When the Canadian International Auto Show (CIAS) set their sights on boosting attendance for the largest automotive expo in Canada, they had a tough act to follow… their own. Following record turnouts just in 2016, the Auto Show team tapped a long-standing relationship between their parent company (TADA, the Trillium Automotive Dealers Association) and the core team at Vicimus, unleashing a compact series of insider website strategies propelling their online ticket sales and attendance to new heights in 2017. A trend that continued to grow as the site was refined each year that followed.
To update their web presence as a branch of Canada’s largest automotive association, the CIAS team had plenty of ideas for connecting their consumer audience with the content, branding and online ticket purchases they wanted to achieve. The challenge was to offer all of the information-rich, authoritative and high-impact content their exhibitors, media partners and sponsors demanded, too.
Their biggest concern More importantly, the website needed to offer attendees a simple, seamless and irresistible portal to buy tickets right on the site… capturing their purchasing dollars at the same time the high-traffic site engaged their attention. But you can’t just say buy and expect visitors to purchase without building excitement for the show. For CIAS, their biggest concern for the days leading up to the show was “Whatever it takes, keep the site live.” Otherwise, they’d lose thousands of dollars by the minute, because so much money flows through the site in that first wave of visitors.
For a solution to the show’s intense web traffic and multi-media-hungry requirements, CIAS liked how Vicimus’ background and experience in marketing, technology, branding and design stood out as much as our 16-year history in automotive. Functioning best as a strategic and creative partner, they trusted our understanding of not only the various needs of multiple stakeholders, but also the entire automotive industry. Autoshow.ca isn’t just an expo, it’s a significant impact on various consumers, dealers, OEM and vendors annual success – so the website needed to support them.
After all, CIAS does more than just stage Canada’s largest automotive event… Manufacturers, dealers, and a lot of allied industries are involved, too. So it’s critical for a strategic partner to understand and work with them all. With Vicimus, it was very much a peer-to-peer conversation, as we organized the site to meet everyone’s needs and provide a consultant relationship that offered equal ground for everyone at the table. Starting with a list of requirements, then detailed wireframes and finally design look and feel.
At first glance, countless social media and multi-media innovations had entered the traffic-generating mainstream that the new site had to support. Content-rich sites like Instagram and Facebook Live had become a significant driver for traffic, attention, engagement and live updates, to be integrated into the auto show’s new media hub. And over the next three years more effort was spent to drive traffic from these sites to autoshow.ca. Once of the largest drivers being Facebook as the Autoshow began to conduct Facebook Live events of show talks and interviews.
Even more urgent, CIAS wanted the site to represent their media, sponsorship and exhibition partners — each with their own ideas and access requirements for adding information-rich articles, entertaining videos and featured content highlighting the show’s events. They’d also need to distribute press releases and announcements throughout the show’s run, without overloading the servers on high-demand media days during the show’s launch.
Significantly, as mobile usage increased dramatically in the years leading up to the 2017 launch, we saw it making up more than half of the site’s viewer traffic. So, all of the photo galleries, videos, and call-outs, mentioning every one of the exhibitors paying to be at the show, also required robust content to be fully supported in mobile with smaller page loads while still giving that brochure quality content and delivering excitement. That’s why the whole design was fully mobile-responsive, with several specific decisions making it more adaptive than responsive to avoid impacting the mobile users’ viewing experience.
Making complex things simple Not surprisingly, as the site grew in complexity, it was critical to keep things as simple and free-flowing as possible, for viewers and media partners alike. So the agenda, scheduling and ticket-buying sections of the site were specifically designed with ease of use and multi-user access in mind.
For example, the Toronto Star could put up any content they wanted, and download the hi-res images they needed without affecting the speed, reliability or quick content delivery that viewers enjoyed. In fact, several media companies uploaded hi-res videos, and built out many of their media releases live from their headquarters at the show.
With this much activity, it’s rare to see a site that gets traffic spikes in only 3 days like the CIAS site did. So it was structured for scale and built with multiple backups, with strategic details that went beyond just the tech involved. For example, the Vicimus team built two versions of the homepage, including the regular full-content page and a lightweight , scaled-down page that was easy to switch to the second it started to get REALLY overloaded. So the team was actively engaged, ready to respond to the site’s intense traffic surges and flow on a moment’s notice.
Knowing the site would be going from very little traffic to literally hundreds of thousands of viewers in a day, Vicimus analyzed all aspects of the site’s popularity, anticipating what was going to happen and planning ahead. This addressed one of CIAS’ key concerns… “What’s the contingency plan? Let’s make sure we know what we’ll do when it gets heavy, because we know how heavy it will get.”
From the start, the site was a beast, made to handle an amazing amount of traffic. And we reacted quickly to switch out the front page on demand, as needed. To avoid site overloads, we transferred a lot of the heavy lifting to separate servers, automatically archiving media files and hosting them externally for easy downloads. This was one of our most successful strategies, reducing server stresses and making the whole site load reliably at least 100% faster.
Our focus on the Buy Tickets button positioning and the user experience of trying to purchase a ticket online ensured it was a simple, seamless task. First thing you’d see when you came to the site was some show information and a Buy Tickets button. So whether you’re on mobile or desktop, the focus is still on driving conversions to buy tickets.
Regardless of where you are there is a call out for buying tickets. With call outs in the global nav, embedded in content and living as a sticky side bar that followed you no matter what page you visited. The strategy was to excite them but drive them to the ticket portal. The strategy has worked year over year as we continued to adjust content, streamline pages and evolve content to react to the traffic flow and the CIAS’ strategies each year.