Posted November 16, 2007 8:02 am by with 16 comments

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Companies like IBM, Cisco, and others are taking their trade shows and conferences virtual. Some, like IBM have used the virtual world Second Life for such events, but virtual trade shows take it a step further. Also, the events are more professional and created for a business environment – there are no actual avatars. However, you can upload a picture, chat with booth representatives, and attend sessions.

Businesses of all sizes are trying out the concept. According to Tradeshow Week magazine, mid-to-large-sized companies spend about $550,000 every year on trade shows.

Online marketers are fans of virtual events because it costs less and often results in more targeted leads. The virtual version of trade shows don’t usually completely replace regular trade shows but are a way to cut costs or add value. Perhaps the biggest advantage of a virtual trade show is that you can track what people at your event do. Since attendees are anonymous they are free to linger and engage with the vendor as much or as little as they choose.

Recent research by The FactPoint Group
, in behalf of Unisfair found that virtual events like trade shows attract an average of 1,587 attendees which deliver an average of 348 qualified leads per vendor.

Founded in 2002, Unisfair has developed a virtual world for tradeshows. It’s a 3-D collection of booths, live and recorded presentations and most importantly for marketers, it tracks what attendees are interested in.

I chatted with Don at Unisfair today. The company was founded in 2000 in Israel and was funded by Sequoia Capital. Based in Menlo Park, they combine online collaboration tools with social networking and virtual environments. They’ve hosted everything from job fairs to user groups and sales training.

The numbers look pretty good. Most events are free to attendees and average over 3,000 people registering, and just over half (52%) actually attend. Most people spend 2.5 hours at the event, visit 16 locations and download five resources. Most virtual tradeshows run 1.5 days but are still accessible for three months following the event. You can test out a demo of a virtual trade show at Unisfair’s showcase here.

  • To me is makes perfect sense to bring tradeshows online, maybe even within virtual worlds such as Second Life. I say this because the costs of putting on a trade show are very high in real life, but in virtual worlds, you may get more participations for only a fraction of the price.

  • What a strange idea. I think it is ahead of it’s time by a few years, which is a good place to be.

  • Webinars are already a reality so i suppose it was only a matter of time before virtual trade shows were as well.

  • Not all businesses would really like to have a virtual trade show. And yes its ahead of its time.

  • My company (ON24) has had experience with customers leveraging webcasting as a way to communicate with large audiences (50 to thousands). With the cost of travel, lodging and time away from jobs, more and more global organizations recognize the value of “virtual” events, training, tradeshows, etc.

    This is just the natural evolution of online event – webinars/webcasts, series of events, archives of conference sessions and now virtual tradeshows.

    And how can one argue with the benefits of being socially responsible: less travel = less carbon footprint, electronic downloads = less paper being used, not to mention no useless tchokes!

  • J

    Very cost friendly. Imagine if 2,000 people had to attend a tradeshow compared to the online one.

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  • carole

    Here is an article on the subject.

  • Nice write up Janet – I think it’s a great idea, not only is it cost effective for the companies, it also saves time and money for consumers.
    We are very eco-friendly as well with the use of virtual offices.

  • Jaime

    Tradky Software has developed a platform to create online virtual exhibitions in three-dimensions that are completely index-able by search engines. In the expo you can interact with other visitors or exhibitors.

    There is an impressive live demo at

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  • dex

    I think there is a mrket for vitural trade shows but it will never replace the open market trade show. Some show require more human contact See also for cstom designed and built trade show booth

    dex’s last blog post..Adding Fabric Structures to Your Trade Show booth

  • @Dex – completely agree with you. From our perspective a virtual show can complement a physical show. With that said, you can’t disagree with some of the economic benefits of a virtual only show, such as no travel, lodging, catering and collateral costs.

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  • Thanks for this informative stuff post

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