Wednesday, July 09, 2008

ON24 Launches Virtual Tradeshow Platform with Real Potential

The concept of virtual tradeshows has been around since at least 2001. The appeal, to both exhibitors and attendees, is obvious. No travel costs. No lost productive time due to travel. No limit on the number of employees you can use to staff your booth or "send to the show." No need to limit the duration of the show to just a few days. No geographical boundaries (assuming you have a way to staff the odd hours). No environmental concerns. No panic because your booth staff flew to Chicago—but your booth ended up in Atlanta.

Yet in practice, uptake has been very slow. This is partly for cultural reasons (can I buy you a virtual drink?) but also because the technology has never quite delivered a user experience that's a viable substitute for physical presence. Now, the folks at ON24 believe they may have changed that. Their new Virtual Show platform combines the company's expertise in webcasting with rich graphics to create a compelling visual environment with useful tools for presenting information and qualifying online "booth visitors." It's almost like Second Life for trade shows.


Virtual Show is targeted at both individual companies and show organizers/event planners, including trade publications. On the individual company side, the platform could appeal to any company that's large enough to already host its own user group type events, but may be even more attractive to companies who are right on the edge of that—large enough to have a sizable base of engaged users, but not quite large enough to justify the expense of a live event. An online forum could be used in place of a live event for companies at this stage, while enabling firms that already host a live annual event to add supplemental online conferences throughout the year. Companies could also spread out the cost by selling virtual booth space to channel or technology partners.

The platform may have even more value for publishers. It enables them to offer advertisers a much richer and more interactive way to reach subscribers than the usual mix of enewsletter sponsorships, banner ads and white paper syndication. For aggressive publishers willing to get a jump on this, it also provides differentiation in a highly competitive online advertising market.



Virtual visitors to an event can:
  • network with peers at the show, exhibitors and sponsors (through online chat);

  • get documents (beyond the normal limited tradeshow marketing collateral, since the booth rep can now provide any document from within their organization);

  • view a presentation (similar to a webinar) and ask questions;

  • chat with a booth rep;

  • have content recommended to you via ON24's patent-pending Smart Booth technology;

  • engage in group discussion and interact with people; and

  • upload a cool avatar.

Depending on the number of booths and degree of customization, pricing generally ranges from $20,000-$50,000 per event. For a large enterprise hosting its own user group or other forum, that's competitive with the cost of a live event—and again, with no travel costs or travel-related lost productivity. Publishers should be able to provide advertisers with attractive pricing for an online presence that goes well beyond the standard webcast.

Other recent coverage of ON24 and Virtual Show:

ON24 Announces Virtual Venue Platform from Worlds In Motion

UP Media, ON24 partner for virtual trade show from DMNews

ON24 Enters Virtual Event Space with New Solution; Adds Flash to Webcasts from DemandGen

ON24 Aims to Turn Desktops into Conference Halls with Virtual Show from Streamingmedia.com

Kill the Business Trip from Forbes

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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