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  • Helen Pritchett

Virtual events – embrace and be empowered

Updated: May 6, 2021

2021 sees no imminent end to virtual events taking centre stage. Whilst vaccination programmes are giving us hope for a near normal future, for the remainder of 2021 the events industry still faces an ongoing curtailment of face-to-face activities. The industry is one which has long promoted the benefits of human-to-human communication. Meeting face-to-face provides better opportunities for customers to touch and feel products, discuss potential deals, and delivers an environment conducive to developing long term business relationships. However, in this Covid-inflicted era we’ve had to assume a new normal in every facet of our lives and events have not escaped unscathed.

Whilst we long for a return to the face-to-face conviviality of live events, we have adapted to play the hand we have been dealt, and that means staying virtual, at least in the short term. In fact, B2B virtual events are set to be one of the biggest marketing channels in 2021, and, as described in a blog from B2B Marketing, virtual events doesn’t just mean webinars.

Unfortunately, webinars are generally equated to Zoom meetings, and these have developed a poor reputation, leading to Zoom fatigue. As B2B Marketing succinctly puts it, webinars tend not to be the best option for attracting and converting qualified leads, in fact they are quite an “outdated, time-consuming and budget-sapping activity”. Dan Roche, CMO of GDS Group, goes on to say: “With Zoom fatigue a fact of life for the home worker, a webinar is really just another Zoom call. The restrictive one-way presentation format of a webinar doesn’t truly engage attendees, and hampers efforts to build credibility with buyers looking for relevant resources and information.”

Harsh, but fair.

Webinars tend to have low attendance ratios versus registrations, add this to low levels of interaction and you get surprisingly low ROI figures, only exacerbated by the amount of time, energy and resources that go into organising them.

So, what next for virtual events?

It’s time to free yourself from ‘webinar mentality.’ A sea change is needed to for companies and attendees to view virtual events as more exciting than ‘just another Zoom call.’ Virtual events need to grow up to more effectively fill the void left by physical events. What type of events would give a more professional, grown-up experience?

The hosted event.

Think virtual roundtable; creating a focused event with more opportunities to discuss topics that relate to your customers and focusing on a single business issue. Such events can be highly interactive, allowing every participant to share insights, ideas, and pain points and are typically managed on your behalf by a third party – usually a specialist event company – where most of the event’s production is taken care of.

The virtual summit.

Virtual summits are built on a larger scale, delivering the nearest digital equivalent to a live multi-day conference. Virtual summits elevate themselves above a typical hosted event by bringing together multiple solution providers to recreate the value, buzz and excitement of a physical trade show or exhibition.

Should your event strategy for 2021 and beyond include virtual events?

According to Trade Show News Network, 95% of enterprises are now implementing virtual events and webinars for the remainder of 2021 (compared with less than 25% before the pandemic).

Forbes states that virtual events were already becoming popular before the pandemic, a clue that we are not looking at a temporary phenomenon. Globally, the virtual events industry was worth $78 billion in 2019. This space is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 23.2% from 2020 to 2027.

Furthermore, our ways of working and living are changing, including a profound shift toward a stay-at-home economy. Many companies have already announced they will permit employees to work at home indefinitely. Entire industries such as retail are shifting to a model of catering to people in their homes. Engaging with audiences at scale increasingly means finding ways to meet them where they are in decentralized environments and virtual events are ideal for this.

Many large organizations are getting accustomed to managing events virtually, and they are discovering that virtual makes it possible to reach more people cost-effectively. In the early days of the pandemic, Adobe was one of the first big firms to shift a large-scale offline event to a virtual format when it went virtual with Adobe Summit 2020.

Virtual events open up the possibility of immersive experiences, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, livestreaming and video, to enable brands to engage with people at a much larger scale. Free yourself from the webinar mentality by including immersive ways to build engagement with video, livestreaming, polling, and other tools that can help keep people glued to their screens.

The pandemic has subtly changed the B2B sales cycle. Socially distanced customers and prospects are motivated to set up an informational meeting to determine whether your product or service meets their needs. But they don’t always want to contact a salesperson to set this up — many would rather request a virtual meeting with the appropriate experts. Adapt your strategy to meet your customer's needs. Whether this be informal zoom calls with product experts, hosted events for focused product launches or virtual summits for multiple solution providers the virtual event world has a solution that will bridge the gap until we can all meet face-to-face once again.

To quote Don Scales of Forbes Agency Council, in developing a virtual events strategy, companies should… “Be strategic. Be engaging. Be secure. Be human. It’s time to put virtual events to work for your brand.”


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