Don't Panic! Just Change the Way You Plan and Produce Your Exhibits and Events. Thank you, Hyrbid.
If you're like me, imagining what trade shows or conferences are going to be like may be giving you some heartburn and anxiety until a COVID-19 vaccine is available. Not to mention the travel, hotel, ground transportation, restaurants, and social distancing. It’s exciting that Vegas has re-opened and Orlando is on its way, but it’s also extremely discouraging hearing about the recent COVID-19 spikes across the U.S. in 20 states (according to the major U.S. news networksat1PM EST on June 16, 2020).
One thing is for certain -- when the convention centers and venues open again, we are going to see fewer attendees and exhibitors than in the past. But don't panic! It is NOT an indication that the event marketing industry is failing. It’s just evolving...as it should be.
According to a recent study conducted by Freeman among previous trade-show attendees:
61% of previous trade show attendees do not know when they’ll be returning to in-person events because they don’t have enough information to make the decision
55% cited that the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine is driving when people will start attending trade shows again
And based on another Freeman study, from the event marketers’ point of view:
78% agree that moving forward, in-person events will pivot to hybrid models
81% agree that digital events will need to include networking and engagement, in addition to learning
Over half will only produce digital events for the next 6 months and 1/4 will host smaller in-person events
So what's the solution? Clearly, there are going to be many companies (exhibitors) and people (attendees) who will decide to skip the 2020 / 2021 event and err on the side of caution. The good news is many ‘non-attendees’ plan to opt-in to attending a well-produced online version of the live event – better known as a ‘hybrid event’.
Hybrid events are the future, at least for now, and are becoming increasingly popular since they allow physical engagement and live, interactive virtual participation simultaneously while avoiding the downfalls of virtual events.
The hybrid event is right between the virtual events that companies are scrambling to create and the ones we used to attend in-person before March 2020 & the ones we look forward to getting back to, safely, in the near future.
While the concept of hybrid events is not new, they will occur exponentially more often which now requires organizers to consider how the event is going to be experienced through a computer screen or device as well as in-person. Hybrid event organizers will also need to put more focus on how the virtual attendee will potentially interact with brands and the other happenings that are occurring in the physical environment. It is important that the virtual side of the event is valuable enough to monetize but not so valuable that people won’t want to attend in-person in the future. Event experiences will need to be uniquely designed and produced for both types of audiences.
While the virtual side of hybrid events have their benefits, which we’ll discuss in a moment, the downside is the lack of in-person, human interaction which cannot be replicated (yet). In-person interaction is said to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, element of business. In-person events have been proven to accelerate sales cycles and close deals quicker, build relationships that go well beyond the sale, and allow us to finally get some time away from our computer screen and office for a few days. Want 10 more reasons? Check out this 2018 article from Inc. Magazine which still holds true today. https://www.inc.com/andrew-griffiths/10-reasons-face-to-face-meetings-are-more-important-than-we-think.html. Now onto the benefits of the virtual side of hybrid events. The benefits are very clear and obvious:
Attract broader and more diverse audiences. The web has no borders.
Sustainability. Smaller events = less waste. Fewer people traveling = reduced carbon footprint.
Immediate audience response from interactive online quizzes, polls, surveys, social media postings, and Q&A sessions. These are used more widely and often during digital events compared with in-person events.
Digital footprints allow organizers and sponsors to track where the attendees are going, what they are clicking and how they are interacting which can all be difficult at in-person events without RFID or beacons.
What you'll for a successful hybrid event
For brands (exhibitors/sponsors) and event producers to deliver a successful online experience at an industry hybrid event, marketers will need to re-think both their in-person experience and their online experience. There are going to be just as many moving pieces for the virtual side of a hybrid exhibit as there will be for the in-person side, but with new and different pieces. So, should there be a dedicated online event team just like there is for in-person? The virtual side will require a change in thinking and planning to deliver memorable and relevant experiences for that audience. It's not just about adding some cameras to stream your booth, panel discussions or keynote addresses. Exhibits and events will need to evolve and become more interactive to keep guests engaged. Online events will require professional production to be engaging and easy on the eyes. And it’s likely deserving of its own event strategy to ensure that the online audience does not feel alienated. Organizers will have to take the needs and wants of the online community seriously to ensure virtual attendees take the time to visit, interact, and engage as well as receive value for their time and money.
Is this the rise of the Digital Event Manager? Someone dedicated to and responsible for the tasks and activities that go into the typical physical presence, but for those not stepping foot inside the venue or exhibits. Will you need to hire or outsource this role? By shifting existing resources and applying the new understanding of events, maybe there is an existing member of your team that can successfully take on this role.
Regardless of what side you’re on, virtual or in-person, each requires consistency and rigor and must be well executed to build brand equity. Since we can’t predict how this is going to play out, it’s important that audiences are not turned off and event momentum does not flat-line. The alternative to preparing for hybrid events is to take a hiatus from participating in large scale trade shows and conferences altogether and for us event professionals, that is not the preferred option!
Remember - “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” -Walt Disney
To learn more about the Freeman studies on how COVID-19 has impacted the event marketing industry, visit: https://go.freeman.com/research.html.
If you need help with your virtual, in-person, or hybrid exhibit and event marketing strategy and measurement, please let me know. I’d love to help you.