Hybrid events should treat both in-person attendees and remote attendees equally
Events for B2B marketing teams and event team members. We’ve seen innovation and experimentation in the events industry over the past 18 months and, with social distancing rules being relaxed, a cautious return towards in-person gatherings. We are starting to see hybrid models emerge that combine the best elements of virtual and still use events to build customer relationships.
People are social animals. They attend events to have fun and connect with others. It will take a while before marketers can recreate the excitement and spontaneity from physical events in the virtual realm or in a hybrid setting. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop making digital experiences more engaging.
Virtual events must be different from webinars in order to keep remote employees engaged. This challenge was highlighted by 58% respondents to Forrester’s Q4 2020 B2B Marketing Events Management Solutions Forrester wave(tm). Customer Reference Survey. No matter what format the event’s virtual elements must feel real and authentic, not just a collection of videos or webinars.
Technology providers should offer more online venues. This will allow remote attendees to interact with each other, making it easier for them to share experiences and encourage marketers to promote those features as a draw. Remote attendees will be attracted to the event by interactivity features that offer the same chance for meeting as physical events.
Virtual platforms are not able to provide new ways for attendees to connect with sponsors or speakers. 58% of customers Forrester surveyed wanted their service providers to make it easier to engage attendees. We expect artificial intelligence (AI), to be a key part of recommending sessions and suggesting attendees who are like-minded to meet during an event, regardless of where they may be attending.
Forrester predicts that the future will be:
- Hybrid events are becoming more common. Our research and conversations with clients revealed that almost all agree that hybrid events will be the preferred format for events. Although 2020 has taught us valuable lessons about how to best serve our audiences in the future and which elements to keep, there are already signs that people want to go back to in-person formats.
- Marketers will turn to events to improve customer relationships. In-person marketing was prohibited during the pandemic. Instead, they focused their attention on the primary goal of all marketing activities: lead generation. When asked about 2019, 69% of these marketers stated that they used events to build customer relationships. Only 38% said that “generate lead” was their primary objective. We expect B2B marketers will return to customer relationship building, with virtual events being used to expand their reach inside existing accounts and improve post-sales communications as restrictions on in-person gatherings become less restrictive.
- Attendance is expected to rise but attention will remain a challenge. This could be attributed to novelty and not having to travel. 63% of marketers also chose to forgo entry fees. However, virtual events attracted large crowds in 2020. Survey respondents reported higher attendance rates at virtual than previous in-person events: 34% attracted at least 2,500 attendees on average, while 37% achieved attendance-to-registration rates of 65% or more. It’s easy to get prospects and customers to attend, but it’s harder to keep them engaged and loyal. 56% of customers who were reference customers reported spending less than 5 hours at an in-person conference. 61% said that keeping attendees interested was their biggest challenge.
No matter what format you choose, engaging attendees is the key to solving this pre-pandemic issue. The pivot online has highlighted this problem. Mobile apps that can treat both in-person and remote participants equally are essential to improve the experience.
Virtual events are difficult to attract attendees. 49% of respondents said they would like their technology provider’s help in improving virtual environments, scheduling and networking. Although mobile-enabling attendees can provide a more personal experience for both in-person and remote participants, it is important that the widest possible audience adopts mobile apps. This will be an improvement that we expect to see over the long-term.