Covid-19 has fundamentally changed how we conduct business, especially the business of events. Much of the industry made the shift to virtual almost immediately and that shift is expected to persist through the fall. Although the decisions to go online were swift, they weren’t easy for many companies. How will potential attendees react? What impact will this decision have on a brand? What skill sets do we need to deliver an engaging digital experience? Scary stuff. However, we have realized that, despite the challenges, Covid-19 has presented us with an amazing opportunity to build larger audiences for our programs than ever before.
Physical events provide incredible forums for education and interaction. Ideas presented and discussed face-to-face at those events can change whole industries and shape markets in countless ways. They also place barriers in front of potential attendees: attendance fees, travel costs, and time away from the business. The result? A live audience limited by personal and company time and cost constraints.
Virtual events eliminate many of the constraints faced by both the potential attendee and the organizer. Travel is no longer a concern. Venue size doesn’t matter. Time zones can be spanned. With all that new latitude, there are new things to consider.
Rethink your audience. Who have you always wanted at your conference, but couldn’t get? Now’s your chance. It’s time to re-examine your list of past attendees and look for patterns, to connect with your company’s sales organization to determine what new customer segments they want to reach, or to hear from your executives which logos they want on the client roster this year. Also consider how to grow the number of attendees from current participating companies – if 5 attended last year’s live event, you could grow that number exponentially when the event is online.
A virtual event is a great way to contribute materially to overall business growth. Start by documenting your ideal customer (or attendee) profile. There are many great resources and templates you can use to workshop this process, such as the ICP Framework from advisory and research firm TOPO. Use the outcome to guide all your virtual event decisions.
Take advantage of new tools. The available marketing mix for events continues to evolve substantially. Traditional search ad platforms like Google and Bing have new targeting capabilities. Social outlets like LinkedIn will allow you to reach individuals within specific companies. Lead campaigns can help you quickly build your database of new contacts. Remarketing can reinforce messages with your website visitors and individuals that share similar characteristics. Email and account-based marketing tools will amplify messages and directly present offers. Use what you learn through your audience profiling exercise to drive your decision making around the marketing mix.
Carefully evaluate pricing. Content remains king for events, especially when it comes to virtual programs. Your content has value and there’s a real cost to staging a virtual event, organizing a robust speaker program, and delivering an engaging experience. Don’t leap immediately to making your virtual event free for attendees. Even though that may be the right decision for your organization and your event now, going completely free will make it far more difficult to re-establish a fair value for your next physical event. Charging even a nominal registration fee maintains the value of your content program, offsets event costs, and helps reduce attrition rates.
Bridge the virtual to the physical. Many organizations use the conference kit to extend the event beyond the conference itself. Branded items can be used indefinitely after the end of a program. Keep that in mind with your virtual program; create a kit for your attendee that enhances and extends their experience beyond the virtual. Add a little fun with small projects or games that inform a working session. Use gift certificates for meal delivery during a lunchtime presentation, along with a note that encourages support for local restaurants. You could even provide something as simple as a pair of quality headphones that enhance the listening experience. Delivered in advance of your program, these offline components will build anticipation for your online event.
Build a community for the long haul. Think of your virtual program as a way to create a sense of community amongst former attendees and your new potential audience. It shouldn’t be just one event, but part of an ongoing continuum of outreach and engagement. Look for virtual event platforms that allow for networking amongst the attendees; it’s an investment that will be rewarded.
Covid-19 taught us a lot about ourselves and about the event profession. People and organizations all over the world stepped up, made difficult decisions, supported each other, and persevered. Within that process, we’re learning new skills and creating new capabilities for our organizations. Whatever happens over the next few weeks and months, we will emerge from this crisis stronger and more connected than ever before.
Stay safe and healthy.