Technique 4 minutes, 46 second read Toby Lewis, CEO, Live Group
One of the most notable trends of the pandemic has been the accelerated digitalisation of our lives. As a result, businesses have adapted the way that events have been hosted and attended. Now, virtual platforms have streamlined channels of communication so that it doesn’t matter from where in the world – or where in your home – you tune in.
This behavioural shift is unlikely to change post-pandemic, with a report by TechNavio finding that the virtual events market has the potential to grow by $269.2billion between 2021 and 2025. This amplified interest in virtual events is due to many factors, including a new sense of how we value our time, sustainability, and a re-calibrated sense of personal priorities.
What is clear is that marketing professionals must bear this trend in mind to ensure that businesses can lay the foundations for post-pandemic growth that is built from meaningful customer or stakeholder engagement.
Remote employment and the forced cancellation of large business events have freed up many hours for people to dedicate to the people and things that they love. Previously, it wasn’t unusual for delegates to travel across or between countries for an event that lasted one or two days. Long journeys necessitated overnight stays, and suddenly a few hours of in-person networking were overwhelmed by the amount of time spent on the road.
The ability to spend more time at home has fundamentally changed the way people value their time, and it is key that businesses recognise this shift.
Business events can be vital to lead generation and the growth of a brand, but if executives don’t adapt their event operations and marketing to match the new priorities of the consumer, they risk losing out on a significant opportunity to engage.
Audience insights have made this change in priorities very clear to our team at Live Group. Feedback from our recent events has shown that both attendees and the event hosts have responded overwhelmingly positively to virtual events, as they offer an appealing element of control over how they interact with the scheduled activities as well as the networking channels. Both the delegates and the speakers are able to engage more with one another in a virtual space, whether it be delivering a speech to a larger crowd, interacting with more people, or engaging with more content than you could ever take in at an in-person event.
As a result, we have noticed an increase in clients who are looking to continue to integrate virtual elements into their events even post-pandemic. Pre-covid, 65% of the briefs that we received were for in-person events, but this has given way to alternative event formats as clients consider virtual and hybrid as far into the future as the end of 2022. The result has been an increase in revenue from virtual and hybrid events by 170% across 2020.
The return of in-person events
The success of the vaccination programme has sparked a conversation about a return to in-person events across industries. For some event attendees the prospect of face-to-face networking will be a cause for celebration, but it is key that businesses maintain awareness that many delegates will have become used to a degree of flexibility in how they work, and this will extend to how they want to interact with your brand in the future.
Some companies may keep hosting fully virtual functions, whilst others may shift to the production of hybrid events. The key attraction in both cases is that the digital elements offer a flexibility that capitalises upon the behavioural shifts of audience members who are much more discerning about how they value their time.
Virtual platforms can provide on-demand services and tailored networking solutions that can optimise the attendee experience, and enhanced engagement means a more meaningful business relationship. Content is available to view for longer, and at a time which suits delegates. This can lead to more interaction, more meaningfully, over a longer period, which is a great value-add for businesses.
Covid-19 has amplified the global focus on corporate sustainability concerns, and the turn to virtual could hold many benefits for the events industry. Pre-pandemic, the sector was responsible for the emission of 1.2 billion kg of CO2e from diesel generators per year, with guests travelling long distances at great environmental cost.
Virtual events can significantly reduce this energy and fuel consumption by allowing delegates to tune in from wherever they are in the world. Many industries will soon demand that event planners make such options available; indeed, some EU banks are now planning to reduce travel time by at least 50%. Virtual and hybrid events can ensure that the same levels of engagement are achieved as in pre-pandemic functions, whether attendees arrive in person or via a screen.
Not only do virtual events support sustainability initiatives, they also act to ensure that engagement is much more accessible.
The removal of logistical and economic challenges as a result of travel plans means that businesses can target a much wider addressable audience, ensuring that anyone who attends do so on their own terms and with maximum enjoyment.
Pushing for change
The roadmap out of lockdown does not mean the end for virtual events – rather, it signals a new chapter in their development. Businesses need to take steps to ensure that their engagement and marcomms strategies respond to the behavioural changes borne from covid-19, and hybrid events could play a key role. Such engagement that retain a flexible virtual element will be central to a ‘no walls, no clocks, no limits’ experience that is both professionally and commercially valuable.