As I believe virtual events will or have already become an integral part of a marketing strategy, my goal is to highlight how to leverage this technology most effectively to achieve your communications and marketing objectives. In the essence of full disclosure, I was previously employed by two vendors in this space (Inxpo and On24) and am currently assisting Virtual Edge Institute for their January Summit in Las Vegas. I hope to engage key vendors and thought leaders in the space with more Q&A’s to follow. To kick off the series, I interviewed Miguel Arias of Imaste, a leading provider of virtual job fairs and tradeshow platforms based in Europe, via Skype and over email.
Miguel Arias is co-founder and COO of IMASTE. Miguel is also a proactive start up mentor, integrated in the Instituto de Empresa Business School Venture Lab programme. Miguel holds a MSc Degree in Civil Engineering from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, and a Professional MBA from the Instituto de Empresa Business School, and is fluent in 4 languages. You can read his thoughts about the industry on his blog or follow him on twitter (@imasteips or @mike_arias).
Tell me about Imaste and how you began
Imaste is Europe’s leading specialist in virtual events, fairs and trade shows. Since its launch, we have delivered more the 100 virtual experiences in more than 15 countries. Imaste has strong partnerships with some of the major job boards across the globe, as well as with global corporations and interactive agencies, with a strong focus in the European and South American markets.
We started with physical job fairs and then moved to virtual, starting our work in Spain, and expanding afterward in the main European markets. We started by managing all the aspects of a physical event from organization, conception, logistics, sales, marketing to execution. We saw the real needs of our customers to go virtual and how they could benefit from technological platforms to obtain better results. 30 percent of our business is still physical with 70 percent virtual.
One of our first international clients was Monster, which provided us more awareness and an opportunity to work in many regions in a short period of time and also cooperate with other leading job boards, like curriculum.com.br in Brazil, Dridco in Argentina, Venezuela, etc.
Our market to date is 60-70% virtual job fairs and 30% mainstream tradeshows, with little demand for corporate events at this time. We’re strongly diversifying our reach; delivering more and more generic virtual trade shows (MBA trade shows, entrepreneur virtual events, franchising events, automotive industry trade shows…)
Does your physical background provide you an advantage?
We believe delivering a great virtual event is not just about the number of features or backend capabilities. It’s more about delivering a live experience that is equivalent to real life, and we’re experts in that.
Our solutions have an engaging look & feel and interface design, compared to other applications. Our attendees experience the feeling of taking part in a real event, where they can interact with others, learn, share and network. While other American competing platforms may have more reporting or data mining tools, we are focused on the user experience and real results gathering.
Is this all custom work?
Actually not. We completely customize the look and feel of our virtual events, and we also offer a great array of customization possibilities in the platform configuration and 3D environment set up. But we offer each exhibitor a complete backend to manage their content, leads and live interactions.
We will organize about 70 events this year in more than 18 countries. Therefore we have gathered a lot of experience in language customization, adaptation to cultural differences in many regions and server and data integration with various systems and infrastructures.
What is your webinar technology?
We have our own webinar application, but we have seen great apps being developed out there. Therefore we integrate our platform with other solutions. We also integrate with other type of applications such as Ustream and dimdim.
We believe that most of the virtual event platforms will be able to integrate with many of the existing webinar solutions in the future, therefore webinars are going to be a commodity in the market.
Tell me about a typical event?
We usually deliver main stream events that are open 7-10 days with 40-80 exhibitors for an event. We have an average of 100,000 unique visitors per event with a maximum of over 300,000 unique users and peaks of 80,000 users a day in Argentina. We’ve had simultaneous chats up of 1,000 attendees.
The landing page, interfaces look & feel and even 3D environments are customized on a case by case basis. For each client work, we work as an agency, offering training and continuous technical and operations support, which helps the client.
We also offer orientation tests, which is a compatibility test that matches an attendee with prospective exhibitors that match his or her profile. This is used for all kind of trade shows, not just virtual job fairs. We narrow down the best prospects and affinity based on the responses. The exhibitors then also provide their responses which is how the matching works.
This information is stored in the attendee’s profile. The companies can also view the matches for follow up for sales and recruitment pre-screening.
What is the cost for your events?
We deliver low-end, basic solutions with look and feeling customization, but no registration or feature customization. Using one of our templates with basic functionality and 25 exhibitor booths the cost is about US$12,000.
High-end, standard solutions with complete functionality (registration tool, real time written and video interaction, orientation tests, etc), some degree of customization and around 40 customers is about US$30,0000.
If we incorporate video production and complete customization, then this can be up to US$60-80,000.
What is the timeline for an event?
We can develop an event in one month and the bottleneck normally is on the client side, in their sales process. Normally we provide marketing training, sales training and logistics training to communicate the work load and the expectations. A virtual event is not just a fancy website. The partner needs to understand how dynamic the event is. Sometimes in Spain, we even do the sales and logistics.
We are a partner throughout the whole process, providing timelines, documentation, control, etc.
What are your future plans?
We go where the client needs us. We have created corporate environments and believe there is more need for all kinds of virtual trade shows, not just virtual job fairs.
Till now, Europe doesn’t have much business in virtual events, but this is rapidly changing. We will face the challenge to remain leaders when the market consolidates and the American players start their operations here. But Europe is a difficult market, with many particularities, and we have the experience, contacts and resources to grow in our own playground.
We plan to deliver some events in the US by the end of the year, but our main market is Europe and South America.
Where do you see the industry going?
A definite trend is that most physical events are going hybrid event, as physical want to go virtual with tighter integration. As an attendee, you’ll go to a physical exhibit and shout your experience in Facebook, while you favorite some content virtually and gather physical samples. You’ll have networking in virtual and meet in physical.
We are continuously developing our platform; in the next weeks we will announce the new version, with many exciting new features. We are moving into full screen mode with more smooth video integration and much more.
We do not believe in avatar based immersive technologies for virtual trade show purposes, As users lose so much time learning how to set up their avatar and walking around, and the event is about getting information and interaction as soon as possible.
There will be an increase in networking, in 3D experience, physical virtual connection, and interaction (better chat, 1:1, etc.).
In the end it’s all about online collaboration with real time interaction and communication tools in 3D alike intuitive environments, having a sense of being there, then.