

And also enter to win a prize. That’s worth it, too!

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