Remember the days when you were packing your suitcase, booking your flight, and counting down the days till your next big event? In 2019, business was normal, companies all around the world hosted trade shows and massive launch events, and teams came together for annual retreats. Little did we know that 2019 would be the last year before so many things in the marketing world – and beyond – would change. Earlier this year when COVID-19 hit, every in-person event was canceled and future event planning came to a screeching halt making the future of events uncertain. As marketers, the feeling when event cancellations started rolling in was like a dagger in the heart, but as we do, we pivot and figure out the plan of action.
When the global pandemic struck, plan B shot to the forefront of everyone’s minds. What are we going to do? Where are we going to do it? How are we going to pull it off? These were all questions running through our heads. We quickly realized that the only way to keep the momentum going is turning to digital. It’s easy to say, “let’s turn to digital” but what does that really mean? What does a virtual event look like and how do you make it interesting, engaging, and impactful?
1- The Strategy
Now that your in-person event has been canceled, what is the new strategy? First, make the change early and confidently, and begin spreading the word. Figuring out how to turn your event into a digital-first experience should come with some initial questions that you need to ask yourself: What was the original goal of this event? How and will the virtual event format achieve those same goals? Once you have these questions answered, you can now start planning.
Some key things to nail down are the theme, the platform, and the marketing around the event. Finding the right platform for your event is most important. Try some different options until you find the right one that suits your needs and meets your budget. Here is a list of the top virtual event platforms in 2020. Lastly, developing your social media strategy is key to creating a fully digital experience from social to the event platform. This includes developing dynamic content for social, creating interactive assets, activating influencers as amplifiers, and telling a holistic story to make your event come to life.
2- The Experience
At this point, people have been working from home and on Zoom for almost 8 months. For most people, Zoom fatigue has already settled in and they just want to shut their computers at the end of the day. Because virtual events require screen time, it is important to really think deeply about your audience and what they are going to respond well to. Coming with that audience-first approach, think about ways to create a unique experience that avoids being a virtual replication of your original in-person event. What this means is that you’ll want to create a “binge-worthy” experience with a variety of captivating content types to keep your audience engaged. “A winning recipe for digital events is a mix of live, on-demand, and snackable content that’s easy to absorb and simple to share.” See what SAP did this year with their key event SAPPHIRE NOW Reimagined.
3- The Result
The reality of any event is that there will be hiccups, technical difficulties, and people that aren’t satisfied with the experience. The important thing is to take a test drive and see how everything is working and what the experience feels like from the audience’s perspective. Then, sit back, relax, and enjoy seeing people having an impactful virtual experience from their homes.
Today’s physical restrictions will eventually start to loosen but we can expect in-person events to never return to their original formats. So as marketers, the future is going to lie in digital experiences across the board. Start planning your virtual events now, give yourself time to create something audiences will remember.