Seminars, trade shows, and conferences have been a staple tactic for marketers for decades. Frankly, there is nothing like face-to-face interaction to drive awareness and generate opportunities. The most recent data (pre-pandemic) from Statista found that 13% of global businesses surveyed spent between 1% and 5% of their marketing budget on events, while 10% reported spending more than half of their budgets on events.
In the past two months, the industry began to scramble and companies were faced with a choice: either cancel their events altogether or make them digital. Questions were asked. Will people still come? Can a digital event still be an engaging experience?
For example, as COVID-19 was making its way through Asia, Salesforce was put in a difficult position. They had an important product launch event scheduled for Sydney in early March and were forced to move it to an all-digital event with just 10 days’ notice. Did people still come? Yes, they did. 80,000 of them. Did people still feel engaged? Over 12,000 of them participated in product demos.
You have to be able to meet customers where they are and, right now, everyone is working digitally. Technology has advanced to the point where it shouldn’t matter if an event is physical or digital. Regardless of the situation, you won’t lose the human elements that are intertwined with events. The key to moving physical events to digital experiences, is just that, making it an experience. Here are a few ways this can be achieved.
When people attend an event, they should feel like they are completely immersed in your brand. Digital environments allow you to completely brand the event experience, without the cost of creating physical signage. When you forgo printed marketing materials, you’ll have the resources and flexibility to hone in on high-quality, engaging digital experiences. Let this be how people are immersed in your brand.
So much about the digital experience was about volume. Physical events gave way for opportunities in high-touch moments and opportunities. Given today’s climate, this obviously needs to change. But the changes shouldn’t be limited to big tent pole events. Event organizers can still bring a trade show floor with booths, seminars, executive roundtables, product launches, and customer appreciation events to a virtual environment, without sacrificing any of the nuances of events in the past.
The key to a great event experience is keeping your audience engaged. Simply streaming a presentation and calling it an event is not a good experience. Everyone needs to feel like they are in the room. Great digital events enable attendees to interact with presenters and even with each other. There is often social networking, interactive content, and gamification integrated into the experience to make it feel more connected and more fun.
Moving to digital does not mean you have to sacrifice your sponsorship revenue. If you’re offering different sponsorship levels, you’re opening new channels for monetization that provide flexibility to attract multiple opportunities for brand exposure. This can include custom branding and digital ad space, presentations, or track sponsorships, content giveaways, and custom sponsor pages. You can even offer sponsors much more data on the attendees they interact with.
This takes us to probably the biggest difference between physical and digital events: You will get better data.
The primary goal of many physical events is lead generation, but how much do we really learn about our prospects at an event? We know whether they show up, but that’s about it. Everything is captured during virtual events: what sessions people attended, for how long, what questions they asked, which videos they watched, what content they downloaded, even how many times they came into the environment. You get so much more than a badge scan or simply a name. The event may be digital but the insights you get about people are real.
For some brands, digital has been part of their event strategy for years and view COVID-19 as merely an inflection point that is expediting this shift at companies around the world. It’s clear this pandemic exposed a need to create more resilient, long-term marketing strategies. Future events will need to incorporate both physical and digital elements, meaning that a hybrid will become the new normal.
But as companies rush to move their events into the digital world today, the key to their success will hinge on how engaging their digital experience is.
Mark Bornstein is the vice president of marketing at ON24.