Last week I attended “Digital Edge: A Virtual Trade Show for Marketers”, hosted by BtoB Magazine. The event which lasted almost 6 hours was hosted on the ON24 platform. Now I know ON24 is not new to the game so this shout-out maybe comes a bit late but I was sufficiently impressed that I wanted to make my readers aware of what is out there.
When you sign into the event, you find yourself in a “virtual lobby” that emulates what you would see if you went to a convention center for a live trade show. There is an exhibition area, an auditorium, a networking lounge and a resource center. ON24 makes what I think is a good compromise in terms of the virtual experience. They could have gone the Second Life route and created a fully animated virtual world complete with avatars representing the conference participants. This solution, while very sexy, is bandwidth intensive and just begs for technical problems for non-tech-savvy attendees. Instead, ON24 opted for attractive two dimensional graphics that are highly intuitive. It doesn’t take a PhD to figure out how to navigate within the system.
The auditorium basically serves up webinars. The tech is rudimentary: no polling, no screen sharing, no chat room. It’s simply display of slides, optional display of the presenter on video and optional ability to submit questions. Since this is not a stand-alone product but rather, a piece of a much larger platform, one is quite willing to forgive its bare-bones functionality. You’re there to see keynote speakers and to attend breakout sessions just as you would at any public symposium offering multiple tracks of presenters. The tech meets the need. No bells and whistles required.
The exhibition area emulates that of a convention center where multiple vendors have set up booths for you to visit. The sophistication of these virtual booths seems limited only by the imagination of the vendor. I visited all of the booths in the course of the event and each one had a video you could play at the start of your visit. Each one had interactive chat so you could talk to the booth host. Some offered links for prize giveaways (kind of emulating walking up to the booth and grabbing one of those stress relieving squeeze balls with the company logo on it). Some offered white papers you could download. Integral to the ON24 platform is the ability to exchange virtual business cards and at least one of the vendors initiated a business card exchange with me. It’s obvious what marketing potential this provides and ON24 does it in a simple and straight forward manner.
The resource center collected many of the booth offerings all in one place for quick download. Finally, the networking lounge was a chat room where attendees and vendors could “mingle” to discuss the conference and make connections.
I attended a similar event a couple of years ago and I confess that I don’t remember the platform used. I DO remember the platform crashing on me several times. ON24 delivered a seamless experience with only one glitch when a video in one of the vendor booths had no sound. Since it was not a platform-wide problem, I have to assume the ON24 techies and the vendor had not communicated properly on how to broadcast the video.
In case you’re wondering “how could you possibly sit through almost six hours of webinars?”, it was actually quite easy. There were 15 minute breaks between each presentation, more than enough time for a bathroom break, or time to slap together a quick lunch and return to one’s desk.
I have not investigated ON24 pricing but I have to assume it is not a cheap endeavor. Fortunately, organizers can defray some of the cost by charging rental fees for vendor exhibit booths (as is the custom in a physical symposium). Based on my experience as an attendee, I’d highly recommend you check out ON24 if you want to go beyond the one hour webinar format into the all day conference space.
For a discussion of the actual content of the event and what it says about marketing in the social media age, please see my article at Vell Connected.