In the time of coronavirus, trade shows and conventions are no-gos. As hundreds of in-person industry events get nixed, billions of dollars in potential orders are lost. Conferences and trade shows have grown determined to make their customer relationships work long-distance, taking to the internet a whopping 1,100% more often to reach customers. And it’s no wonder. We’re trying to meet customers where they are, which (for the foreseeable future, anyway) is at home and online.

The problem is that the tech tools that stand to really impress our customers are not yet in the mainstream. To sustain digital commerce over the coming months and years, we need to create a central space to wow and engage our customers (and customers-to-be). And we can’t keep pinning our hopes on conventional streaming services like Zoom and Google Meet.

Sure, these small-scale videoconferencing tools have come in handy to keep teams connected and functional. But we’re all starting to see the limits of these tools. A real hunger exists for more social contact and richer engagement to feed the commerce beast. Keeping digital commerce afloat will require collaboration with teammates at work, finding unmet needs in the customer landscape, and transforming our digital presences with more impressive, immersive experiences.

Two Principles for Wooing Large Audiences

Interactive 3D conferences, seminars, and trade shows have exploded on the scene. Even when people can meet in person again, those interactive digital elements will remain a major part of an event attendee’s experience. I recommend keeping in mind these two overarching thoughts about creating virtual events for large audiences:

1. Audiences are everywhere. You might think you know your audiences’ locations, but digital events mean you’re operating on a global scale now. Travel and price aren’t barriers to attend online events like they are for in-person experiences. Anyone with an internet connection can find your virtual gig and take part, which means you should prepare an immersive experience that will play just as well in Seoul and Helsinki as it will in New York.

My company saw this when we partnered with Volkswagen in the wake of the canceled Geneva Motor Show in March. Volkswagen sought out a content creation agency that created an interactive, 3D version of its nearly 30,000-square-foot booth, and the automaker came to us to stream that experience worldwide. We expected most attendees to log in from central Europe, much like the in-person audience. But it was quickly apparent that potential customers and fans were coming in from all over the planet. Now not only do you have a “trade show” that can be accessed from anywhere in the world, but it can run for 24 hours a day and for as many weeks or months as you like with no limits to the number of people who can join.

For trade events where it’s important for guests to network, LinkedIn profiles or contact information and bios could accompany a user’s avatar. LinkedIn has already dipped its toe in the water with Virtual Events, so we might see larger social media integration at virtual conferences in the future. Then there’s the ability to layer on breakout sessions, chat functionality, videoconferencing — this technology all exists today; it’s just a matter of being bold enough to try it out.

We have already seen events use this type of available technology to keep virtual event attendees connected, like when VidCon decided to partner with Discord for its VidCon Now series to offer dedicated channels for different workshops, creator chats, panels, and other events. This type of attendee interaction will be important as more organizations experiment with 3D virtual events.

2. Creativity and experimentation are key. The people who actually build the digital experiences are still somewhat rooted in a real-world mentality. As a result, these virtual events end up being made into replicas of physical rooms — with walls and floors and all the things you expect to see in the real world. But why confine the experience and its audience to those rules? This is where your team can get incredibly creative, both in terms of what is possible in the digital space and where you lead the user after.

You could build an immersive 3D experience where attendees can fly around in digital space and experience a constellation of digital models; anything is possible. To achieve that level of exciting innovation, businesses need to let the design team (or encourage design partners to) go off the leash in terms of building next-level digital experiences. Virtual trade shows could become so much better than going to real trade shows because companies could create experiences that could never be replicated in the confines of the real world.

Once your virtual event is built, you may decide to run it for much longer. You could take it on a world tour, region by region. You could also take the virtual 3D models out of it and use them in ads, remarketing, even product design.

Facebook’s popular Oculus Connect virtual reality conference was already streamed digitally before COVID-19, but this year’s event was pushed entirely online for the first time (Facebook has canceled all physical events with more than 50 attendees through at least June 2021). Details are sparse, but it will be interesting to see how interactive the conference’s developers can get with the format — and how many people attend now that they don’t have to travel all the way to San Jose.

The innovative tech company GumGum had a lot of big event plans in 2020 that got scrapped in the wake of COVID-19. Rather than sulk, GumGum pivoted quickly and tasked its entire marketing department to dream up ways to deliver virtual branded experiences. The company came up with several ideas, most notably a virtual pick-your-adventure experience in which attendees embark on a hike that explores the various ways to stay connected to GumGum. This is the type of opportunity for creativity that these digital experiences offer for businesses.

Creating Novel Experiences

At a really fundamental level, a lot of people get into tech for a desire to create. Plenty go into different engineering disciplines but don’t get to actually build; one of the great things about being a technologist is that you can build an idea and implement that idea with tools. This makes tech such a fertile ground for innovation and creativity. Companies like Epic Games, for example, made Unreal Engine basically free for small and medium studios so anyone with ambition can create novel experiences.

Because there’s a strong desire to understand the length of engagement in a virtual environment, it’s important for businesses to figure out how to maximize interaction, where to add content, etc. When working with Volkswagen for its digital show, we saw that the brand strategically used a call to action to understand the level of engagement it was getting from attendees.

The sky’s the limit. Companies could even go so far as to have completely different versions of a trade show suited to specific demographics. When it comes to the future of digital events and conferences, the possibilities are virtually endless.

Want to learn more about how an interactive 3D web experience can revolutionize your virtual events? Request a free demo today.