Content Hub or Virtual Trade Show: Which is Right for Your Association?

Content Hub or Virtual Trade Show: Which is Right for Your Association?

After two years of mostly virtual association conferences, in-person meetings are finally making a comeback. However, not all association members are ready to venture out, and the number of business trips by individuals remains below pre-pandemic levels.

Individual health and safety concerns, tighter travel budgets, and growing adoption of conducting business virtually are among the factors that will continue to negatively impact event attendance in coming years. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is projecting business event attendance to be 60-65% of pre-pandemic levels this year. And according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, revenue associated with business travel will fall $20 billion short of 2019 numbers.

As associations have learned in the past few years, having a virtual component in your event strategy is an essential way to serve all members and stakeholders, not just those who are willing to travel for in-person conferences.

While a growing number of organizations have experimented with virtual trade show platforms since the start of the pandemic, many are discovering that it may not be the best option when it comes to finding a robust solution that serves members and sponsors alike.

What is a virtual trade show?

A virtual tradeshow (VTS) is an online space where “attendees” explore products and services and can “network” virtually with sponsors and colleagues. Typically, the programming of a VTS will also include an educational track in the form of a series of webinars that users can attend.

Sponsoring companies have virtual booth presences where they can share information about products and services. They can also purchase sponsorship packages to heighten their visibility.

While virtual tradeshows are typically “live” for a longer period of time than an in-person event, they are generally hosted for a limited amount of time, depending on the fees an organization is willing to pay.

According to research conducted by Freeman, 69% of sponsors rate their VTS experience as only fair or poor. In addition, Freeman’s vice president of data insights, Parul Shah, told Convene, “63% of exhibitors said virtual events do not meet their goals.”

And virtual trade shows have not proven to be an effective way for organizations to recoup lost revenue from live events either. Most virtual events are small (49% generate less than $250,000 in revenue) and generate only a fraction of the revenue of in-person events, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

There is no such thing as a virtual exhibition, said Jochen Witt, partner and board member of jwc, a trade show consulting firm. “It’s nonsense. It does not exist. An exhibition is feel, taste, smell, touch. It’s not possible virtually, it’s not possible digitally. Did you ever take a digital swim or a virtual meal?”

And while the virtual trade show format has not proven to be the universal remedy many hoped for, what is pretty much beyond dispute at this point is that, going forward, most if not all in-person events will need a complementary virtual component.

For many associations, online content hubs are proving to be an effective addition to their event strategy.

What is a content hub?

A content hub can support a live event and offer much more. Sometimes called a “knowledge center” or “resource library,” a content hub offers a steady stream of new, ever-evolving content. The hub primarily houses thought leadership resources and content from industry solution providers and corporate sponsors, but can also include content from the association itself, including content captured from live events.

The content and resources are always highly-targeted to members’ informational needs and may include white papers, reports, guides, research, ebooks, recorded webinars and videos, and more. Members can then access the online content via a central hub which, oftentimes, is implemented, hosted, and managed by a third-party partner.

LegalFuel Knowledge Center
LegalFuel Knowledge Center

Following are eight reasons to consider why a content hub may be an ideal complement to your association’s event strategy.

1. Expand your reach

A content hub has a year-round presence. Resources can be updated by contributors on a regular basis, and members can be encouraged to turn to the hub for answers and solutions throughout the year. Compared to virtual trade shows, which occur at set times throughout the year, content hubs can reach more members on their schedules and offer more timely content that members value.

2. Drive non-dues revenue year-round

A content hub is a cost-effective way to provide valuable insights to members and gain additional revenue for your association. There is no cost to launch a content hub if you work with a trusted partner, and it can quickly become a recurring revenue stream throughout the year, not simply during the period of time that an organization pays to host a virtual trade show.

Corporate sponsors receive leads generated through content downloads for which they pay a set fee per lead. Associations receive a percentage of that fee. This is an economical way to offer insightful content to members and build non-dues revenue at the same time without having to pay for hosting and setup like you would with a virtual trade show.

3. Promote inclusivity

A content hub can be a more inclusive option than a virtual trade show. It can appeal to in-person attendees who want to follow up for more information and to individuals who aren’t available during a conference or event but who are still interested in accessing content when it better suits their schedule.

For busy members, members who may not be able to attend scheduled events, or members who simply prefer the convenience of reviewing content on their terms, a content hub can be a welcome addition to an association engagement strategy.

4. Demonstrate flexibility

A content hub, being more flexible and adaptable than a virtual trade show, can appeal to today’s younger members and consumers. Millennials and Gen Z are more likely than older generations to research products online and are comfortable shopping and accessing information on their smartphones.

Offering a content hub to enable younger members to access up-to-date information, conduct timely research, and explore products and services can help facilitate a connection between associations and younger members.

5. Expand your limits

A content hub can host all types of information, beyond typical virtual trade show content. In addition to housing information about products and services, a content hub can serve as members’ go-to source for on-demand webinars, white papers, reports, and more.

A diverse array of offerings can increase the opportunities for members and stakeholders to engage with the platform, improving the value provided by an association. This expanded access to information can increase the number of potential leads generated for corporate sponsors which in turn drives revenue for the association.

6. Increase member engagement

A content hub is also a great way to boost member engagement year-round. Associations can promote their content hub on a regular basis and send links to specific content in emails, newsletters, and other association communications.

Associations can even use their content hub to publish their own content of interest to their members. Whether that’s industry insights or up-to-the-minute news, having a content hub in place can provide a single location for content updates that members appreciate.

7. Be ready for any emergency

A content hub is, in a sense, a continuity plan for events because it allows an association to add and share content at any point, even if there’s another pandemic or natural disaster that disrupts travel and forces delays and cancellations. No matter what local or even global events are interrupting your activities, members can still access content already uploaded and available in your digital resource library.

8. Boost brand awareness

Finally, a content hub can help boost an association’s brand awareness and industry stature. Members will come to rely on the regularly updated resources housed within a content hub, which will elevate your association as the go-to source for valuable content within your industry.

Content hubs also provide real-time analytics via web-based dashboards to uncover the topics members are most interested in. Armed with these kinds of insights, associations can optimize their own programming to more closely target member interests.

How to launch a content hub in weeks

Though virtual trade shows have not proven to be a panacea for the disruptions associations are still coping with, content hubs can be a powerful addition to an association’s event strategy. Not only that, but content hubs offer sponsors, members, and associations themselves benefits throughout the year, rather than a period of a few days.

To learn more, visit Lead Marvels or request a demo.