It has become a bit too easy to undersell the value of virtual events. People still want to be connected. One media company, Winsight, went as far as not doing them, turning instead to online sponsored communities. (Still emphasizing connection, however.) While it works for them, virtual events can still be successful with the right expectations—on both sides. And even when in-person comes back, virtual will remain vital because we will not want to lose that audience. So may be worth it to get them right.
In a recent webinar hosted by exhibitions association UFI, Liz Irving, EVP, head of marketing, technology and customer experience, Clarion North America said that the need for connection—yes, digitally—has never been stronger than it is now. Her company has spent a lot of time conversing with its markets.
“We found new ways to take our markets forward by helping them address their needs today and connect in new ways digitally,” she said. One virtual event they did offered a series of live product demonstrations from people’s homes. “It doesn’t replace face-to-face, but it allowed those connections to be made further upstream.”
Here are more reasons and ideas for keeping and boosting your virtual events:
Create sub-communities. Irving said you can really “home in on specific customers that sellers are looking for, “just on a smaller scale rather than one massive event every one or two years.
Be proactive about managing customer expectations. Emphasize the positive outcomes that attendees can expect—how-to lists, video examples immediate surveys and polls. “It’s really important to manage those expectations and show them that the value of virtual events lies in the reach of the data,” said Laura McCartney, head of exhibitor experience, EMEA, Informa Markets.
Consider the data you can collect virtually. “When you overlay it, every click, every video they watch, every interaction they have, it’s all trackable,” said John Capano, SVP at Impact XM, on an EventBuzz podcast last week. (There’s a transcript.) “And that really helps you understand your audience and develop your next meeting and prove your ROI to your bosses and all those things that you want to do with an event.” That’s a similar advantage to something in my article yesterday, where Sam Yagan who founded OKCupid wanted every interaction to happen on his site where they can track it.
Smaller audiences can reap bigger rewards. “The key is to really understand the different markets you serve and develop strategies specific to each of those markets, panelists agreed,” Sue Pelletier wrote in Trade Show Executive. “Also, digital events can extend the reach of those audiences beyond just the scheduled day of the show by keeping the community and connections going year-round.”
Look at your virtual attendees as an opportunity to market for future in-person. FOMO is a real thing. Capano offered the words you’re looking to hear: “Hey, I went last year online, and it was awesome and I saw how much fun people had on site, I gotta go this year.”
There is incentive to stay with virtual events in some form to stay connected. “I’m going to spend the extra time and effort to get through this year because there’s a lot of value in that live [aspect],” Capano said. “If you asked anyone about trade shows two years ago, or even some live events that weren’t highly engaging… everyone’s like, ‘oh, trade shows are so old school, nobody wants to go to them.’ And now all of a sudden, people are dying to get to trade shows, like ‘I miss it so much. I want to see my friends, I want to be there.’ So really it’s kind of a snap back to realize that virtual well done, and hybrid well done is going to drive the heck out of your success for live going forward.”
Sustainability is a thing—young people especially have indicated in surveys that it affects their decision-making. “Live events take a lot and have a big carbon footprint,” Capano said. “And so doing an event where maybe it’s a smaller live portion, but a much larger online portion, you can get the same benefit and the same engagement for a much smaller carbon footprint. And obviously, that is important and should be important to many of the folks that we work with. So this is really a ton of benefits there. Your cost per attendee, all that stuff is better when it’s hybrid over just live.”
As Irving said, “We do have to educate folks on the value of digital and how it looks different than face-to-face. But Clarion’s business model now will have digital, and it will have face-to-face. You can take some or all of it to help reach the suite of folks you want to find in your industry.“