The following insight came from my podcast interview with Steve Mapes, where he talked about how more and more events are becoming virtual, how we can engage in the virtual space, and how we can use VR for events.
I’ve had a front-row to a massive disruption in the industry that now seems to be returning more to normal. Events have been live since the summer. However, several industries still hold virtual events. But there are some hybrid events, too.
However, many people are snapping back to really how they were behaving pre-COVID. Human behavior is difficult to change. On the other hand, we will see many significant changes in the short term future that will affect our behaviors.
We will see that in the events space, too. We spent the last 18 months in the virtual world, and we’ve learned a lot and learned new ways to engage. What’s happened is the definition of time and space, and physicality is redefined by events where events used to have an open and closed date. Now it’s softer. And what’s happening is there’s a lot more on-demand for parts of events. That’s a real opportunity for people that have sharpened their digital chops to be a participant in those days.
Many people spend three to six months trying to figure out how to be there. Then, once they are there, they wonder how they can engage with their customers. And what we’ve seen is serendipity is different.
When you go to the live events, you run into a colleague in the hallway or see a speaker after a session. That doesn’t happen, of course, in the virtual space. So we’ve had to be very creative at how we get people to engage digitally. And that’s about being there live. Because although you’re not there physically, being there live creates that FOMO moment where I get to be there at nine o’clock if I want to see the speaker. I can also see it on-demand, but I want to see them live.
We found virtual to turn out to be very transactional, in some ways. For example, in the pharmaceutical space, on the medical conventions, we saw some social posts where these physicians feel like they’re at an amusement park because they could see any content they want. It’s all on-demand, and they love it. Yet, at the same time, they don’t go to the virtual exhibit hall to spend time because it’s less of a drawing than virtual space. So customers have to work harder to show the value by using their thought leaders and executives to show their commitment to the event and find unique content if they take the time to go to that virtual exhibit.
We run our own set of events that are called Rethink, and we got eight to ten times more attendance than we did in our live events. We did some things at our event to drive engagement; the hallway moments, the serendipity, various interactive events, the attendees interacting with the team. But those are the kinds of creative things you have to do to make it successful. In the hybrid space, you can’t do the same thing for virtual as you do for live or in-person because the virtual attendees interact differently than when they are person in person. So we need to develop a brand that doesn’t consider them the same audience; they have to appeal to both. Yet, the brand needs to show a cohesive presence to avoid a disconnect between the audiences.
A lot of brands will do private events to bring in their customers. The success has been based on the fact that it’s much easier to attend, and it typically costs less than a live event. We all acknowledge it’s a different experience. But I think as soon as we’re back to live, I think, you know, you’re going to get the actual brand enthusiasts still showing. But if you can offer the virtual component as part of a hybrid offering, you’re going to get incremental traffic.
Some virtual conventions have four or five times the attendance that they had in person. And again, the experience is different. But you have that exposure in the healthcare space. There’s this democratization of healthcare; physicians from third-world countries can now attend, where in the past, they never had that access to this cutting-edge science that is being released at these conventions. So it’s a social benefit in the end.