Among the many lessons to emerge from the pandemic is the potential for virtual platforms to bring people together regardless of geographic and financial barriers. However, the benefits of in-person events, which offer a sense of community and social networking, are not forgotten. Thus, the question arises regarding the future of event marketing in the post-Covid era: while the past year has taught us that predicting the future is an exercise in futility, all signs point to the emergence and dominance of the hybrid model of event marketing. The confluence of event marketing and content marketing will ring true even louder as the business world adopts a new normal.
Simply put, the virtual trend is here to stay. The breadth of consumers that can be reached regardless of geographic and financial barriers is simply unmatched. However, a year using video-based platforms like Zoom and Web-Ex has revealed the glaring deficiency of these virtual collaboration tools: people have a harder time paying attention for extended periods. Both digital and environmental distractions are disrupting users’ attention at unprecedented levels. Even as these video platforms have vastly improved over the last year, they continue to fail at fostering the same levels of engagement of in-person events. That being said, it is inevitable that virtual events in some form will continue into the post-Covid era because companies and brands can attract more attendees, especially those unwilling to spend their money and time on travel. However, the efficacy of strictly virtual conferences is called into question, as event marketers must employ new tactics to maintain and increase attendee involvement (i.e., break-out rooms, polls, incentives). Solely considering attendance as a metric of engagement is no longer an indicator of an event’s success in the era of “zoom fatigue” .
What will in-person events look like post-Covid?
A major trend that began to gain popularity over the last few years is “Bleisure,” which, as the name implies, is the merging of business and leisure travel . After being pent up in their homes for a year, people of all ages are eager to leave their homes, their cities, and even their states to travel. Therefore, the success of in-person events is largely dependent on capitalizing on this phenomenon. Gone are the days when conferences and panels can be relegated to a dark and clammy auditorium or a bleak conference center. In order to maximize in-person attendance, attendees must be incentivized by the experience of the event, more so now than ever. In that sense, old sayings die hard: in the post-Covid world, business and pleasure must be mixed. The destination matters; the activities matter; the culture matters—the event itself is almost second fiddle. For brands, in-person events still present the best opportunity for sponsorships. Sponsors that want the potential to meet customers face to face will see an added boost by physical sponsorship. Trade events remain are great ways to bring buyers and sellers together. We have not seen many successful brand sponsorships in the virtual setting. Physical events also bring moments of unplanned serendipity that happen when you bump into people at conferences which are not possible virtually. Therefore, for lower-funnel conversion goals, physical events still hold the most promise.
An additional challenge arises with the compliance of the ever-changing CDC health and safety guidelines. In fact, for larger events, the safety guidelines, which will still cap the quantity of in-person events for at least 2021, may likely force event planners’ hands in favor of the hybrid model. Therefore, it seems inevitable that the hybrid model for events, which utilizes the best of both worlds, will triumph. The hybrid model combines the physical social networking opportunities and community aspects of the pre-Covid era with the abundant accessibility of the pandemic era’s virtual landscape. The most glaring issue which emerges from the hybrid model is the potential favoritism between in-person attendees and virtual onlookers. The challenge is to minimize the disparity in the quality of the experience for both groups, which can be achieved by investing in higher-quality technology and implementing programs during the conference that replicate the human aspects of in-person attendance.
How do you maximize attendance with solid content marketing strategies and execution?
One change that event markets can consider is the promotion of in-person events by focusing on the concept of Bleisure. While is it important to spread awareness about the event’s safety measures, it is more important that the event—the experience itself—takes precedence in the content marketing leading up to the event.
For virtual events, a higher frequency of content marketing, closer to the date, is required. While travel plans and the elements of scheduling for physical events typically ensure that most attendees will actually attend in-person events, virtual events have a far lower hit rate—they are easily cancellable and more likely to be forgotten. Therefore, frequent reminders, via email and social media channels, immediately leading up to the event are vital. Content marketing should convey the consistency in the quality of experience between in-person and online viewers, working to dispel the potential belief that if you can’t go in-person there is no point at attending at all. Therefore, content marketing for virtual attendees should promote the quality of the experience as well: promising a sense of community, studio-quality audio visuals, and avenues for more intimate networking that is often lost in the solitude of virtual attendance.
During the event, content marketing should be implemented in order to establish a sense of community in real-time and promote post-event outreach. Old favorites like establishing a common hashtag and promoting attendees to opt-in on future communications shouldn’t be forgotten.
Looking ahead as guidelines continue to evolve, it must be assumed by event organizers that some sense of uncertainty will continue to exist through 2021 and possibly beyond. Given that in many instances organizers are working at least 12 months in advance to build event programs and book venues, it should be assumed some portion of events will be virtual or using in a hybrid model. The challenge for organizers, as we pivot back to meeting colleagues and friends again in the flesh, will be making sure the experience for those attending virtually is not just an afterthought.