The SEMA360 Experience: Blazing a New Trail
By Chris Kersting
SEMA360 was launched as a means to give companies desiring an opportunity to connect and do business a chance to do just that. Leveraging technology in this way was something nobody in the SEMA realm had done before, but in the end, we found ways to network, celebrate our industry luminaries, spotlight 330 builders around the country, conduct 30 educational sessions, and expose thousands of new products to buyers all over the world.
Now that the SEMA360 experience is in the rearview mirror, we can say that the platform may not have been the perfect solution for every business, but a lot of value was delivered for those who worked the site. Perhaps the most important benefit was what was learned, both by the association and by the industry participants.
In a world that is demanding a higher degree of digital competence from all of us, SEMA360 was a great test drive for a variety of virtual concepts. SEMA360 forced the association and the industry to develop online tools that none of us would have had much time for in a normal year, and to understand the value that can be pulled from them.
The live SEMA Show is unique in many ways, because it allows people to engage in business and immerse themselves in the rich and varied specialty automotive lifestyle. That won’t go away. But a robust digital presence is becoming more important than ever as our industry and our association move forward. SEMA360 took us down a path that we really need to travel.
Regarding the platform, which was developed in just 70 days, certain features proved to deliver more value than anticipated. Much of the functionality of SEMA360 was designed around the need for buyers and sellers to interact, which led to the development of the Networking Lounge. During SEMA Week, it became a place for participants to systematically seek out and engage the people they wanted to do business with directly.
Our post-360 user surveys will tell us more about how participants took advantage of that feature and others, but our initial feedback is that the Networking Lounge provided a functionality that might even be superior in some ways to networking opportunities available at the live Show. It was also significant that out of 620 companies that participated, 100 were first-time exhibitors, giving companies new to our industry a way to get to a SEMA marketplace in the void of the cancelled SEMA Show.
Other high points included the success of the educational component, which saw much higher rates of participation and lower rates of attrition than what we have come to expect at the live SEMA Show. And we saw higher rates of international buyer participation, which suggests that the platform holds promise for marketing products to overseas buyers who may not be able to attend the SEMA Show.
Back in August, our polls told us that not everybody would be interested in a virtual substitute for the Show—but some definitely would be. And we saw that in introducing a first-time experience: Some folks just skimmed the opportunity, and others jumped in with both feet. Just as at the live SEMA Show, it’s likely that some Showcase exhibitors were more successful than others, depending on how they went about using the opportunity. From what we learned, we are in a position to adjust, evolve and build for the future.
A new tool such as SEMA360 takes time to develop, and it takes time for people to learn to use it and find value. A decade from now, we may think of 2020 as historic—the first time in more than 50 years without a SEMA Show—and, just maybe, the beginning of something new.