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Trade Shows Going Virtual

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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.

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