With vaccines rolling out and becoming increasingly accessible to citizens, live events grow more viable by the day. At the same time, tech adoption rates have never been higher, and providers are looking towards longer-term engagement. How will these different formats affect an event’s position within a marketing funnel?
Deciphering the best course of action relies on a nuanced understanding of what each format offers: Live events will always hold the appeal of a more personable environment for networking, not to mention offering greater opportunity for multisensory experiences; while virtual events have the potential to reach wider audiences with a lower level of commitment. For someone reluctant to incur the expense of attending in person, virtual might seem like a welcome alternative.
As such, some marketers maintain that virtual events are better suited to short durations and top-of-funnel engagement, while longer durations and bottom-of-the-funnel lead generation should be reserved for live events.
However, not everyone agrees that this framework represents attendee preferences. Some see the potential of virtual events to serve as the perfect testing ground for all types of content that will help to shape the direction of in-person agendas.
Live Events Must Provide High Value
The higher level of commitment required by live events is precisely what makes them valuable for inbound marketing: Only those who are already highly invested in the brand will attend. Applying the same logic, there is an expectation for the event to deliver a high-value in-person experience. Event organizers need to show that they are putting in maximum effort to entice new business and maintain existing relationships. Organizers cannot take for granted that attendees will automatically prefer live events simply because of the higher-touch experience.
Virtual As Market Expansion vs. Virtual as Market Research
On the other hand, virtual events require a lower level of commitment from attendees. They are often accessible at a much lower cost — sometimes even for free — and participants can drop off at any time if they start to lose interest.
This inadvertently presents the promise of attracting new audiences who may be willing to give a low-stakes commitment a try. But how will this different level of commitment influence event content?
Virtual event organisers must keep their messaging as broadly applicable as possible. Brands have the potential to reach much wider audiences, but their focus should be on big-picture brand awareness rather than specialized content. Event organizers need to be realistic about the potential for lead generation – just because you went from 8,000 to 70,000 participants doesn’t mean that you’re going to have 70,000 people buying your product.
To match the viewing preferences of the online audience, organisers need to keep the user experience as simple as possible by offering a limited selection of short, accessible content.
When it comes to on-property event activities, organisers should provide specialized session topics — with content that closely resemble training material. Organizers should assume that in-person attendees have already done their research on the brand, and they’re looking for a more in-depth conversation.
What About Hybrid Events?
Despite all the buzz around hybrid events, they may not be as popular as some were initially predicting. Most industry clients have been asking for in-person only or virtual only formats, an indication that the two formats can both be leveraged independently.
Ultimately, both tech providers and event organizers are still working in an experimental stage. There are no right or wrong answers, and the field is ripe for innovation.
Virtual and live events may function more like parallel universes rather than as two different ends of the customer journey. With that said, the low level of commitment required from virtual attendees will inevitably influence an event’s marketing strategy. Will virtual events be geared primarily towards top-of-the-funnel content, or will they help to identify the most effective bottom-of-the-funnel tactics?
In the end, varying approaches to event formats will ultimately mean more data for making informed decisions in the future. And there is no reason to believe that different schools of thought cannot eventually be combined into the most well-rounded best practices possible.