It’s true that the onset of Coronavirus has started to drive the digital transformation of the marketing industry. One area that has seen a massive uptake is that of the virtual events market. With large trade shows, conferences, annual meetings and company get-togethers being cancelled or postponed can online virtual events start to plug the gap?
Will virtual events become the norm?
The situation with regards to big in-person events will remain unclear for at least the next 12 to 18 months. In the UK alone VisitBritain is estimating that the events industry could be facing a loss of £58bn this year.
Even if in-person events are able to return in the not to distant future they will likely have to adhere to social distancing practices, which may make them more costly to produce and less effective for both exhibitor and attendee. For example trade shows may need to limit the number of people able to attend, there may need to be more space between booths and one way aisle systems. Considerations on travel restrictions, the availability of accommodation and the complexities of logistics for exhibition equipment would also need to be made.
In the long term would it be realistic to replace large scientific trade shows such as ‘Analytica’ with a virtual event? A virtual meeting could never really replace all of the social networking that happens at a big event, especially around the bar in the evening! However at this point in time they can be key in helping keep people connected, encourage customers to learn about new products, and help people share research and new ideas.
There are also plenty of advantages for virtual events. They have lower cost overheads, you can also reach a wider audience with travel costs and location not being prohibitory to potential attendees and they have far less of an environmental impact. They allow you to track who is attending and engaging with materials.
Virtual events will, or indeed have, become part of the marketing mix, but there will always be a place for face to face meetings and personal contact.
Types and uses of virtual events
Firstly there are the smaller webinar events. External customer facing webinars have been part of the marketing mix for some time now, which can serve as good lead generating tools. They are a great way to introduce customers to new products, technologies or applications. Free webinar events can also add value to the service your company offers its customers.
It’s great to get a guest speaker to present on your webinar. Customers love to hear from other people about real experiences and best practices. So take time to research the best KOL’s (Key Opinion Leaders) to invite to speak on your webinars.
Typically a live webinar should last no longer than 45 minutes, with a further 15 minutes for questions. Usually it’s better to make an on-demand webinar slightly shorter, customers may not be so engaged if it’s not a live event, so an on-demand webinar should be no more than 30 minutes in total.
We have seen the rise of the virtual trade show. These are usually organised by 3rd party groups using a virtual trade show platform. They typically will include multi-session content allowing attendees to view keynote speeches and breakouts in real-time whilst also being able build their own agenda from on-demand content. Attendees may interact with other attendees and exhibitors. As with any trade show, exhibitors will need to brand their virtual exhibition booth, think about their content and who will be their representative at the event.
Some companies are hosting their own virtual trade shows, showcasing their own products only. This can work really well for companies with larger portfolios of products. These events can either be live or offer on-demand content, presented in the form of a trade show.
When a 3rd party is running a trade show you will obviously be paying them to host and market the event. If you choose to run your own there may be costs to use a virtual trade show platform and you will need to attract your own leads.
Finally the Coronavirus crisis will be preventing a lot of businesses from hosting their own company get-togethers, sales meetings and kick off events. Companies can move these internal meetings online. They just need to ensure that they are engaging and don’t become a monotonous PowerPoint festival. It’s still important to mix up content and utilise lots of interactive tools and activities.
Tips for maximising engagement around a virtual event
As with all marketing activities content is king. Don’t fall into the trap of just reusing what you have always had. Determine what content would be needed for live presentations, on-demand use and for lead follow up.
What may work well for in-person meetings may not work so well over the internet. For example complicated animations on a PowerPoint may lag when presented live online, especially when people have different internet speeds.
If you are presenting live keep content simple, bold and to the point. Make your event memorable for the right reasons, so ensure the right technology is in place, with good sound, video, lighting and a great internet connection. Practice the delivery and timing of the content, and then practice again! Be prepared for questions you may be asked at the end of the presentation.
If you’re producing on-demand content then you can be more playful with your animations and graphics and offer a higher production value. On-demand content needs to be engaging, short and punchy to keep the attention of the viewer.
Think about ways to keep your attendees engaged. There are activities you could run such as; ice-breakers, question and answer sessions, ask the expert panels, guest speakers, live product demonstrations, live polling and feedback surveys.
Just because the event has been brought online doesn’t mean you should forego any entertainment. Consider hosting competitions and offering prizes that can be sent in the post following the event. You may want to offer an online musical performance over lunch time, or an online yoga session at the start or end of the day.
Make virtual events more hybrid by sending attendees an exhibition pack in the post before the event. Whilst this may add more overall cost, it will act as a reminder for the event, give your attendees something physical to engage with and make your event more special.
Remember, virtual events like in-person events, require good planning and marketing. Attendance will be minimal without targeted and effective promotion.