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Northumberland Manufacturers Association (NMA) is a not-for-profit membership-driven organization. Members consist of manufacturers and companies which support the manufacturing industry. Its purpose is to continuously promote industry-wide improvement, innovation and high performance. They encourage this through:
Their in-person trade show with a 17-year long legacy faced a hurdle when COVID-19 imposed restrictions on social gatherings. However, they were averse to canceling the event altogether and decided to explore virtual events.
As COVID-19 brought the world down to its knees, NMA’s current membership base of approximately 100 people could not come together like always.
There began a mad search for a viable alternative that would uphold NMA’s vision for the conference. Since they could not meet in person, they decided to move to the virtual space.
In a state of panic, a simple Google search “virtual trade show platform” led them to vFairs.
After extensive research and numerous meetings with different organizations, they zeroed in on vFairs. Their goal was clear; not to compromise on the quality of the event, or lose certain aspects of the in-person event they were used to. After 17 successful years of hosting these conferences, Darla Price, Managing Director at NMA, was navigating a high-pressure environment in moving forward with a virtual event.
However, after one look at vFairs website, the interactive 3D lobby had them hooked. According to Darla, other platforms were not as robust and not as experienced. vFairs offered an interactive platform plus their experience made them a sure choice for the NMA virtual trade show. She did not just want a platform to run the event, she wanted to show that NMA did it’s research and found the very best out there. After mega successes in the past years, they did not want the guests to think they were stepping back; and vFairs fit the bill.
Exhibitors included associate members, who support manufacturers. For instance, companies that provide cybersecurity services for manufacturers, and health and safety training firms among many others. The audience, people who were attending, were the manufacturers themselves.
For Darla, it was a whole new experience in convincing the manufacturers, exhibitors and attendees to participate in the manufacturing conference. Tons of marketing materials were created to help exhibitors and attendees understand the value of the trade show.
So what did NMA and vFairs do that made the event successful? Let’s discuss some key features that helped elevate the audience’s experience on the virtual platform.
The team at NMA reached out to the booth reps and conducted numerous Zoom meetings to show them what their booth would look like, where they could place videos and other support content. Darla was happy with her experience with the vFairs team. She says “the vFairs team offered exceptional support and guidance to the exhibitors. The project managers tested the platforms beforehand, and went through the entire process explaining in detail how everything will be visible to the incoming audience”.
The NMA team expected a bit of a struggle in terms of booth setup, however, they were pleasantly surprised, as the entire process was smooth. Booth managers went on to say how this was one of their best events so far of all the trade shows they had done in the past six months.
A huge lobby that emulated the in-person event’s grandeur greeted audiences as they stepped into the virtual space. A welcome video was also placed in the center of the lobby to help guide attendees through the event. The lobby presented logos of all exhibitors in a clear space and also showed the information desk, the way to the trade show hall and the networking lounge.
The virtual auditorium itself was a grand hall and was full of virtual avatars. The webinars were both live and pre-recorded which greatly facilitated the attendees. It was a fantastic experience for NMA. There were no technical issues with A/V and each session started on time. There were no obstacles there.
NMA virtual trade show benefited from the virtual event as it helped them expand their reach. Speakers were not just from the nearby areas, rather one of them joined in from Scotland, and others came from all across Canada. This expanded reach resulted in powerful content which eventually translated into a bigger and better audience.
In an in-person event, the audience was unevenly split between two sessions happening simultaneously. However, in the virtual setting, the audience could access sessions on-demand, allowing them to attend both sessions at their convenience. Additionally, the content was impactful, hence the audience did not want to choose one session over the other. They were compelled to attend and listen to both.
The biggest advantage that NMA virtual trade show offered was the availability of on-demand sessions. As the team sold tickets, they told participants they can access resources and materials at any time for 30 days after the event. They saw more audiences come in during those 30 days after the event. This made a huge difference for the NMA team.
The NMA virtual trade show also allowed them to share the events link with schools. For the first time, they invited their youth to the event. Traditionally, in a live event, if more people would be invited, the event organizer would have to spend more on food, catering and arrangements. However, since the event was virtual, NMA invited as many people as they wanted without bearing overhead expenses. About 100 people from colleges and universities joined in who were taking up careers in the field of manufacturing.
NMA virtual trade show did not compromise on some crucial aspects of the in-person event. For example, the plant tour that happens every year, still took place. Attendees went through a plant and a manufacturing facility. This was a huge success. To not let the virtual setting take away from the essence of the event was phenomenal for NMA.
The exhibit hall was also clearly laid out. Participants could easily scroll through the exhibitor booths. These exhibitor booths featured useful resources, such as videos and documents relevant to the exhibitor. They also featured links to exhibitor websites and social media channels. Attendees could leave a message for booth representatives. Some also featured customer testimonials to help build credibility.
The gamification feature added into the virtual platform encourages participants to actively engage on the platform. Just by joining sessions or touring the platform, participants could easily collect points. The list of tasks or objectives to complete were all laid out and the top three participants to complete the list of tasks were given prizes.
The networking lounge featured links to the ‘Trade Show’, ‘Meet Our Sponsors’ and ‘Feedback Survey’. These facilitated attendees in easily directing them to the important parts of the NMA virtual trade show. The survey was also placed in the top menu bar, so attendees could easily take it. This aided the organizer in gathering data about the attendee experience.
The NMA virtual trade show resulted in a huge success. Attendees were empowered by the ability to access the event 30 days after the actual event. The event heavily focuses on educating and training attendees and is an opportunity for participants to get training through various webinars and workshops, and this objective was successfully achieved.
Furthermore, there was a greater reach with respect to the speakers and subsequently the attendees as the event was virtual and did not require people to be physically present. Speakers were ‘blown away’ by the efficiency of the event. Even when they came for the trial sessions, they loved how everything was set up.
The ability to customize the platform according to their needs was a huge selling point for NMA. The designs had palm trees, which do not reflect a Canadian environment, and thus were duly replaced with snowy white trees.
NMA virtual trade show wanted a grand space, much like their in-person convention center. They wanted enough space for sponsors to display their banners. Since they were working with a huge number of them, NMA required that kind of space, and vFairs was able to provide it.
According to Darla, vFairs’ biggest strength lies in its customer service. The project managers, Ahmad Ibrahim and Momin Amin were a huge help. They even helped the exhibitors in setting up their booths.
Here is what Darla had to say about the virtual platform design and the team “Your designs — love the animation, sizes of lobbies — the compatibility with Zoom — Zoom through your platform is much nicer than on its own — and your team. We could not have done this without a patient, well-educated team, and vFairs provided that”.
NMA could reach out or email a question, and the team at vFairs was extremely responsive. Every Monday at noon both teams would meet so they could exchange updates, and so that the vFairs team could answer any questions from NMA’s team. Even during the event, the vFairs team was in direct contact with Darla via Whatsapp. The tech support team was available all the time. During the event, the team at NMA was getting live reports and data, which gave more control to the NMA team.
Overall, the NMA virtual trade show went beyond what they were expecting. The event was seamless and ran smoothly without any issues. Almost 100% of the attendees said they would come back to the virtual event, and only half the audience was open to the idea of a live event. NMA received press coverage, and the team got an influx of questions regarding their virtual events providers. NMA was seen as a leader, as other non-for-profits came asking about virtual events and vFairs. They raised the bar with this virtual event, and intend to continue with virtual events even as the world returns back to normal.
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