Illustration of a woman pondering and leaning against a giant question mark

This summer, we hosted a webinar about the Emerging Trends Shaping the Future of Events. To help provide some grounding and research-backed data to this crystal ball, we brought on guest speaker, Laura Ramos of Forrester. What followed was an excellent session full of valuable insights and a lively audience with lots of questions. And while we tried to answer each one, there were a few that got away. So, we followed up with Laura to get her answers to your most burning questions.

1. What are the key themes you’re seeing emerge in the event marketing landscape as we begin to open up post-covid?

Compared to 2020, marketers today are struggling to find the best way to return to physical while accommodating attendee expectations for both remote and in-person experiences. As we relax social distancing requirements and return to meeting for business in-person, several key themes recur when talking to event planners and marketers about what to expect post-pandemic. Most often, these event teams want to know how to:

  • Design the right experience for each audience. Event experiences have multiplied and creating value for different attendees has become more challenging. Without an established track record, focus first on what your audience needs, not on what other brands are doing, to define your audience experience. Successful marketers introduce select digital elements to their flagship physical events to start their transition to hybrid while still maintaining a differentiated virtual experience for other events.
  • Enhance attendee engagement. People are social creatures, and they attend events to network and interact. Top marketers create new ways for remote and in-person attendees to engage with each other and digital apps and interfaces enhance this ability greatly. Integrating two-way video conferencing capabilities into both virtual and in-person experiences also enhances engagement.
  • Deliver more value to sponsors. Sponsors did not fare as well in the virtual world last year, so both marketers and vendors are looking for more ways to offer value while ensuring sponsors don’t go too heavy on the self-promotion. Giving sponsors more ways to share their content, ideas, and advice – through recorded presentations, download-friendly interfaces, and roundtable meetings—help to make the booth experience more valuable to attendees and exhibitors alike.
  • Get audiences to participate fully. Virtual event fatigue is real but the cause is a poorly differentiated online experience, not the digital format. If you want your remote audiences to pay lots of attention, spend money and effort on content production and charge for the opportunity to attend, even if nominal. Studies show more attendees attend— and watch more sessions — if you ask them to pay rather make everything complimentary.
  • Design hybrid experiences that accommodate a broader set of needs. Marketers are struggling to anticipate what proportion of their audience will return in-person versus continue to participate virtually. Since no one knows which direction the pandemic will take next, prepare for smaller, more intimate in-person gatherings then work up to larger events next year. Top marketers are making the business case for additional budget to support hybrid events related to enhancing content production and broadcast capabilities, socially-distanced venue accommodations, and event technology support to enhance interaction, attendee data gathering, and personalization of the experience.


2. What are the most important event tech considerations for event marketers as they are planning hybrid events?

As event professionals plan for the return of physical gatherings, most now believe in-person and virtual audiences, presenters, and experiences will intertwine forever. When looking for technology to support this future state, event teams should look for solutions that:

  • Handle hybrid experiences faultlessly. To deliver virtual experiences that give remote attendees commensurate value to those participating in-person, top solutions are adding or upgrading digital attendee communications, registration and ticketing, and remote exhibitor interaction capabilities. They’re also automating a broader range of physical logistics, touchless badging/check-in, attendee activity analysis, mobile apps, and personal networking features.
  • Help event teams manage speakers and content from one intuitive interface. To raise the bar on content and speaker quality, look for technology that includes native content capture, editing, and delivery features, with a primary focus on video. Streamlining speaker management with collaborative ways to review content and deliver feedback helps teams capture the most from presenters. Innovations that deliver real-time interaction and feedback mechanisms help remote or in-person speakers engage with attendees more easily while helping event teams monitor and moderate multiple sessions at one time.
  • Deliver personalized experiences that matter. Mobile and browser-based apps that use AI to suggest relevant sessions, activities, exhibitors, or networking opportunities will become essential to successful hybrid event delivery. Localizing and personalizing event content for different markets will require new capabilities in content event syndication and analytics. These capabilities should also focus on delivering insights that help marketers understand the ROI of individual events and the full impact their events portfolio is having on their business.


3. What’s the one piece of advice you would give event marketers as they begin planning their 2022 events?

Set your post-pandemic event strategy, and pick event-specific goals, based on what you want your audience to experience. Deciding what experience you need to create should maximize the value delivered and encourage attendees to engage with you further. Successful marketing events let audience needs and interests define the experience, not technology capabilities or internal goals. Pulling this off requires creative planning and solid execution preceded by a laser focus on exactly who should attend the event and what tangible value they will gain in return.

When deciding on goals, stick with a minimum number, and address business reasons or objectives behind each goal. Most marketers used virtual events last year to attract new attendees (who may become in-person prospects later), but as in-person returns, different objectives – such as connecting with current customers and partners, generating leads among potential buyers, and reinvigorating your event franchise – will gain more importance. Tackle attendee experience goals second and focus on how your events will deliver something interesting, memorable, or valuable to those who participate.

Figure: Virtual Event Objectives Should Be SMART And Detailed (Reproduction authorized by Forrester Research, Inc.)

SMART Virtual Event Objectives

Source: A Dozen Questions to Answer Before Taking Your Marketing Event Virtual, Forrester Research, Inc., December 21, 2020

In case you want to watch the entire session and catch all the trends they discussed, we’ve put the recording below. All you have to do is hit play. 


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