A year back, if someone told you that in-person events will never be the same, virtual and hybrid events will take centrestage and the future of the events industry will drift towards Hybrid for a very long time, would you believe them? I wouldn’t.
Even now, as we approach the end of 2020, B2B marketing leadership and managers of events, demand generation, and field-marketing activities are planning next year’s campaigns and customer-engagement activities. The question on their minds: when will events be back to ‘normal’?
It’s safe to say that large gatherings of people involving flights and hotels will not be happening anytime soon. You can see the empty major sports arenas for an indication of the new normal. However, 2021 events and customer meetings, virtual or otherwise, must be planned and budgeted. What should you do?
Events will remain a crucial piece of the Marketing puzzle
The truth is, marketers, depend heavily on event marketing. B2B trade shows, user conferences, and customer summits are the best way to engage with large numbers of targeted prospects and clients. Similarly, buyers depend on events to see what’s new in their industry and experience innovative new products and services that can help their business.
By October of this year, 95 percent of B2B enterprises have adopted some form of virtual events. Initially, event organizers were pleased to see two to five times the number of attendees, compared to in-person user conferences. Apple, Cisco, Google, and VMware all staged impressive virtual user conferences and are planning more of the same for next year.
Looking at early 2021, we know that CES, the world’s largest consumer electronic show has gone all digital for January 2021, and others such as NRF 2021 have followed. Even smaller regional and field company events have switched to virtual and, based on increased expected attendance, many marketers are planning more and better virtual events for the next 12 months.
But the switch to virtual has brought new challenges. Attendee engagement is by far the most important KPI for event marketers executing virtual events, yet event marketers agree that this is also one of the most challenging aspects of the medium. Audience fatigue is another known issue. Most event organizers have limited or no experience in managing virtual events, or the technologies needed to run a flawless virtual event compared to the impressive in-person events they are accustomed to.
But there’s also another reason. If you peel the onion a bit more, we see that skills and tools can be quickly gained, but in many cases that there may be a lack of enthusiasm about virtual events. I think many marketing organizations viewed virtual events as a temporary solution and had low collaboration between the events and digital marketing teams. This limited the ways in which they could engage more with exhibitors, session speakers, and attendees. To maximize the ROI from virtual events, marketers must commit to making them work and change how they tackle them.
How to improve your virtual events in 2021
It seems likely that the pandemic will gradually fade in 2021, therefore we need a graduated response to event plans. The large events the world has been used to will forever change to hybrid — a combination of virtual and in-person. The good news is hybrid events will reach larger audiences than ever before. Attendees, corporate sponsors, event organizers, and technology companies are beginning to warm up to some of the unexpected benefits of virtual and will integrate it for increased participation. Here’s an approach that I’m recommending to B2B marketers:
Keep your plans fluid. In-person events have the specificity of fixed dates, fixed venues, fixed internal and external attendees, fixed sessions, and so on. Virtual events can be live, recorded, or semi-recorded, with extended dates for follow-up engagements, have live-stream or interactive sessions, extended customer or partner meetings over weeks or even months, attendees, and staff from multiple time zones. You’ll have far more flexibility with this approach.
Think ‘Hub and Spoke.’ Plan every large virtual conference as the hub for major corporate keynotes and sessions, but extend it to multiple smaller events in local regions or by business units. The regional teams can cater to the needs of the local audience and more precisely customize the messages and products or services to them.
Collaborate more. Let’s get our digital marketing teams, event experts, and field marketing teams around the virtual table to maximize the value of virtual events. Digital marketers can offer expertise in automation, while events and field marketers know how to deliver a satisfying attendee experience. The combined power of these teams will deliver the best of both worlds. It also drives consistency on tools and aligns global and enterprise-wide messages.
To learn more about planning for a virtual or hybrid event and drive sales pipeline from it, see a quick demo of how Jifflenow can help you achieve your goals from events.