Architects today, need to know how to participate successfully in virtual architecture exhibitions. In a post-COVID world, online exhibitions have replaced traditional or physical exhibitions across the globe. Even the most well-respected global exhibitions related to architecture, interior design & construction have gone virtual. And it is apparent, that virtual architecture exhibitions are here to stay for a couple of years, till we triumph over the virus.
Firstly, let us understand what are virtual architecture exhibitions. Online exhibitions, replicate the experience of an actual physical event, in a digital form. The possibilities for such exhibitions are endless. They can be a simple website with URLs named “central hall”, “lounge”, “stalls” where participants can load their material in 2D form. They can be complex virtual reality exhibitions that allow visitors to walk-through; truly replicating a real-life experience. Surprisingly, the concept is not new as the format has been used by museums and online galleries to exhibit and conduct auctions. As an architect, it truly helps to participate in such events as these are effective networking platforms in the AEC industry. However, as a participant, you need to spend money to set up a stall & return on investment is important. Here are our top tips for participating successfully in virtual architectural exhibitions.
“Freestyle” was probably one of the first virtual architecture exhibitions hosted during the start of the COVID era. It was designed by Space Popular for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). What set apart this exhibition is that it did not simply mimic a conventional online exhibition. They leveraged this online opportunity, with virtual reality and ended up enhancing the experience way beyond what a physical exhibition could. Typical hosts of architecture exhibitions in India end up using readily available architecture platforms. Some of the well-known ones are Dreamcast, Inexpo, Blues N Coppers, VFairs, 6connext, etc.
While features might vary, the basic tools are similar. A virtual stall, interactive UI, templates to upload one’s own content, and more. It helps an architect know what an exhibition platform offers, beforehand so that he can work on designing tech-compatible elements which clearly demonstrate the capabilities of his firm. The most basic assets one should have are videos (on loop), digital visiting cards, creatives for digital standees, and links to social platforms including WhatsApp. Anything that attracts a virtual stall visitor, helps.
We understand that participating in an exhibition costs money, especially stall rentals. The good news is virtual architecture exhibitions can have cheaper rentals. However, our suggestion is to invest in creating a booth that gets you, customers. Do not be penny wise pound foolish.
· Ensure your content is transformed for digital use; this does not mean just say converting a catalog into PDF format. You must make it digital-friendly such as use more visuals, larger font sizes, and crisp sentences.
· Introduce a ‘live event’. The organisers might ask you to pay a little extra for this. However, have a specific time-slot to say launch a project or talk about your firm, ensures that you have people’s attention. A closed timeframe surprisingly increases the integrity of the event & increases participation.
· This is easy- cut down long communication into bite-sized sessions or content formats. The ‘visitors’ are essentially looking at the screen & are being bombarded by information. Keeping your communication clear and short, helps cut through the clutter.
· Keep scripts for all scenarios ready. While the hosts at your booth might be experienced employees; virtual exhibition traffic can be overwhelming. One ‘busy space’ in the chat window- where visitors are likely to ask similar questions. Hence a bank of responses that can be copy-pasted is helpful.
· Engage a professional designer adept at online content creation. A high production quality ensures higher engagement.
Smart personalisation through technology; can help an architect get quality leads via virtual architecture exhibitions. One can collaborate with the exhibition host and make visitors fill out forms with preferences. Based on their preference, they can be led through a customised journey, through the event. This means you end up with clients most that are most likely to convert. For example, if you are into mid-segment housing, you would want to attract clients of that category.
AI is being widely used to deliver a customised ‘match-making’ experience in exhibitions. The use of chatbots to further guide the ‘visitors’ is widely being observed. Our suggestion is to speak to your organiser and harness the technology they are using to your advantage. Chatbots are another tool to create personalised interactions; as your employees, may not be online 24x7.
This may sound counter-intuitive to most readers. You may ask, “aren’t we participating to build leads?”. Well, yes and no. There are times when you may have important prospects who may need to the “show” to get convinced. Meeting times with your employees can be set up and an exhibition; they may get a more wholesome experience compared to simply visiting your website.
Another way to generate leads is to have the sponsor, create landing pages that allow visitors to pre-book a meeting with you (and others). This way you are prepared the handle the traffic and can fix meetings in slots where your stall is free. If you are managing marketing yourself, you can create Facebook ads to generate leads for the virtual event. This method helps your staff utilise their time effectively.
The only way to make a mark in virtual architecture exhibitions is if you can engage your visitors. Engagement means hooking your customers in a way that they remember you. One key tool to do this is to encourage two-way communication. Virtual break-out rooms, in online exhibitions, are a useful tool. It helps you bring together and nurture small groups of prospects. It saves time as a lot of topics get covered at once. Knowing there are others in the room, makes the visitors perceive that your project is quite in demand.
You can also use surveys, live group chats, and live polls to make your visitors participate. Question and answer session with the key stakeholders of a project also provides a sense of assurance to participants. For example, you can have your chief designer, legal head, sales head, etc. take on different Q&A sessions. This helps address the concerns of participants and even can treat as a feedback platform for yourself.
Virtual architecture exhibitions are the reality of our times and will be so for the next two years at least. It is essential that a practicing architect stays in tune with the times. Our recommendation is to keep a tab on such exhibitions and see the ones which appear to be cost-effective. Check the technology available. Once you participate in one or two of such; you will understand the ecosystem better. The return on your investment will then improve.
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