In the midst of a period of immense global disruption, UK electronics manufacturers are increasingly looking to the powers of digital connectivity to maximise productivity and keep their employees safe.
For many, remote working is the 'new normal', with the use of online collaborative tools and cloud-based apps having increased exponentially in just a few short weeks.
While there have been many logistical challenges to grapple with in the short term, there is also the issue of how manufacturers can continue to interact with their existing and prospective customers in the weeks and months to come.
Trade fairs and exhibitions, for example, have long been the mainstay for companies seeking to showcase their products and connect with clients, prospects and stakeholders.
In the UK alone, the exhibition and trade fairs sector is worth in excess of £19.2 billion annually.
But with all live industry events postponed for the foreseeable future, the question is how to best replicate those experiences in an authentic but safe way.
Taking live events online
At a time when any form of face-to-face interaction is a no-go, one solution could be to transition a planned live event to an online environment by taking part in a virtual trade fair (VTF).
Operating in much the same way as a regular exhibition, the hall and booths of a VTF are designed to replicate actual physical dimensions.
Once 'built', exhibitors are then able to populate their stands with a range of interactive content which visitors can explore and download.
Of course, just like any traditional trade show, a virtual event presents both its benefits and its drawbacks.
Replicating the energy and buzz of an actual live exhibition hall is no small task.
And while virtual communication tools such as live chat or 1-1 video can be hugely helpful in aiding interaction, it's hard for these technologies to replace the organic personal experience of speaking to someone in person or of being able to hold a product in your hand.
In contrast to a physical event however, a virtual event can offer both exhibitors and attendees a higher degree of accessibility and flexibility.
Unlike live events, virtual exhibitions can be visited on-demand, and irrespective of an attendee's geographic location, enabling manufacturers to extend their marketing reach.
Another plus-point of the VTF format is longevity, with the doors of a virtual event being open 24/7 for several weeks or months at a time, or even year-round if required.
Exhibitions that are hosted online have also been shown to offer advantages when it comes to the quality and quantity of lead generation.
Analytics tools are pre-loaded into the platforms, which provides exhibitors with the ability to track visitor traffic patterns, measure event performance and gauge their return on investment (ROI).
Virtual events also enable a high degree of personalisation, with exhibitors being able to analyse exactly how individual attendees have interacted with their online content, and then following that up with relevant and customised information post-event.
From a cost-saving perspective, a virtual event removes many of the costs typically associated with a live event - with equipment hire, staff transport, accommodation, catering and offline marketing expenses no longer being required.
Finally too, while the planning for a live event can take many months, the setup time for a virtual event can be as little as three to four weeks.
For those businesses that may have been a little slower to uptake a digital strategy, the palpable impact of COVID-19 has undoubtedly provided the impetus.
And with no clear finish-line in sight, the reliance on digital and virtual technologies is only likely to increase.
For some this will mean venturing into uncharted territory, which will bring with it some inevitable logistical and operational challenges.
There's little doubt though that digital transformation is part of the puzzle in helping electronics manufacturers to ride the wave, to bounce back as quickly as possible and to be better prepared for the future.
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