Redefining the Terms of Marketing Engagement with Virtual and Hybrid Events

For some, a virtual event is a one-to-many webcast. For others, it’s a well-administered Zoom call. Still, others aspire to produce virtual events that combine the best attributes of one-to-many presentations and one-on-one interaction.

Who’s right? Well, in some respects, everybody is. In a year when COVID-related restrictions have torpedoed the best-laid plans for an untold number of in-person gatherings, event planners have scrambled for a myriad of alternative solutions to in-person events to fill the void. 

Virtual Events Provide Undisputed Value

It’s a scramble that has fostered confusion about what a virtual event actually is, robbing us of a common frame of reference for recognizing the blend of technologies that can transform a digital destination into a robust marketing venue. Sadly, if you were to tell me that you want to put on a virtual event, I would likely have to ask you another 10 questions just to determine which technology solution is best-suited to meet your marketing needs.

From this swirling cauldron of confusion, however, at least one undisputed reality has emerged: People find value in attending online events. And their experience with online technologies makes it highly likely that virtual events will continue to play a role in marketing campaigns even as we return to a post-pandemic sense of normalcy.

Consider the following results from Wainhouse Research’s Enterprise Video End User Survey of 2,101 individuals conducted in the fourth quarter of 2020. Almost half of those surveyed (47%) said that they had attended at least one virtual event in 2020. Of this group that had experienced an online gathering last year, 75% of respondents say they agree with the statement that “The opportunity to attend events remotely would make me more productive.”

These results are intuitive. Virtual venues give individuals the opportunity to engage with others without having to drive their car or hop on an airplane. It makes sense that a large swath of workers would find value in staying close to home as virtual venues open the door to valued engagement opportunities that can be experienced on a remote basis. 

That said, let’s be real. Traditional trade shows are going to be as popular as ever once the risks of the pandemic fade into memory. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine a world where some individuals actually go to more in-person conferences to experience the interactions – and business opportunities – that have been out of their reach for the past year. This is also where we can start to see an uptick in hybrid events, because the virtual aspect is so strong, and has seen such great success.

Virtual and Hybrid Events: the Present and the Future

It bears repeating, what has changed from pre-COVID is that more individuals than ever before recognize the value that can result from attending events on a remote basis. That doesn’t mean that people will stop attending their typical industry conferences. Rather, it should be expected that many individuals will be more likely than they were pre-COVID to attend virtual and hybrid events that they might have otherwise ignored. Virtual events do not supplant existing opportunities for marketing engagement. Rather, they create the opportunity to build more engagement opportunities into the marketing calendar – especially when companies and organizations begin to consider the positive impact of hybrid events.

Wainhouse has a term for describing this initiative to leverage virtual and hybrid event solutions to develop incremental, new venues for audience interaction. We call it “perpetual engagement.” 

When embraced by marketers, perpetual engagement fueled by the implementation of virtual event platforms changes the calculus of those trying to get target audiences to listen to their marketing message. An individual might be reluctant, for instance, to spend two days on the road to hear about the product roadmap of a vendor that interests them. That said, spending two hours at their desk to consume the same information through a digital experience might not be such a heavy lift.

It’s a shift in thinking that should be taken into consideration as you evaluate the potential role of virtual and hybrid event platforms in your future marketing mix. Your questions should not focus solely on whether virtual events can replace the flagship events and conferences that drive your traditional marketing initiatives. 

Adapting Your Marketing Strategy

It’s important to focus on adapting your marketing strategy and developing ideas for putting virtual and hybrid event platforms to work to create events that fill in the current gaps in your marketing calendar. Consider, for example, hosting a small virtual event that enables you to sustain engagement and nurture leads through the sales funnel in months when trade show activity hits a lull.

If you want to read more about how and why virtual and hybrid events will be playing a big role in the post-COVID marketing toolbox, click here to download the report, Virtual Events and The New Era of Perpetual Engagement, developed by Wainhouse on behalf of virtual and hybrid event technology vendor, 6Connex. The perpetual engagement report provides a more detailed explanation of the features of virtual event platforms that marketers can use to foster sustained interaction with key target audiences. 

Not only will the report provide quantification of how companies are using these technologies to promote engagement today, it may even help you better understand the definition of virtual events without having to resort to a dictionary!

Additional Reading:

Virtual Events Examples: E-Learning, Businesses, & Non-Profits

How to Create Successful Hybrid Events in 2021

eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Hybrid Events

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