2020 saw a drastic change to event marketing. Prior to the pandemic, 41% of marketers considered live events to be the most critical marketing channel for business outcomes. But with sweeping cancellations and migration from in-person events to digital formats, event marketing has seen a massive shift. As events gradually move back to an in-person format, what will the future of event marketing look like?
Are virtual events here to stay?
The past year has seen an explosion in virtual events. According to the Virtual Event Research Report by Wild Apricot, the amount of organizations that planned virtual events doubled throughout 2020. Companies that hosted virtual events saw, on average, a 45% live attendance rate with 10% of registrants attending on-demand. Types of virtual events include:
- Online trade shows
- Virtual conferences and summits
- Virtual networking events and teambuilding
- Hybrid events
Migrating events into a virtual format took a significant effort and happened practically overnight, but now we’re seeing a more gradual transition back to in-person conferences, which means that virtual events currently remain an important staple of event marketing. Virtual formats come with cost savings — there’s no need to rent out booth space or create physical displays, and you don’t have to pay for employee travel, since attendees can tune in from anywhere in the world.
Virtual events aren’t going anywhere for the time being. But after over a year of attending nothing but video calls, many are experiencing “Zoom fatigue.” As a result, all-virtual events may experience a downturn in 2021 and beyond, making live events more appealing. At the same time, as restrictions begin to lift, in-person events are making a comeback — but they’re not the way they used to be.
The rise of hybrid events
Live events are returning throughout 2021. According to the Northstar Meeting Group Pulse Survey, 82% of participants will hold in-person meetings this year, but with the caveat that virtual elements will be added so that attendees have an option on how they choose to engage.
With the help of online event-hosting technology like WebEx, On24, Adobe Connect, Accelevents, and more, it’s easier than ever to broadcast your events online to a virtual audience. Of those surveyed by Northstar, 30% will include virtual elements as part of their in-person conferences, allowing them to reach wider audiences. According to the Wild Apricot survey, 91% of participants host online events to keep members connected, and hybrid events are a way to appeal to more people while allowing in-person attendees to network one-on-one.
Returning to in-person events — in smaller sizes
Many of this year’s live events will feature a smaller attendee count as a way to follow safety protocols and reassure guests who might be hesitant to travel again. For event organizers, there’s a benefit to this, as well: it helps to create a more immersive experience. At a standard, large-scale trade show, it’s easy to attend and not talk to anybody. But in smaller, segmented groups, engagement is lower stakes, providing a more accessible opportunity to learn and network with like-minded professionals.
A client of ours recently hosted an event geared toward a high-quality, intimate experience with a small, engaged group of customers and prospects at their headquarters. They also held a virtual version of their event so that attendees who may not have had the opportunity to travel could benefit from the content they shared. This enabled our client to create a personalized experience, and many live attendees reported back that they preferred the small group format to other large industry trade shows.
In spite of the drastic changes to the landscape of event marketing within the past year and a half, the future of hosting trade shows, conferences, networking events, and more is bright. As live events return to a smaller in-person or hybrid format, attendees will reap the benefits of networking in more engaged groups, while organizers will continue to reach the wide audiences that only virtual events can offer.