Challenge: Lead generation, brand differentiation and improved customer communication.
Solution: Add a virtual trade show while increasing the frequency of the physical trade shows.
Results: The first virtual trade show saw 1,300 registrants and more than 730 attendees, more than double the expected turnout. Matching physical show results, ASI experienced a 10 percent to 20 percent sales uptick immediately following the event.
Granted, Kent Tibbils had shown leadership by helping introduce a virtual trade show to ASI Corp.’s repertoire. But the marketing vice president thought the Barack Obama likeness, which his colleagues included as the avatar in his trade show chat window, was a bit much.
“There was a lot of changing of the avatars,” Tibbils says, laughing, adding that ASI staff pranked only one another during the otherwise serious first virtual show for the Fremont, Calif.-based distributor of computer components and peripheral products. No one changed customers’ photos during the May 14 event, he emphasizes.
Rather, ASI listened to its constituents when making the decision to incorporate virtual trade shows in the itinerary of conferences that the company moves around the country and hosts every couple months at one of its 13 branches, he says. ASI’s more than 20,000 clients—value-added resellers, systems integrators, retailers and original equipment manufacturers—wanted to see ASI representatives more often than every two years, when the physical conference would rotate to a city near them.
“And that’s a pretty big gap when you talk about how fast technology is changing,” Tibbils notes.
So in fall 2008, ASI contracted with San Francisco-based virtual events and webcasting provider ON24 to put on the day-long virtual conference and exhibition.
Two months before the May 14 show, ASI began sending the 14,000 e-mail recipients in its housefile the first of eight or nine messages. About 25,000 third-party addresses received three or four blasts.
Approximately 1,300 registration confirmation e-mails and their two reminder messages later, it was time for the ASI Virtual Tech Expo to prove its worth. The show needed to provide ASI and its show sponsors with leads, differentiate ASI’s brand from other distributors, and improve ASI’s communication with its spread-out North American customer base.
“One of the ways that we try to differentiate ourselves from our competitors is by working very closely with our customers to help them understand what these technologies are,” Tibbils says. “So Intel comes out with a new processor. It’s not just, ‘Here’s a new processor. We have it. Now go ahead and buy it.’ We want to be able to tell them: What are the features of this product? What other products do they work with? What types of things do you have to put with it when you’re building a system to make sure that you’ve got all the compatibility done?”
Then that day’s statistics started pouring in: Among the more than 730 attendees, 230 were roaming the virtual halls at any given time during the eight-hour event. They were clearly visiting the 30 vendor booths, with an average 15-minute stay. Visiting, that is, when 500 conferees weren’t attending one of six webinars presented by vendors including Intel and Microsoft. Finally, attendees downloaded 1,700 documents and completed 800 e-mails—when they weren’t in their umpteenth chat session.
The postevent poll revealed the ASI Virtual Tech Expo had been the first virtual event for 80 percent of conferees, and 90 percent polled said they’d attend another ASI show. Additionally, customers know they can access the show archives any time.
“Now we’re able to go and target those customers. So the people that went to, let’s say, the ASI booth, we can now send them specific messaging that relates to, ‘OK, you were interested in notebooks and here’s information about notebooks,’” Tibbils says of communicating with ASI customers after the show—minus the presidential avatar.