Will there be a ‘return to normal’ or has the mass disruption that Covid brought, shifted the events landscape for good? We believe the latter. Out of necessity, the events industry was forced to innovate and create a means to solve its perennial challenges – joining up digital and analogue channels and expanding reach to deliver ROI. It has also created a tech savvy workforce with a culture of acceptance around working remotely, virtual meetings and events and the benefits they provide.
However, Covid has also reminded us that we all crave human interaction – we are pack animals at heart and by instinct and need to be able to verbally, physical and emotionally connect with each other. Combine this with a general feeling of ‘virtual fatigue’ and there is a tangible appetite for in-person experiences.
There is likely to be a spectrum of opinion and attitude that continues beyond the pandemic. Safety concerns will continue for some, especially with foreign travel. Others will have enjoyed the way virtual events can fit around busy schedules and avoid the expense of travel and hotel stays. Some appreciate the way virtual events allow you to dip your toe into a relationship with a new business without the need for further commitment; and others may be wary of their carbon footprint and appreciate the sustainability of virtual events.
B2B events that win out are the ones that offer choice and flexibility and allow the customer to engage on their own terms. Events that cater to both audiences equally – those that crave live, are sick to death of ‘virtual’ and will make the commitment; and those that want or expect to engage virtually. In other words – hybrid events – which we believe will be the new normal of the events industry.
Hybrid events have been part of the events arsenal for years – but delivered as a ‘cut and shut’ of digital and analogue. Is there a place for this approach in 2021 and beyond?
WE BELIEVE THERE WILL BE TWO FORMS OF HYBRID…
Passive hybrid involves creating an event In Real Life and broadcasting it, either by live-streaming content or hosting some of the content online for on-demand consumption during or after the event.
Essentially, you are choosing to prioritise the in-person attendee in terms of experience and depth of engagement; with virtual attendees offered an opportunity for passive engagement.
It may be a less popular opinion, but we believe this approach will continue to have its merits.
BENEFITS OF PASSIVE HYBRID
- With businesses lacking confidence to invest heavily in events, and looking to mitigate risk, this is a cost effective and flexible solution with higher reach and ROI than just live
- You can fall back on the broadcast element if something happens like the re-tightening of travel restrictions, without increased investment
- It fully takes advantage of the appetite for in-person experiences
- It’s straightforward to deliver using off-the-shelf, bolt-on technology
- The ‘experienced by few, witnessed by many’ approach means there is exclusivity and value in being there
- It provides a deeper and more meaningful level of experience to those attending IRL, which rewards commitment and loyalty
- On-demand content for virtual attendees can cater for multiple time zones and can be accessed at convenient times, increasing diversity, inclusion and accesibility
- You can track ROI through datacapture both online and offline
- It’s more sustainable than purely in-person events
- The amplified reach increases event sponsorship value
CHALLENGES OF PASSIVE HYBRID
- Virtual attendees will feel like an afterthought or a lower priority
- Little opportunity for virtual attendees to interact with or immerse themselves in the content – passive engagement is not as memorable and is less likely to forge a meaningful relationship with the delegate
- Zoom fatigue – been there, done that, nothing new and exciting to see here
- Risk of the broadcast element adding complexity and friction to the IRL experience which weakens the experience for all attendees
- It’s not forward-facing
TOP TIPS – PASSIVE HYBRID
Although you have chosen to focus primarily on the live experience, you still need to make sure the virtual experience is as seamless and frictionless as possible. A well-considered registration process is important for example.
A commitment to the live experience means investing time and effort into rewarding your in-person attendees.
Creativity is Key
Establish a creative platform and a ‘red thread’. Map the physical journey of your guests and ensure the platform is brought to life with compelling narrative at every touchpoint.
Personalised, one-to-one interactions provide a deeper connection, more intimacy and more wow.
Dial up the exclusivity to ensure your in-person attendees feel rewarded for their commitment.
Seal the Deal
Make the most of the more intimate environment to cement sales conversion.
Use Innovation & Technology
You can still use technology to enhance the live experience. Think about using NFC (Near-Field Communication), VR, AR or even the lowly QR code which is now deeply engrained in our psyche. Our trial and acceptance of these technologies during Covid has increased massively, so think about how you can use them in the physical space.
Done well, Passive Hybrid will have its place and will offer benefits for brands and its customers.
But arguably, elevating your event to Active Hybrid will mark you as a true player in the future of B2B events.
Active Hybrid means giving equal priority and attention to the live and virtual attendees by putting the same effort into planning the experience and visitor journey for both audiences. The event engages all audiences equally – wherever they are – one event, two experiences.
But why should you put the effort into elevating your event from Passive to Active?
BENEFITS OF ACTIVE HYBRID
- Your virtual audience could be as important, if not more important than your in-person audience.
- Numbers of virtual attendees are likely to be greater
- This is probably the first time they’ve engaged in your business as they are not willing to commit to attending in person
- Younger audiences are more likely to favour virtual attendance and they represent your new business pipeline of the future
- Rich and engaging content delivered virtually can still build emotional, memorable and longer lasting connections with your audience
- Your business is seen as forward-facing
- It could be more cost effective if you use smaller, cheaper venues if you aren’t as reliant on high footfall to the live event
- You reward your whole audience rather than a select few
CHALLENGES OF ACTIVE HYBRID
It can be more expensive, more complex and more time-consuming to deliver. You need to invest in tailored creative development across two channels; and the technology involved in creating immersive virtual experiences can add up.
TOP TIPS – ACTIVE HYBRID
UX UX UX…
The digital element should be clearly considered from a User Experience perspective. How can you add value for a digital audience – take cues from broadcast media (TV, sports, entertainment). What extra can we give this audience that can’t be experienced by the IRL audience – behind the scenes access? Opportunities to curate their own journeys and content?
And don’t just look to replicate the physical walk-through experience of the live event. This is lazy – attendees need to engage with the content in a way that makes sense for the channel they are using and each needs its own creative approach.
Approach the digital experience from a human rather than a technological perspective. It shouldn’t be about gimmicks – craft, immersive storytelling and emotional connection is still achievable through digital channels without creating high-end virtual worlds or developing holograms. Use accessible tech and be creative with it.
Structure content into bursts of activity that combine both passive and active engagement to build memories.
BUILDING COMMUNITY SPACES
Build digital spaces and communities for your prospects to engage with products, services and each other on their terms and schedules. With carefully planned navigation, content immersion and opportunities for interaction.
Consider where to invest in technologies that provide opportunities to immerse your prospects in your products and services. Dynamic content experiences such as interactive, self-guided Virtual or Mixed Reality environments for example. If you are broadcasting the live content, elevate the experience for virtual visitors using multi-camera shooting or 3D projection mapping. Use technology to reduce friction and provide a seamless experience.
AUTHENTICITY & LEGITIMACY
Define the objective of the event in human behavioural terms – what is the audience behaviour we want to elicit; is it a one-off behaviour or a recurring habit? Keep the digital experience authentic and legitimate and make sure it ladders back to this human objective.
Invite two-way conversation and dialogue wherever possible for virtual and live guests. Embed chat options, discussion boards, social spaces, polling and voting and opportunities for Q&A. You can moderate but don’t treat your audience as children. Help prospects find each other and create their own meaningful connections. Support sharing of content amongst visitors and their wider network.
Think about the EAST framework for both audience – making the digital and IRL experience Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely. And use ideas that keep virtual audiences engaged while competing with distractions in their viewing environment.
KEEP IT FUN
Don’t forget to inject some fun for the virtual audience. Use gamification with levels and leader boards to encourage competition.
PEOPLE NOT PLATFORM
There are a number of virtual platforms available – both off-the-shelf and bespoke. Remember, that is just your auditorium; a venue where you build what matters most – the experience and your brand story.
Hybrid events are likely to be the future of B2B event marketing, as businesses have seen first-hand the benefits they offer. As the events industry invests in technology, platforms and innovation to meet the demand, it’s important to remember that we are still human beings.
Any brand experience, whether digital or live, should be built to connect with your B2B audience on a human level to build deeper relationships and drive growth.