Traditional Trade Shows and Live Events Are Returning—and Better This Time

They’re set to be engaging and effective


When the pandemic began in March 2020, one of the first industries to take a hit was business travel. Trade shows and other live events quickly followed in a world where large gatherings of any kind were considered a health risk. Within a few months, we began to see virtual events sprouting up online as an alternative to face-to-face shows.

As that trend matured, and as event organizers honed their virtual approaches, it looks like these online events are here to stay. Even as the pandemic retreats and it becomes safer to gather in person, virtual events will likely remain a key part of how businesses and their employees get together to display, discuss and demonstrate their latest products and services.

Participating and engaging from anywhere
Forced to get creative about how they hold events during a pandemic, some organizers have adopted a hybrid approach. Cloud-based digital event platform ON24 says the hybrid event encompasses both physical and digital tactics, effectively allowing marketers to “scale up or down based on safety concerns for themselves, sponsors and audience members.”

Here’s how it works: There are in-person “live” attendees as well as a virtual component that allows the audience to participate and engage from anywhere. The digital components of the hybrid event can include Twitter chats, livestream sessions, targeted landing pages, virtual networking experiences and other interactive elements.

The virtual portion broadens the event’s message and reach because it’s easier and cheaper for attendees to participate. Hybrid events also attract attendees who wouldn’t otherwise have the time or resources to be able to travel to a live trade show, and they can literally live forever online and be offered on demand long after the show is over.

People can attend from anywhere—their homes, offices or vacation spots—utilize breakout rooms to connect with small groups, and select the best use of their time (e.g., only those keynotes that are most relevant). “[Hybrid] events allow you to mix both in-person and digital experiences,” ON24 points out, “giving your gathering a sense of immediateness both online and off.”

Virtual is here to stay
Even as people begin to resume their normal routines and as business travel kicks back into gear, the hybrid event is here to stay—and for good reason. It allows marketers to reach a broader audience, creates opportunities for more one-on-one interactions with prospects, and utilizes advanced communication tools to extend those relationships past the day of the event.

Online events also set the stage for better networking—in many cases, the very reason that professionals attend trade shows and conferences in the first place. Registered attendees at the recent ProMatDX 2021 logistics show, for example, could set up short, virtual “appointments” with potential customers and business partners in advance of the actual show date. The show also featured a matchmaking portal that used artificial intelligence (AI) that allowed both sponsors and attendees to determine how to tailor their interactions based on specific interests. The show host plans to use the AI-enabled networking tool at its next live event.

The virtual setting also allows show organizers to pack more content into a shorter amount of time, and helps attendees make the most of their time. Dedicating a few hours to an online event versus taking five days out of a busy schedule would be a no-brainer for most, and also opens the door to attend even more events within a truncated time frame.

The new breed
Whether hybrid or fully virtual, the “new breed” of trade show also breaks down some of the barriers that exist when thousands of people converge in person, expecting to make valuable contacts and meet new prospects. Arranging these meetings is never easy, but meeting someone in the online format and then sending them a LinkedIn invitation presents an instant connection opportunity to solidify that interaction.

For brands, hybrid events provide good sponsorship opportunities. Much like podcasts, which cater to specific listener segments, virtual events can be narrowly targeted to certain groups. They also provide different touchpoints—advertising, banner ads, breakout sessions, etc.—for brands to create new connections with the audience. And because the shows are evergreen and available on-demand, the longevity of those touchpoints is better than you’d see with a live event.

Hybrid events also appeal to millennials and Gen Z professionals that are accustomed to digital interactions and to having choices. With many of these individuals working remotely, the opportunity to participate in a relevant, engaging event—and one that invites and supports safe social interaction—may be particularly compelling for the younger audience.

Looking ahead, it’s becoming pretty clear that virtual and hybrid events aren’t going away. In fact, the model will continue to evolve, but the bottom line is that organizations that don’t embrace it now will miss out. People are accepting this new way to connect, and the unique way that it brings us together to interact and collaborate.

Consumers Are Checking Their Phones 60 Times a Day. Here’s How to Monetize These Micro-Moments

Scanning news headlines on a tablet before going to sleep. Using a mobile app to find an Italian restaurant with the highest number of 5-star reviews. Browsing this month’s best streaming videos.

For most of us, the brief activities described above have become habitual. Recognizing the trend, Google came up with the term “micro-moments” to describe the many times a day that people automatically grab their phones or tablets to watch a video, take an action or look up something. As society becomes truly “mobile-first,” these “micro-moments” are now intertwined with our daily lives.

Each micro-moment is an opportunity for brands
Whether consumers use mobile phones to look for a recipe on Allrecipes, search for a long-lost high school friend on Classmates or scroll through Zillow listings for a dream home, they are reflexively turning to their devices for answers and solutions.
The trend is common in the on-demand economy, where customers expect to have answers at their fingertips 24/7. “The powerful computers we carry in our pockets have trained us to expect brands to immediately deliver exactly what we’re looking for when we’re looking,” content director Joei Chan writes in Mention.

“With our increasing dependence on smartphones, the consumer journey has been fractured into hundreds of real-time, intent-driven micro-moments,” Chan continues. “Each one is a critical opportunity for brands to shape our decisions and preferences.”

Getting consumers to act
For marketers, micro-moments are an opportunity to get consumers to act when their expectations are high and their time is short. With over half of smartphone users discovering new companies or products when conducting searches online—and with brand awareness increasing by 46% when a company simply shows up in mobile search results—marketers have a lot of opportunities to maximize micro-moments.

For instance, a 20-something male watching a sports recap on his phone on YouTube may be persuaded to test drive the newest model of his favorite car brand. Or, a woman who goes online for help creating a top-knot hairstyle would probably be receptive to trying out a promising new hair product to keep that updo in place.

By using videos to put your brand in the middle of these moments, you can effectively address your customers’ needs and “help move them along [in] their decision journey,” Choi writes.
Micro-moments also help companies break out of the traditional linear sales funnel and present relevant content that aligns with those split seconds of time.

It’s important to remember to focus on creating an intuitive experience that guides customers to a frictionless purchase when developing video or other content. Use these micro-moments to tell your brand’s story, maximize these small flashes of time and improve your advertising return on investment.

Riding the ecommerce wave
With ecommerce sales expected to surpass $740 billion by 2023 in the U.S.—and 81% of shoppers researching products online before hitting “buy”—marketers can maximize micro-moments by simply listening to customers. For example, use social listening to ask simple questions in an Instagram story or on Twitter, or use a current event to grab your customer’s attention in the moment.

Younger consumers may be especially receptive to micro-moment marketing. “The question to ask is: ‘Would your Gen Z customer be interested in participating in a conversation with your brand about an ugly sweater?’” UNiDays asks. “If the answer is ‘yes,’ then perfect. Once you’ve found something that will resonate with Gen Z preferences, you can start a fun dialogue that might just convert to a sale.”
While disruptive and challenging, the global pandemic has also given marketers more opportunities to engage with their customers through micro-moments.

For example, with more people interacting, socializing and shopping online, the number of potential “touches” has undoubtedly grown exponentially since 2020. And with the average smartphone user checking his or her phone 63 times a day (even higher with Gen Z audiences), there are still a lot of untapped touchpoints to explore and monetize.

Seeing Is Believing: Why Visual Search Works

Gen Z and millennials have embraced this way of shopping, and it’s time brands did too

Instead of text-based searches and sifting through pages of results, visual search enables enhanced, modern interfaces that help curate and review buying options faster, which comes naturally to Gen Z and millennials. Thanks to the convergence of computer vision, machine learning and neuroscience, visual search is helping marketers meet these customers where they are by returning the most relevant search results based on similarities (e.g., color, style, shape, etc.)

With 90% of information processed by the human brain being visual, and that brain’s ability to identify images it’s viewed for as little as 13 milliseconds, brands using visual search are definitely onto something. These companies are not only feeding the new generations of shoppers’ craving for automation, they’re also opening the window for all generations to test the visual search waters.

The ‘easy’ button
Research shows that 62% of millennials are more interested in visual search capability than any other new technology, and that over 600 million visual searches are done on Pinterest every month. The process finds customers looking for products with a photo or other image versus keywords that are typically used in search engines. They can simply take a picture of the item, upload it to a visual search engine and be presented with the similar items available to purchase. It’s as easy as that.
For example, using an uploaded image of a blue prom dress, a visual search would enable someone to shop for an identical or similar dress online. And because visual search engines rely on neural networks that leverage machine learning, these engines are constantly expanding their fields of experience. As they become “smarter,” these search engines deliver more accurate, relevant results to shoppers.

From Pinterest to Bing to Amazon
Many online brands are successfully using visual search. Pinterest Lens allows customers to use their photo of an item to find out where to buy it or search for similar products, all while viewing ads for options for sale on other platforms; Google Lens recognizes objects and details via a camera; and Bing Visual Search allows consumers to search for specific elements within images (versus having to sort through a list of results) by clicking “visual search.”
Amazon has been in the visual search game since 2019, when it introduced StyleSnap. Shoppers click the camera icon in the upper right hand corner of their Amazon app, select the StyleSnap option, and then upload a photograph or screenshot of the desired outfit. StyleSnap presents recommendations for similar items on Amazon that match the look in the photo, factoring in parameters like brand, price range and customer reviews.

Putting visual search to work
For performance marketers, visual search provides a new channel for reaching Gen Z and millennial consumers who either don’t want to use text-based searches or are seeking new, automated ways to find stuff online. With these new highly visual consumers, and many search engines already offering visual search capabilities, this capability has become an opportunity that direct marketers can’t afford to ignore.
Consider this: Visual results are going to show up higher in a search engine’s rankings. That means your results appear faster, are seen more often and get better conversion rates than non-visual results. Younger generations of shoppers already love visual search, but it won’t be long before all consumers take to it and come to expect it. With 35% of marketers already planning to optimize their own websites for visual search, one can assume that number will only continue to grow in 2021.

As companies look for new ways to harness the attention of younger, tech-savvy shoppers, visual search may rise to the top as an effective way to align the creativity of the human brain with advanced technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence. And with visual search conversions providing 85% higher returns than textual search results, the more “visualized” your brand becomes, the more customers you’ll be able to attract and engage online.

Virtual Try-On Tech, the Pandemic-Accelerated Trend, Is Here to Stay and Save Headaches

There was a time when trying on clothing either meant a trip to a brick-and-mortar store, where you filled your arms with options and made your way into the dressing room, or ordered a few pieces online and hoping for the best. You could easily cull out what did or didn’t work while standing in the dressing room, but the latter was a hit-or-miss affair that often required yet another trip to the local shipping store to return what didn’t fit (and then try again later).


Busy lives, hectic paces and a pandemic that’s forced people to rethink how much time they want to spend in crowded spaces are driving a new trend: digital technology and trying stuff online. The technology was being tested previously—but it became especially relevant when stores had to close access to their dressing rooms and as e-commerce sales continued to go through the roof throughout 2020.

E-Commerce drives demand for virtual options

Forecast to reach $4.5 trillion in 2021 (up from $2.3 trillion in 2017), e-commerce is a key driver of this trend, but it’s not the only momentum behind it. Generations Y and Z love being able to use their mobile devices or laptops to “try before they buy,” knowing that it beats having to drive to the mall, find the right store, pinpoint the best options and then physically try them on one by one.
The trend isn’t limited to fashion. IKEA Place lets customers virtually put true-to-scale models in their own living spaces and Sephora Virtual Artist scans your face, determines the positioning of your lips and eyes, and allows you try on different looks.
Virtual try-on technology has also made its way into physical stores. According to the Washington Post, mall operator Brookfield Properties is adding 3-D body scanners that direct consumers to the clothing brands and sizes that will fit them best, and MAC Cosmetics uses virtual try-on mirrors in many of its stores.

Buying off a flat screen

Virtual try-ons also help brands offer a more personalized shopping experience online, where picking out items off a flat device or computer screen doesn’t replicate the chance to touch, feel and test out clothing, furniture, makeup item and other products before buying. For younger, tech-savvier generations, using a mobile app to see what their furniture looks like in their living spaces is a siren song that’s hard to resist.

Virtual try-ons are also a money-saver for merchants, who don’t have to pay return shipping costs and manage the logistics of taking back products that don’t meet expectations. Online returns cost businesses $550 billion a year, and primarily because 25% of items bought online are returned (versus 8% for in-store purchases). The most returned goods include clothing, shoes, accessories, and jewelry, all of which have the potential to be virtually “tried on” before buying.

Finally, merchants can use virtual try-ons to create stickier customer experiences and keep buyers coming back for more, knowing that they can more narrowly whittle down their choices with the help of an app or online service. Customers also appreciate the softer benefits of being able to test drive from afar, including a more comfortable, at-home experience in lieu of a crowded mall and dressing rooms. And, as the world begins to open back up and we return to safer socializing and spending time on leisure activities again, not having to visit a store (or, using a virtual try-on option once you get there) means more time for family, friends and fun activities.

A personalized approach

For now at least, the virtual fitting room will continue to serve as a modern-day replacement for the traditional dressing room and a way to augment the in-store shopping experience. As brands continue to focus on creating a more personalized experience for customers, virtual try-ons are yet another step in this direction.

Smart marketers will embrace and expand on the suite of features and services available with virtual try-ons to solidify the trend and optimize the customer experience. The accelerated convergence of virtual retail and ecommerce offers an unprecedented opportunity for brands to capture new customers in an emerging environment or gain an initial foothold in a traditionally challenging vertical.

Performance Marketers Need to Watch These 5 Consumer Trends in 2021

After a year of chaos and uncertainty, these are some of the interests and behaviors that are here to stay

The beauty category is expected to continue growing in 2021.
Getty Images

Never stagnant and ever evolving, consumer buying behaviors took center stage in 2020 as companies tried to keep up with a string of impacts driven by both world and national events of this unique year.

Through it all, several key trends began to emerge. With more employees working remotely, and people spending more time at home, ecommerce sales shot through the roof. Applications like Zoom and social media outlets became the de facto communication tools for co-workers, families and friends as they acclimated to flexible home and work arrangements.

With fewer “outside outlets”–i.e. gyms, social events, concerts, and vacations–available in the near term, here’s how we expect these and other trends to continue to evolve in 2021:

1. Health is top of mind
With health concerns taken on a new importance in 2020, vitamins, supplemental products and telemedicine have exploded and enabled a more flexible, personal and pro-active approach to the category. With more time on videoconferencing, people were able to take a good, long look at themselves for what could have been hours of video conferencing a day and were able to prioritize their health and appearance.

Health and wellness apps like Calm have resonated strongly with consumers in 2020 and will continue growing in 2021. It doesn’t matter if someone is working remotely, homeschooling their children, or working on laptops from their kitchen tables, people still want to put their best foot forward. Home gym equipment like the Peloton had long waiting periods, since they could not produce or ship product fast enough, and demand for subscription-based workout platforms and remote personal training also increased. In the fitness market, we saw a major increase in new health micro-tracking features across fitness and wearable brands.

2. Consumers will always want to look and feel good
The normal beauty regime was supplemented by elective surgeries and the rollout of online makeup platforms like L’Oréal’s Signature Faces. However, the younger generations want an authentic and unfiltered aesthetic where they can also feel immersed in the brand. Gen Zers are searching for more authentic influencers who are uninhibited to reveal their complex personalities and honest and vulnerable lives, according to F-Trend TrendSight.

3. Home is where the heart is
Throughout the pandemic, there’s been a big focus on consumer products that have anything to do with the home. Whether it’s remodeling your kitchen with new appliances or just learning to cook for the first time, people have had a renewed focus on anything home, family and food. The home has become an education hub, an office space–sometimes for two parents–and the entertainment center across all ages. As a result, home repairs and services have exploded as people took pride in their homes and safe environments. Oven-ready meals or a boxed food delivery services that could help you cook at home with your family, created a fun, learning experience to deter from the norm and increased family engagement.

4. Direct shipments and curbside pickup is here to stay
These widely adopted practices provide customers with a mobile-first, contactless option that eliminates waiting in line or searching for items in store. For consumers, the on-demand, convenient and customer-friendly is now the norm. For businesses, it provides another channel in which to engage and an opportunity to optimize customer experiences that can lead to repeatable behavior and increasing brand loyalty. There have obviously been huge gains with companies that have shipped direct to home, including Amazon, whose revenues increased by half-a-trillion dollars in 2020.

5. Esports will continue to gain ground
Online, interactive communities like esports continue to expand and wade into the mainstream. Expect to see an increase in eSports programming on linear TV that will reach new, incremental audiences and casual gaming fans while giving advertisers another option to raise awareness with an otherwise “unreachable” young, male demographic.

The exponential growth and adoption of e-commerce combined with opportunistic buying and have all led to condensed and shifted consumer journey. Also, the increasing user generated video content to launch and support brands, driven by the rise of Tik Tok, will expand further with YouTube, Facebook, IG, Twitter and Snapchat. This expanded video landscape will shift consumer engagement. As the traditional sales funnel has shifted, smart marketers are rethinking how they approach, engage with, and sell across all generations of customers.