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Reaping Convention Benefits in Non-Traditional Ways

Reaping Convention Benefits in Non-Traditional Ways

Steve Heisler

illustration of seated man with laptop next to dog laying on floor

Marketers are compensating for the loss of in-person events with a targeted approach across technology mediums

Part of the Marketing News COVID-19 Special Issue

Convention centers and ballrooms aren’t ideal locations in which to practice social distancing. As the workforce marches online, the future of trade shows and conventions is uncertain, leaving many marketers without a direct line to sales leads, continuing education opportunities or a place to perform product demonstrations.

Virtual conferences help, but they fall short in fully replicating the in-person experience. Zoom calls with hundreds of people prove unwieldy and many are opting to reschedule or cancel their conference entirely rather than craft an elegant solution. This has frustrated marketers who rely on these live events for their business.


“I’m actually kind of disappointed in some of the big trade show companies,” says Jennifer Miller, marketing director at Vertebrae, a California-based 3D and augmented reality development company. “They didn’t shift and try to do a virtual setup. I think there’s a lot that they could have done in that virtual experience.”

Live conferences and other keystone events are some of the most powerful ways to leave a mark on potential customers. FaceTime, a consultancy for event producers and exhibitors (not to be confused with Apple’s video chat platform), partnered with Cog Research and uncovered some eyebrow-raising statistics on what brands stand to gain from shows. They found that live events are twice as powerful as TV ads in marketing products or services, three times as effective as print media and four times more than radio. Brand perception increases 21% when consumers interact with it at a show and drops 5% if that brand isn’t represented. Two weeks after the show concludes, 69% of visitors said they had recommended or planned to recommend a brand they interacted with at a live event.

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Steve Heisler served as staff writer at the American Marketing Association. His work can be found in Rolling Stone, GQ, The A.V. Club and Chicago Sun-Times. He may be reached at