In-Person, Hybrid, or Virtual? Why the Next Big Industry Shift is Event Format Agnostic
The debate over the future of the event industry has been raging for months, and optimistic projections about COVID-19 vaccine distribution are only furthering such speculation, especially specific to in-person, hybrid, and online event formats: Are virtual events going to survive beyond the pandemic? Are people clamoring to get back to in-person experiences? Will hybrid events catch on? The answer to all of these questions is yes. All of these statements are likely to be true, but none of them singularly hold the answer as to what’s next for the world of events. For better or worse, it won’t be in-person, hybrid, nor online event formats, which will define the next chapter in our industry, like so many suggest. In fact, we believe the enduring impact of the pandemic on the future of events lies in wait in the shadows, and it’s all about event data and its underlying potential to power personalization.
Having powered hundreds of virtual events since the pandemic hit, we’ve seen ups and downs and everything in between when it comes to this fully online event format. The much lauded potential of virtual event experiences is unquestionably there, and the rate, at which event technology companies have innovated in the past year, is truly inspiring. We’re convinced that virtual events will be around for a long time. However, the degree, to which they catch on long-term, is quite simply a function of how well the technology that enables these types of online event formats can become. And at this point, we’ve all seen enough to be excited about the potential.
Putting myself in the shoes of an event organizer, I would be more than a little uneasy about the impact of virtual, or other online event formats, but I would also hope the technology continues to evolve as quickly as possible. Not only have virtual events proven to be an incredible tool for growing your event’s community and connecting with more people, but they’re also an insurance policy against future industry disruptions. While online events formats may replace some in-person experiences at risk over the long term, ultimately virtual will help extend your event and its community to encompass more people than ever before, notably with less impact on the environment. In addition, online event formats promise the emergence of new and more profitable business models, and while it’s easier said than done, now is the time to lean into the changes that are already happening.
Just beneath the surface of the immense technological acceleration we’ve seen in the past year around virtual events is the awesome potential of event data. I’m not talking about the data you see in pretty charts and reports on a event technology vendor’s website, but rather, what I’m referring to is the type of engagement data that digital marketers have had access to with their online campaigns and tactics for over a decade. A powerful attendee-focused database that puts all the individual touchpoints your event generates at your fingertips is what the industry will come to rely on in order to power event personalization around maximum attendee value, as well as to drive targeted and higher performing sales and marketing campaigns. The importance of event personalization becomes obvious when you take a step back and realize you’re in a battle to keep your community’s attention, competing against every other online media outlet and social network. In fact, there’s no tool more effective for tilting the game in your favor than personalization, because the more relevant and individualized your event experience is to the needs and desires of your attendees, the more differentiated and sustainable your overall event strategy becomes. This is why your event data holds such great and untapped potential—it’s the only thing that can truly provide you with a distinct advantage that no one else can replicate.
The keyword to rally the future of event technology around is intent. Understanding your attendees intent by better comprehending how they engage with your event allows you to put yourself in an even better position to help them achieve their goals. Additionally, it’s worth highlighting that the proliferation of technology is not only facilitating today’s virtual and hybrid event experiences. The rise of these types of online event formats also represent a dramatic shift in your ability to generate, collect, and understand event engagement data. Whether you’re running a virtual, in-person, or hybrid event, it’s not the event format that actually matters at the end of the day; instead, it’s your ability to understand attendee intent and put such data-driven event insights to work that will define success.
The real power of events is in their ability to create unique, immersive moments, wherein attendees are deeply engaged with the topics they care most about. It’s this depth of engagement has always been what makes events such an effective marketing channel. The pandemic, along with the widespread adoption of online event formats, has accelerated our ability to capture this type of valuable engagement data, and soon you’ll be empowered to put it to work in exciting ways. When harnessed correctly, every event stakeholder stands to substantially benefit, including planners, marketers, sponsors, exhibitors, and of course, attendees themselves. That’s what makes this such an exciting time to be in the event industry.