Virtual Events Will Last Beyond the Pandemic — Here’s How to Make the Most of Them

May 4, 2021

Tim Groot

Tim Groot is the CEO and founder of Grip, the first market engagement platform for event organizers to create virtual, hybrid and live event experiences in a single solution. Tim founded Grip in 2016 to help maximize the return on time invested from attendees and exhibitors attending industry events.

A digital-first approach to industry events and networking is now the norm, bringing with it new opportunities to make meaningful connections virtually, along with a more adaptable, convenient and precise way to organize and attend industry events.

This current reality will never fully disappear — instead it’s a sign of what the future will bring. The pandemic has accelerated innovation in the events industry and forced event organizers to prioritize and cater to virtual and hybrid events. As we look to the future of digital events, it’s vital that organizers and marketers are clear on their vision and assess where the value lies.

Data-driven decisions 

One of the obvious benefits of virtual events is that organizers can increase data points compared to live events – driving insights into the behavior and priorities of their attendees and exhibitors. 

In terms of marketing needs, online events provide additional data to improve audience segmentation, ensuring organizers and exhibitors can pinpoint and target attendees with an invested interest in their messaging and a greater chance to increase engagement. Data delineates what worked and what didn’t, where professional priorities lie and it sheds light on unexpected connections between parties of individuals.   

Pulling data together provides real-time feedback for organizers, allowing them to effectively map out patterns, trends and predictions from the event to help inform and develop the next, ultimately making events more focused and insight-driven.   

Make a bigger impact with smaller events 

We noticed that trends arise as a result of the adoption of digital events. Firstly, digital events are often smaller, and secondly, because of this they generate more engagement overall. 

This comes down to specificity —  a smaller, more targeted event means that those involved are more likely to be engaged in the content, with all parties benefitting from making connections.  

Whereas a live trade show might bring together 100,000 people annually from the entirety of the food industry, a virtual event - for example an event featuring French cheese for restaurants across Europe — might attract only 1,000 buyers and suppliers, but in a hyper-targeted setting. 

Compared to live events, virtual ones allow for this hyper-targeted form of event, improving the attendee experience, and generating greater engagement and overall success. 

A cost-effective virtual future

Virtual events tend to incur much lower running costs than live ones. With no venue to rent, no travel cost to pay for, no physical booths or stage building costs, money is already being directed at ensuring the best possible experience for attendees and exhibitors. 

Online resources are also evolving to become ever more user-friendly, efficient and accessible. Getting ahead of the curve and investing in these tools now could pay off in terms of educating your team and ensuring you remain competitive in your offerings for years to come. 

The rise of hybrid events 

Hybrid — events combining live and virtual elements — is the new buzzword in the events industry as countries have started, or are intending to start, lifting lockdown precautions. There are different forms of hybrid events, including sequential events. These occur when live and digital elements occur on different dates or times, essentially extending the event experience over a longer period of time.

We’ve noticed these events reaping huge returns in terms of the resources and time put into organizing them, including increased overall engagement, more sponsorship opportunities and an increased likelihood of exhibitor success. 

From an organizer’s perspective, these events are adaptable in format, allowing a team of any size to maximize value for sponsors and exhibitors, with the added bonus of being easier to organize and execute (as the same staff who attend the event in-person can also participate in the virtual elements of the experience). 

The ability to divide and structure sequential events actively encourages greater attendee engagement — a virtual-first approach can act as a qualifier for the live event later, while a live-first approach can utilize virtual elements as a follow-up for lead and contact generation by providing recorded content. It extends the event lifespan, allows your event to scale at a time where travel is still restricted, while precisely mapping out experiences of interest for attendees.  

What the future holds

Event organizers are turning to numerous digital elements including generating content, identifying and connecting markets in totally new ways via data insights. As digital tools continue to evolve and intertwine with business development, branding and marketing, I predict professional event organizers will shift into becoming market organizers — specialists who bring together and combine different elements of event experience including digital, in-person and hybrid elements, tailored to each market to help advance industries beyond their own. 

It’s important that the events industry reaps the rewards of the ongoing digital revolution, to help get events organizers ready for a more interconnected way of working. After all, we’re in the business of connecting people, and in doing so, helping to catalyze industry evolution and innovation.

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