Hybrid trade shows offer more flexibility in a post-COVID-19 climate
Like all live events, trade shows had to pause or adapt amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Those that didn’t postpone went entirely virtual, leading to overall losses but some surprising benefits. As in-person events become feasible again, these trends signify a coming change for the future of trade shows.
The Center for Exhibition Industry Research estimates that canceled events in 2020 cost the economy $14 billion to $22 billion in direct and indirect losses. Despite this financial hit, many organizations found that they preferred virtual events to in-person ones. Hybrid trade shows have since emerged as an ideal middle ground.
As businesses navigate the uneasy state of trade show planning this year, they may want to consider hybrid models. Here are some reasons why.
States Are Opening Again, but COVID Concerns Remain
As vaccines have rolled out, most cities and states have loosened their restrictions. As of early September, almost all states have fully reopened, meaning capacity limits and curfews are no longer in effect. As such, in-person trade shows are possible again, and attendees may be eager to travel after extended periods in isolation.
Despite these reopenings, COVID-related concerns remain, especially with the aggressive Delta variant. While infection rates and deaths remain below their winter peak, they’ve seen a troubling rise recently. This trend may make some attendees nervous about in-person events.
Hybrid trade shows appeal to both sides of this dynamic. Businesses can take advantage of loosened restrictions to market and network in-person, while more concerned attendees can view from home if that’s more comfortable. This hybrid model could also keep in-person attendance relatively low if any capacity restrictions reemerge.
Hybrid Shows Are Cost-Effective
Another reason why hybrid events may be the future of trade shows is their financial benefits. The pandemic has caused many companies to reevaluate their finances, with 58% of surveyed businesses saying current trade show budgets have decreased below pre-COVID levels. Cost-effective hybrid shows appeal to event organizers and attendees concerned about finances.
A hybrid model lets trade shows appeal to the same amount of people while hosting fewer in-person attendees. Event organizers can then opt for smaller, more affordable spaces and spend less on food and other provisions. Similarly, attendees have the option to avoid traveling and its related expenses.
Entirely virtual shows may reduce costs even more, but they lack the advantages of in-person marketing. As a result, hybrid models have the potential to be even more cost-effective. They feature the low upfront costs of virtual events while enabling in-person networking and marketing, which can lead to higher sales.
Hybrid Models Appeal to a Broader Audience
Hybrid trade shows may also appeal to a broader audience, further improving their efficacy. Attitudes over in-person vs. virtual trade shows aren’t consistent. The aforementioned survey about trade shows found that 62% of attendees were more satisfied with virtual presentations, leaving 38% that felt indifferent or the opposite.
Choosing an entirely in-person or virtual environment will alienate a significant portion of an event’s potential audience. Hybrid models appeal to both sides. No matter what a company prefers, they can attend the way they want to, raising the chances that a trade show will have high attendance.
Appealing to a broader audience is a crucial consideration for trade show planning. More than 80% of trade show attendees have buying authority at their organizations, so having more attendees means more potential sales. Drawing in more possible buyers from a more diverse audience raises the chances of a sale.
Virtual Elements Enable Higher Attendance
Similarly, combining virtual elements with an in-person show lets event organizers welcome more attendees. People’s willingness to attend an in-person event aside, in-person trade shows can only host a limited number of guests. Every venue has a capacity limit, and higher-capacity options can quickly become expensive.
Hybrid trade show models let event organizers raise attendance beyond the capacity of their venue or budget. Trade shows can sell as many in-person tickets as their venue will allow, then offer virtual tickets at a lower cost to let others attend online. Since virtual elements represent a significant cost reduction over in-person shows, this expansion reaches more people for less investment.
In a hybrid model, no one side will bring significant costs for expanding capacity. In-person activities can take place in a smaller venue, and organizers won’t have to pay for extensive virtual infrastructure, either. They offer the highest possible attendance for the lowest cost.
Hybrid Shows Offer Unique Marketing Opportunities
The future of trade shows will lean toward hybrid models for their unique engagement opportunities. Businesses in every industry are becoming increasingly digital, so buyers and stakeholders will appreciate cutting-edge digital technologies. Hybrid events can showcase companies’ proficiency in these fields.
Hosting an event in person and virtually simultaneously is a unique use case for digital technologies. Companies that can diversify their marketing to appeal to online and in-person attendees in different ways will impress potential customers and partners with their flexibility and technological prowess.
This intersection of the physical and digital lets companies embrace a marketing strategy that matches today’s hybrid business atmosphere. Forward-thinking companies and customers will appreciate demonstrated competence in this area.
Hybrid Models Could Be the Future of Trade Shows
Trade show planning can seem intimidating right now, considering the unique mix of circumstances. Amid these seemingly conflicting factors, hybrid trade shows represent the optimal way forward. As more organizers embrace hybrid models and attendees recognize their benefits, they could become the industry standard.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, a magazine exploring how innovations change our world. She has over 4 years of experience writing articles in the industrial and tech sectors.