Virtual Reality Trade Shows - The Good And The Bad

This article describes the benefits and drawbacks of virtual reality trade show exhibits.

Tradeshows are one of the most effective ways to get your company's message and product line out to prospective customers across the United States and internationally. In an effort to capitalize on the popularity of tradeshows, more businesses now desire interactive or "virtual" tradeshow booths that allow for visitor participation while combining high-tech visuals, graphic elements and Internet capability.

Virtually every industry in the business world has tradeshows, at local, regional and national levels. The basic tradeshow display has large pictures, text, simple lighting, perhaps some motion and visual elements. Whether a business develops a virtual tradeshow booth relies largely on two factors: money and competitor actions.

The virtual tradeshow exhibit is not for every business and indeed many are finding alternative ways of attracting potential customers to their booth.

Mike Mullen specializes in developing trade show booth concepts for Skyline Graphics in Livonia, Mich. He feels a business bases its decision on the type of booth to design on several factors.

"It has to be an efficient booth and the buyer or designer has to feel (he/she) is getting a return on their investment," says Mullen.

"You have about eight to 10 seconds before a person will either decide to stop at your display or move on. A business needs to make their booth stand out - that's what you're after."

Cost is definitely a factor. Buying equipment such as a plasma screen, videowall, touch screens or a surround-sound environment can cost tens of thousands of dollars. That does not even include Internet capability.

Todd Swanson, owner of Skyline Displays and Services of Michigan, Inc. in Wixom, says the industry is faced with the challenge of exorbitant pricing for high-speed cable access at a convention center.

"If you bring the Internet in to your booth, it needs to be high speed," says Swanson, who estimates the cost for high-speed web access ranges from $800 to $900 per day at most shows he has attended. "It's flash with cash - whatever toys a business can afford they will pursue."

Despite the costs, the Internet is quickly becoming the top source for buyers in the process of planning their tradeshow visits. According to research gathered by Dr. Allen Konopacki, President of INCOMM Center for Research in Chicago, nearly 40 percent more tradeshow attendees use the Internet in their work setting.

The respondents to the INCOMM survey say that the Internet has become an integral part of an exposition. A senior executive at Revlon attending a recent exposition indicated he only visited company exhibits that also had an active website. "I didn't have time to look at every exhibit or walk every aisle, but I did make decisions based on the 12 companies I identified on the website," the respondent wrote.

Mullen says the industry in which a business operates will help determine how detailed a booth should be. For example, computer software and automotive firms often spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their displays where other industries, such as human resources and pharmaceuticals are not as attuned to interactive displays and multiple visuals.

"Displays certainly can be super expensive and you can spend as much as you want," says Mullen. "Those responsible for getting a display for their company need to step back and look at their budgets."

Swanson says another drawback to Internet-enabled virtual exhibits is that the connections don't always work. "The last thing you want is to be showing a demonstration on the Internet to a customer and experience a snag," he says.

As a result of the high costs and instability of Internet access at a tradeshow, many of Swanson's customers download their website or other graphics onto a ZIP or JAZ disk and offer demonstrations directly from a PC or laptop.

"We promote the lack of time you have to capture a person's attention"┬Žand sometimes (businesses) become more focused on automating the tradeshow experience. These features can be more of a distraction. The best way to market a tradeshow booth is to include verbal interaction. If the graphics and display is (designed well), it will draw people."

Tradeshows remain a popular vehicle in which businesses communicate their message, and although the technology exists to produce hi-tech exhibits, the costs and other drawbacks often outweigh the benefits of including such features as high-speed Internet access. As Swanson puts it, "the more virtual the more costly."

For some businesses, that alone is too large of a price to pay.

© High Speed Ventures 2011