The jury is back in, and the consensus is that virtual will not replace face-to-face…

Here is an interesting piece on Face-to-Face vs. Virtual Marketing approaches written by Rayna Katz.

The Digital + Exhibit Marketing Insights 2010 report is available for download at

Corporate brand marketers and exhibition management personnel are deploying digital media much more now than before, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research’s 2010 Digital + Exhibiting Marketing Insights report. And after using digital tools, many in the industry understand how such offerings can augment face-to-face events, rather than hinder them.

However, people have only scratched the surface when it comes to taking advantage of digital tools. Plus, the vast majority of users are not measuring the impact of such technology. So there are changes ahead as the industry looks to these tools more.

Almost half of respondents, 46 percent, said they have increased the use of digital media in event promotion over the past year. That is with good reason: 78 percent believe digital marketing increases the effectiveness of exhibit promotion.

Yet when asked what digital marketing tools they use, about 95 percent of respondents are relying primarily on the most basic apparatus: e-mail. By contrast, tools like RSS feeds, SMS/MMS (or text messaging), and online games are used only by at most half of respondents, and in some cases less than 10 percent.

“Marketers are comfortable with e-mail,” notes Cathy Breden, executive director, CEIR. “It is easy to send branded messages to targeted audiences and it is inexpensive. Plus, with the right tools, it is easy to see how many e-mails were delivered, opened, etc.”

Co-produced by The Jordan Edmiston Group and with the support of the Event Marketing Institute, this report was created to help the exhibition industry, brand side exhibitors and producers of exhibitions make better decisions about deploying digital, social and virtual media as crucial components of modern exhibit portfolios.

Whatever digital tools they put in place, show marketers are seeing the upside and getting past preconceived notions about the downside. Almost three-quarters (70 percent) of exhibit management personnel, and 53 percent of corporate brand marketers said they use virtual events to complement live programs. Just five percent, in both categories, said they use virtual to replace face-to-face events.

Marketers also said virtual shows are not nearly as effective for making sales as live events. About one-third of both exhibit management and corporate brand staffers called in-person events more successful for sales conversions. When asked if virtual events are more successful, a negligible three percent of corporate brand side respondents said yes; no exhibition management survey takers answered affirmatively.

“The jury is back in, and the consensus is that virtual will not replace face-to-face,” Breden declares. “Organizations will continue exploring virtual to complement their in-person event and/or extend it to a year-round community.”

“Nearly all show marketing respondents are finding digital to be effective for attendee engagement though. An overwhelming 89 percent of exhibition management and production staff, and 94 percent of corporate brand personnel said virtual events are either “very” or “somewhat” effective for audience engagement. However, about one-quarter of all respondents admitted they do not have a cohesive digital marketing strategy. That approach raises too many questions,” Breden says.

“If you do not know what your end goal is, how do you know you have achieved it? Are you looking to extend brand awareness, build community, generate leads, maybe increase sales? And how will those goals be measured?”

For many show teams, that remains unanswered. When asked if they could quantify the return on investment for their social media tactics, 67 percent of corporate brand marketers, 73 percent of business-to-business, and 65 percent of business-to-consumer respondents said no.

But the tools exist, notes Breden. “With e-mail and Web sites, analytics are readily available to provide information. They can track those that received an e-mail and clicked through to register for an event.” The same is true with Web sites, but social media is tougher to track, she says.

Along the ROI front, 44 percent of corporate brand marketers indicated a high ROI for online advertising, Breden notes. “That is a revenue opportunity show organizers should not ignore.”

The Digital + Exhibit Marketing Insights 2010 report is available for download at The report was made possible by a generous grant from the Exhibition Industry Foundation. Now in its second year, this unique research program confirms that trade show professionals are leading the charge to integrate digital into nearly every aspect of pre-show promotion, onsite interaction and post-event sales fulfillment.

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