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Virtual, In-Person & Hybrid Events? Oh, My!

Meg Fitzgerald | April 23, 2021| 1 min. read

Just as Dorothy bravely navigated the mysterious land of Oz, marketers everywhere are treading the unknown land of events with similar trepidation and wonder. While COVID has been a potent change agent across every marketing lever, the world of events arguably is the “wicked witch of the west”. In the wake of the pandemic, teams were forced to pivot overnight from an in-person-only tradeshow and user-conference-dominant world to fully virtual. Even though marketers have begun to settle into virtual first, it feels like there are more questions than answers when it comes to the future of events. The question about how to drive success as the world begins emerging from the crisis and coming back offline is still unanswered.

To help shine some light on Event Oz, Insight’s Marketing Center of Excellence held a symposium with the co-founder and CMO of Bizzabo, Alon Alroy, along with fellow portfolio marketing leaders. Because it’s always helpful to level-set with some data, Alon kicked off the discussion by presenting Bizzabo’s survey data: More than half (67%) of event marketers find it more difficult to keep attendees engaged during sessions at virtual events.

Since ScaleUp companies are tackling how to drive meaningful attendee engagement and looking for some tips on navigating the evolving event landscape, we’ve summarized 5 takeaways on how to improve attendee satisfaction, drive virtual-event success today, and prepare for tomorrow’s hybrid emergence. We encourage you to download our "Post COVID Era Event Guide" by completing the form at the bottom of this article. This guide goes deeper and provides helpful tips and resources.

1) Reimagine (don’t recreate) in-person online

In the screen-dominated world we live in today, driving engagement has become increasingly difficult. Most marketers report that they are seeing greater top-of-the-funnel registration and activity, but steeper drop-off rates and lower conversion when it comes to attendance and pipeline acceleration. Attendees are overwhelmed by Zoom meetings and virtual events, which is why it’s critical to stand out from the noise. So, what can you do to drive meaningful engagement? Here are 4 high-level strategies for reimagining the magic of in-person in a virtual setting. 

  1. Leverage data personalization to drive attendance and engagement. 
  2. Build customer intimacy and community through curated micro-experiences pre-, during, and post-event. 
  3. Drive spontaneous audience participation through unscripted entertainment.
  4. Be authentic with “live” content.

Be sure to check out these 7 popular virtual-event use cases and download the Post COVID Era Event Guide to gain additional insights into conjuring the magic of in-person on the screen.

2) Align event strategy across the entire customer lifecycle

As a result of the virtual shift, events are no longer a one-time-per-year occasion. Virtual has enabled a greater volume, velocity, and variety of event types. The spectrum of event formats is expanding along with the role the event plays in a marketing organization. Events aren’t precluded from driving new bookings or showcasing new products to your existing customer base. Virtual has cracked open a new set of use cases that marketers can align with conversion opportunities along their buyer’s journey.

3) Evolve the Event Manager’s role and responsibilities

The Event Manager role as we know it has already and will continue to evolve. As event technology becomes a core component of the Martech stack, Event Managers will need to expand their responsibilities and skillsets. Because virtual (and the impending hybrid-event phase – read more in #4) will enable a greater volume and velocity of events across the customer lifecycle, events will naturally become more deeply integrated with the broader marketing strategy and demand center functions. The Event Manager’s day-to-day will shift from being project- and logistics-centric to aligning closely with the funnel and overall brand strategy, and events will become just as integrated into reporting dashboards as digital marketing metrics.

4) The Future of Events is 1+1 = 3 (... or 10?) 

Hybrid is still an abstract concept. Despite not knowing exactly how these events will look and feel, we do know that hybrid’s value potential is larger than what an in-person or virtual-only event is capable of on its own. Hybrid has the capacity to drive the reach, flexibility, and cost-efficiency of virtual on top of the customer intimacy and community building associated with in-person. When unified, the potential bottom line and awareness impact of one event are exponentially larger. If you’re still scratching your head, check out this hybrid-events post that walks you through 18 actual use cases.

5) Educate your organization on the hybrid opportunity now 

With the rise of hybrid upon us, marketers are thinking about what this means and how they should best prepare. The ROI potential is larger than old-world in-person-only events, but it is difficult to know what to do next or how to operationalize the power of hybrid. When it comes to educating your company’s leadership, start with ensuring they understand what hybrid is unlocking; Hybrid is ultimately enabling you to connect with the right buyer audiences at the right time through the right modality. After educating your executive team on what hybrid means and why it will allow your business to reach and engage a larger audience faster, the next up is ensuring they understand how it will all come to life through technology. It is worth considering an investment in an end-to-end event management platform. Check out the Events Management Solutions Forrester Wave to learn more about the various players out there and how an event lifecycle solution, like Bizzabo, can turbo-power your event strategy and ultimately align the power of hybrid with your existing marketing plan. 

The industry and marketing event playbook is currently being rewritten, and while ScaleUp marketers can’t click your heels three times to magically arrive in the hybrid-event world, you can leverage the tips above in preparing for the “next normal.” It’s not too early to start defining a strategy that takes advantage of hybrid. Though the fast-moving landscape will continue to raise questions on what the future holds, you can be certain that the trifecta of virtual, in-person, and the yellow brick road of hybrid, will all play a key role.

Download Insight Partners and Bizzabo’s guide to learn more about the future of events.