Mark Roberts serves as PGi’s CMO. He is responsible for all marketing operations worldwide, driving growth opportunities and building brand recognition for the company within the communications market. A proven marketing leader, Roberts has more than 25 years of experience in the technology industry building brands, driving demand and transforming high-tech companies. Visit PGi.com.
Many are starting to ask themselves if in-person events and trade shows that went virtual amid the COVID-19 pandemic will remain virtual in the near future. We believe that the short answer is yes, which augurs well for organizations looking to forge a new kind of relationship with their customers.
A survey conducted for PGi by The Harris Poll found that more than half (54%) of employed Americans now working at home due to COVID-19 are not comfortable going to large, in-person work-related conferences or events this year. Given the uncertainty surrounding the virus, the unwillingness to attend in-person events should come as no surprise.
People who, until now, had limited dealings with technology have forged a new relationship with online meetings. The Harris Poll found teams can be just as productive working from home as they can be in the office, which gives organizations pause when it comes to deciding how and when to bring their teams back in person.
Still, they know they cannot skip the collaboration and networking — two of the opportunities conferences and events afford attendees.
Virtual Events are Here to Stay
Planners have long looked to stage virtual events, but there has not been widespread adoption — until now.
While the pandemic provided the impetus for organizations to transition their physical events into digital experiences, these virtual events will remain a permanent part of the landscape long after COVID-19. While they made the leap out of necessity, many companies quickly found virtual events to be at least as compelling and engaging as in-person events, if not more so — and achieve a bigger attendance.
Many organizations say that even when most people feel comfortable traveling again, events will take on a hybrid format. Some aspects of a show, such as exhibitor presentations, keynote speeches or maybe even networking gatherings, will remain virtual.
But, even if events transition to the hybrid approach, the in-person elements are likely to be more intimate with fewer attendees, in an effort to enforce social distancing and other pandemic-inspired best practices.
These tactics offer two primary benefits, while potentially reaching a broader base of attendees. First, it allows companies to target those who are uncomfortable with the idea of being around so many people and who may, therefore, be reluctant to attend. Second, it allows event holders to involve those who cannot travel because of budget considerations, which adds benefit to making them feel included.
A New Way to Market
Organizations can use virtual gatherings to collect in-depth data about their attendees and increase ROI and attendance. Deploying a questionnaire on the front end, for example, provides the opportunity to collect data on recipients, which sales teams and marketers can (and should) use post-event to tailor follow-up efforts.
Additionally, digital events are often more scalable and can quickly grow with an organization. Organizations unsure about how to proceed can immediately book a smaller event to build their confidence and comfort level.
It also means that, should the landscape change in six months or a year, virtual events can be used in conjunction with an in-person event even if people feel comfortable attending. The reality is that a portion of the population will remain reticent to travel even once the virus is manageable or a vaccine is developed, and companies should keep those concerns in mind as they look to plan their events for the next 12 to 24 months.
A Renewed Focus on Content
Producing a virtual meeting isn’t just about setting up a camera and hoping it goes according to plan. It doesn’t require reinventing the wheel, but it does require organizations to look differently at how they communicate.
Like an in-person event, virtual gatherings need advanced planning and close attention to detail, including developing information for attendees and an agenda to lock down third-party speakers, thought leaders and experts.
Because of the nature of a digital event, much of the content can be created in advance, including recording presentations. The opportunity for companies is to use this reality to their advantage, including adding more personality to recordings and taking the time to perfect the message.
And this opens up additional opportunities for presenters. Because virtual events do not have the interplay between presenters and the audience, presentations should be produced with engagement in mind. For example, include thought-provoking questions to entice attendees to join a live Q&A on social channels or use the chat functionality within the meeting software.
If done correctly, presenters can interact with attendees to bring their information to life in a more direct way that couldn’t be done in person.
A Rethinking of Goals
A well-done virtual event shouldn’t be quicker or easier than an in-person gathering. Much like an in-person event, one should take the time to define the goals, then create a program around those goals.
As part of the planning, critically look at an event through the eyes of the audience. Consider how they would engage, how the agenda flows and whether the sessions are engaging and worth experiencing.
It also necessitates laying the groundwork for success before the event. Once planned, set aside time to properly prepare, so everyone involved, including the speakers and the team members managing the technology, knows their role and the event itself proceeds as planned.
What the world is seeing amid the pandemic is a public that is changing how it interacts with companies — both their own and others. Many organizations are worried about how they will operate in the “Next Normal” that is beginning to emerge.
They must shift their thinking to maintain their relevance among their audiences and, to accomplish this, they must revisit their mission. They will be forced to reckon with how they interact with their customers, and a virtual event may give them the push to take action they might not otherwise consider.
Making it Long-Lasting
Any event should strengthen existing relationships and forge new ones. To accomplish this, consider in advance the post-event steps and how to launch them to avoid losing momentum. Astute organizations use advanced analytics to measure success and gain actionable insights into how attendees engage with their brand. They can use these insights to hone their approach moving forward.
They can also create content based on an event and archive it on a microsite to re-engage post-event with attendees and reach new audiences who could not participate.
Virtual events provide the opportunity to deliver a more immersive experience for attendees. Organizations can use them as a springboard to create ongoing content that builds a stronger sense of community. C&IT